By Ally McAfee | Staff Writer
Across the nation, student athletes in all divisions are graduating at record rates. The academic success rate for men’s sports has been increasing nationwide over the last three years, reaching 84% last year. According to research done by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), athletes at Division III (D-III) schools are more likely to graduate than other students. Whitworth University’s football team is contributing to the thriving academic success of D-III schools.
Athletes must meet both divisional and university regulations in order to play football, but the NCAA emphasizes the importance of university policies over their own. Whitworth requires a GPA of 3.2, and at least 14 credits worth of classes each semester, as opposed to the 2.0 GPA and 12 credits required by the NCAA. A full course schedule on top of rigorous practices is a high standard to meet, but the players are not abandoned to manage the workload alone.
The position coaches know the classes and majors of the students they work with and help guide them towards their goals in a way that balances their academic and athletic lives. “They have other people on this campus that are concerned about their future, concerned about their success,” Whitworth Head Coach Rod Sandberg explained. “There’s just more people on the campus that are pouring into [the student-athletes].”
Whitworth football’s Mission Statement is “To equip student-athletes to excel—in competition, in the classroom, and in life.” These goals require a sturdy support system that Sandberg engages in personally. Excelling in athletics can do wonderful things for the life of a young adult, but it is not the only quality that Whitworth looks for in graduating students.
“The purpose of college is to prepare a young man for [his] future, not to play football. Football is the icing on the cake. So, we want to come alongside our athletes and make sure they’re maximizing all the opportunities that exist in a great school like Whitworth,” Sandberg said. “We want them in leadership roles … so we will prioritize academics over athletics.”
The Whitworth football team and its dedicated staff recognize that academic achievements can go further than those on the field in propelling a student’s dreams for the future. The team has an academic goal for each year to motivate each player to reach their full potential. “If they need to miss a practice for a class, they miss practice,” Sandberg said.
As can be expected from any large and diverse group of students, the grades of the football team cover a wide spectrum. But Sandberg said there were 19 players last year with GPAs over 3.9.
As the new school year is gathering momentum and the football season has begun, Whitworth watches with anticipation to see whether or not its newest athletes can keep up with the competition; both on the field and in the classroom.