Derek Torrellas – Special to the Southern News –
Men’s basketball coach Mike Donnelly said that the “fantastic” grade point average achieved by his student-athletes was a result of the commitment to academics that Southern seeks when recruiting new talent.
The student-athletes’ hard work has paid off, Donnelly said, “Here, they’re focusing on basketball; off the court, they’re doing the right things.”
The high standards are common across all of Southern’s athletes and teams, according to Athletic Director Patricia Nicol.
“Athletic and academic performance don’t have to be mutually exclusive,” said Nicol. “Better students tend to be better student-athletes.”
The 395 student-athletes combined GPA for the fall 2012 semester was 3.057. Nicol said that was the highest it had ever been. Among women, the team with the highest cumulative GPA was cross-country with 3.84; men, the basketball team with 3.11.
One of nine athletes to attain a 4.0 was football player Jack Mallis, a junior communications major. He said one of the important factors is the collaborative effort that they learn by playing a sport.
“A team is almost everything,” said Mallis. “If your teammates and friends are struggling, you have to help them just as much as if you were on the field.”
The athletes are held to a high intellectual standard by NCAA rules and Southern’s standards are even higher, according to Mallis. If an athlete’s grades are below a certain level, or they do not attain enough credits, they are ineligible to play in a game. The coaches ensure that the academic priorities are known, he said, but the pressure is on the individual to succeed.
“You have to take it into your own hands, especially if you want to get above average grades,” said Mallis.
Field hockey player and exercise science major, Erica Fisher, also said the coaches set the tone for academics, but it was ultimately up to her.
“It is your own responsibility,” Fisher said. “You really need to be good at time management.
You need to be on top of your game.”
Athletics give student-athletes a framework and structure from which to build on, said Associate Director of Athletics Mike Kobylanski. Once given these tools and resources, it is “up to them to make it happen.”
“It is a process when searching for new athletes,” Donnelly said. “They look for well-rounded individuals. How potential recruits are assessed goes beyond their talent and past SAT scores: Even their number of absences and tardiness is reviewed. He said this results in his team being a ‘low maintenance group.’”
As a coach, Donnelly said, they are there to help the student-athletes. The help can include giving extra time to meet with professors, or to complete projects. If one of his players is falling behind, Donnelly makes sure that they exhaust all their options in improving themselves, and getting a tutor if necessary.
“There is a flow of communication that must exist between the professor, the student, and the coach,” said Nicol.
To achieve good grades as an athlete takes focus, according to Mallis. It is similar to working a full-time job in addition to being a student.
“People who don’t play sports, I think, underestimate us,” said Mallis. “There is a lot of stress and pressure on student-athletes. A lot of time goes in that isn’t seen.”
Donnelly said he sees his athletes every day, for “two to three hours,” but for the remainder, “They are college students, not basketball players.”
“I’m competitive,” said Donnelly, “but we have to understand that this is a small part of their life.”