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Debating the Ivy League Grad Athlete Policy (By: Argirios Gouriotis)

In ancient Greek philosophy there is an emphasis put on balancing the three overarching characteristics of every human: mind, body, and soul. It can be argued no college student knows how to maintain this balance better than Ivy League student-athletes. These are the individuals who compete at the highest Division in American college athletics. They also compete at the best academic institutions in the country. Recently, I read articles on the Ivy League choosing to stand firm on their policy to not allow graduate level students to compete in athletics. This policy was originally created so athletes could focus on their studies. Upon initial read, this felt somewhat backwards to me. My mind kept saying, the student-athlete who more than likely knows how to balance school and sport would not be given the opportunity to continue that balance for one final year? I understand the Ivy League is comprised of private universities that have higher standards, but should not that also coincide with a greater belief in their students to still understand academics take a higher emphasis over sport?

From a social justice perspective, it is important to consider who has the power in this scenario. I wonder how much say student-athletes had in the development of this policy? A policy, that when written, probably did not consider the possibility of a public health crisis shutting down the world of sport. In social work, we talk about how those who are often most affected by policies and rulings are those who have a limited voice. How do we inch closer to equity of voice in this situation? As a student-athlete, I understand the delicate balance between academics and competition. I understand the important of sport and the role of athletic identify. An abrupt ending to an athlete’s playing career is detrimental to this identity.

There is also research backing up my claim that athletes at these highly selective universities and colleges are able to keep their grades up to the standards required. Aries and colleagues (2004) investigated student-athletes over four years at a highly selective liberal arts and Ivy League colleges.

Students spending ten (10) or more hours per week in athletic activities had lower entering academic credentials and academic self-assessments than non-athletes, but the academic performance of athletes was not below what would be expected based on their entering profiles (Samuel & Habibullah, 2011). Based on their academic levels entering college, these students were able to maintain their GPA with higher standards and more pressure placed on them.

As a developing social worker, I would be concerned with the impact on the Ivy League student athlete’s psyche who had their last season taken away from them, with their only option being to compete elsewhere. These are individuals who have a history of beating every obstacle in their way, both academic and athletics alike, and now are unable to do so, unless they are willing to uproot the groundwork they spent three to four years laying. The Ivy League decision makes me question whether they have considered every variable, such as the identity crisis an athlete can feel, the impact of sudden and unexpected transitions, and the loss of a daily routine. In a time where we are dealing with so much negativity and anxiety in our day-to-day lives, it is my belief that it would be in the student’s best interest to give them something positive to look forward to. I would hope the Ivy League would be open to conversation about their policy.

Aries, A., McCarthy, D., Salovey, M., & Banaii, M. R., (2004). A comparison of athletes and nonathletes at highly selective colleges: Academic performance and personal development. Research in Higher Education, 45(6), 577-602.

Habibullah, S. N., & Samuel, S. (2011). Academic performance of athlete and non-athlete college students: A statistical study. Proc. 8th International Conference on Recent Advances in Statistics, 305-312.

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