Last month, Dartmouth College, a prestigious Ivy League school in Hanover, New Hampshire, charged 64 student-athletes with violating the school’s honour code. These students are accused of cheating…in a sports ethics class. Ironic, no? The class was originally created to help student athletes (more about that later) by adding a different kind of course to their courseload, and yet, the students still felt the need to cheat. As class attendance swelled to over 280 students, the course employed the use of “clickers” to answer questions in class. 43 students are accused of failing to attend class and instead, giving their “clickers” to 21 students who did attend class so that they could answer on the absent students’ behalf, thereby misrepresenting their attendance. These 64 students have, for the most part, been suspended for a term.
This is a more minor case, in comparison to allegations of student-athlete misconduct we have seen in the last few years. From the beginning, athletes are treated differently in a college setting. They often face different admissions standards, as many are recruited for their athletic talent and are skated through the admissions process. They benefit largely from enormous athletic scholarships, and are often held to different athletic standards. Some schools have been accused of creating “filler classes” designed specifically for student-athletes, for which they are not even expected to complete any course work, or even attend class, in some cases. As our society continues to place a huge value on college sports, the pressure has risen for school athletic teams to perform. Student athletes do not simply have daily practices, anymore. Most teams have morning and afternoon practices for upwards of two to two and a half hours per day, workout regiments, and conditioning time, all on top of the time they actually spend playing or even travelling to games. Because of this, the amount of time they spend as athletes far outweighs the amount of time they spend as students.
Those hefty scholarships, therefore, take on an entirely different meaning. The school now owns these athletes, and they are held to gruelling physical standards, similar to professional athletes. The schools and the NCAA benefit enormously from these students, but the students are prohibited from benefitting financially. Additionally, their scholarships, which for many are the only way they can attend college, could even be revoked if the student-athlete becomes injured and is unable to play. This is often likely, considering the intense training schedule to which they are held. This is why many student athletic teams have argued for the right to unionise and assert their rights, because they claim that they are, rather than students, employees of their respective schools. They are demanding the ability to join together and negotiate for a fairer share in their success. In March of 2014, students at Northwestern University won this right. The NCAA was, of course, opposed to this decision, as they have been fighting the label of “employee” for student-athletes for decades. They claim that this decision undermines the true, educational, meaning of “college” but they are not in this tough situation.
While I am not excusing the disrespect shown to the Dartmouth College honour code by these student-athletes, I can see a logical chain of events. If I was held to these standards and put under so much pressure, I would find it difficult to balance everything and give my full attention to classes. Thus, it has become necessary to re-evaluate our policies towards student-athletes and decide if they are more student or more athlete.