Course credit for varsity athletes?

I groaned yesterday when I saw the following tweet from my school newspaper:

Faculty must vote in favor of athletics proposal at next meeting

In short, my school is considering awarding course credit to students for participating in varsity sports during the school year. Presently, a typical class at my college is worth one unit of credit, and a typical P.E. class is worth one half of a credit. Under the new proposal, participating in varsity sports would earn the student one half credit per semester, with a cap of two credits total from both sports and P.E. classes. The argument is that if the athletes dedicate so much time to a faculty-supervised activity, they deserve credit for it. The paper explains,

As it stands, varsity sports remain the College’s only faculty-supervised activity that does not receive academic credit. Activities of comparable commitment—such as [School] Repertory Dance Theatre, [School] College Orchestra and the [School] College Choir—all award participating students with a limited amount of credit, and it is our belief that the same academic courtesy be extended to athletes.

I’m biased because I have no athletic inclination whatsoever, and I have never been a fan of organized athletics at educational institutions (I have always thought that too much money goes to sports that would be better spent on academics). However, I have to give in out of fairness to the argument that if students can receive half a credit for a physical education course, it is reasonable to give the same amount for participating in varsity athletics. I benefited from a similar system when I took a year of ballet here. If I can earn credits for awkwardly balancing on my toes, my friends should be able to earn credits for improving their fencing game in a structured, supervised environment.  I assume, of course, that the same conditions for passing a physical education class are met in sports practices: students must have an attendance requirement, and they must show effort and improvement over the course of the semester. That’s fine; I can live with that.

However, I cannot agree with the other arguments my school’s paper puts forward:

On top of everything, we must remember that varsity athletics present a considerable time commitment. It is rare to find another activity on campus—academic or extracurricular—that includes a comparable daily rigor and frequent overnight obligation.

Time commitment cannot be a factor in determining course credit. If it is, where do you draw the line? While the paper claims it is rare, other extracurricular organizations do demand comparable time commitments. If an activity demands as much or more time than a varsity sport, does that mean students should be able to earn credit for it? I do not think it does. There is little precedent at my college for awarding more units of credit based on time commitment; CMPU 101: Introduction to Java and CMPU 331: Compilers are both worth just one credit here, despite the disparity in difficulty and quantity of homework of each.

The article continues,

Given the extent of this demand, the faculty must consider what it can do to mitigate possible academic pressures on these students. While athletes will continue to be held to the College’s rigorous academic standards, the athletics credit could discourage a varsity athlete from unnecessarily taking on five academic credits while in their athletic season.

With the proposed varsity credit, the athlete seeking to assume five courses in his or her athletic season will be checked with an overload form, thus encouraging the student to think twice about assuming such a large academic and extracurricular load.

I do not think awarding credits for sports lends itself to holding students to high academic standards. On the contrary, athletes would be able to take two fewer academic courses over their college careers in order to meet graduation requirements. Moreover, I do not think the faculty has any obligation to give athletes a break with academic pressure. Participating in sports is optional, and should always take second place to academics.  Students also do not need a formal warning when they take a full schedule of classes in addition to participating in sports – they know what they are getting into. I do not think that awarding credit will be seen as a warning not to take more academic classes, but instead as an excuse not to.

While I agree that it is justifiable to award athletes credit for participating in varsity sports at my college, I do not think it is because sports are the equivalent of an academic class, or because doing so would force athletes to seek approval before taking extra classes, but rather because varsity sports are comparable to already-lax physical education classes. By awarding course credit for sports, the faculty will give athletes the same break that they give to students who take yoga instead of chemistry. It is not that I think there is anything wrong with that; I just think the faculty should admit it.

  • Ayse

    I think that bringing up the issue of time commitment opens up a large can of worms. If the athletics department/ Vassar justifies the decision to give students involved in varsity sports credit because sports are time consuming, it would follow that the school also needs to restructure their entire credit system, and start giving more credits to students in classes with labs and extended field trips over October and Spring breaks.

    Also, it also seems unfair to privilege the choice of sports as an extracurricular over participation in student government, working on school plays, writing for the Misc, etc., because other activities take up large amounts of one’s time (Rocky, anyone?). And as you point out- what exactly is the cut-off point for this idea of time-commitment? On the other hand, I was on a sports team (for a short while) at Vassar my freshman year, and it was taking up so much of my time that my homework was pushed to the wayside- and that was before the competitions even started.

    Anyway! I enjoyed reading your response to the Misc article and I’m curious to see how this plays out…

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  • Dave Mack

    As for sports in school, remember that some schools promote themselves via their sports programs. If a school would prefer to to put more weight on their academics onlyt then you get no involment in college or university sports. Its one or the other. So if a school wants to be in the loop they have to do both. Therefore help your student athletes by a lesser academic work load thats all. Extend their school course agenda.

  • melissa riley

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