Letter to the Editor: Sports (1-0) vs. Education (0-1)

December 14, 2013 | 3:17 p.m.

Opinion | Bruce Olsen

Dear Editor:

In the December 5, 2013 edition of The Clarion, you included an opinion piece with the misleading headline “Sports (1-0) vs. Education (0-1).” The headline indicates that sports takes precedence over academics, which could not be further from the truth at Bethel University. I serve as the Faculty Athletics Representative for Bethel, which is an NCAA mandated position and serves as a liaison between academics and athletics. I would like to identify several issues in the opinion piece that are especially problematic.

Issue No. 1: The writer states, “We hear stories about athletes with less-than-spectacular grades who receive full-ride scholarships.” First, Bethel University is a member of the NCAA in Division III, which is not allowed to give scholarships. The NCAA requires every Division III school to annually perform financial aid testing to ensure that more financial aid is not given to student-athletes than to the overall student population, and Bethel passes this test every year. The writer is referring to Divisions I and II of the NCAA, which are allowed to give scholarships. In addition, NCAA research studies indicate that student-athletes perform as well as, and in many cases better than, the rest of the student population in their academics. Bethel’s own studies have supported this research.

Issue No. 2: The writer uses statistics about spending on athletics related to an NCAA Division I program of $92,000 per athlete, with only $14,000 being spent on academics per student. Since Bethel is a Division III school and cannot give “full-ride” scholarships to student-athletes, our spending per athlete is a small fraction of the amount spent at the Division I level. Therefore, it’s difficult to understand why Division I information is used to support a position that we spend too much on our athletes, who receive no extra benefits for playing at Bethel other than some clothing with the Bethel logo on it.

Issue No. 3: We celebrate both athletic and academic success among our student-athletes. For example, over the past two years Bethel has had two student-athletes (Nicole Wriedt and Gavin Maurer) receive a prestigious post-graduate scholarship ($7,500 per year for two years) from the NCAA, which awarded only 174 of these scholarships last year for all three divisions. This award requires both excellent athletic performance and academic achievement. In addition, J.D. Mehlhorn, a senior on the football team, was named to the AFCA’s Good Works team, which consists of only 22 athletes from all three divisions. This is a significant honor and another demonstration that our student-athletes bring much more to the Bethel community besides competing on the athletic field.

Issue No. 4: The writer notes at the end of their opinion piece, “I’m not suggesting that every student who aces a test get a banner hung in their honor, but perhaps a little more recognition for those students who excel in academics is needed.” Faculty would love to recognize students who ace their tests. However, we are prevented from doing so due to federal educational privacy laws. Furthermore, academics should, and does, receive recognition. If you visited Bethel’s website, you will notice many articles highlighting the accomplishments of Bethel’s faculty, students, programs, and even The Clarion back on June 27 (“Student Newspaper Receives Awards”). Whether it’s the Department of Physics receiving another major grant funding research, or a story about students winning a national math competition, there is significant coverage of academic achievements at Bethel.

What I would ask is that opinion pieces reflect some reasonable research that fully supports the position presented, not rumors and innuendos.  Our student-athletes work hard in both the classroom and the athletic field, and when they accomplish great things, we should celebrate with them, just like we do with academic achievement.

Bruce E. Olsen

Associate Professor of Business

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