Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Vicki Huber on Student-Athletes' "Free Rides"

For Athletes on Scholarship, the Ride is Anything But 'Free'

Written by
VICKI HUBER RUDAWSKY
Special to The News Journal

Recently, student-athletes around the country, along with their parents and their high schools ,celebrated National Signing Day.

The News Journal featured several Delaware high school seniors, and I know that our daughter's high school held a special ceremony for their senior athletes who signed National Letters of Intent.

Many of you may be wondering what a National Letter of Intent is, and why it is such a big deal. By signing a Letter of Intent, a prospective student-athlete agrees to attend a college or university for at least one academic year. The college or university agrees to provide financial aid to the student, provided that the student is accepted into the academic institution and that the student is also NCAA eligible. Once the student-athlete signs the letter of intent, he or she is no longer able to be recruited by other institutions.

I still remember the day I signed my letter of intent to Villanova. My family gathered around our coffee table in our downstairs rec room, and I signed. We thought about opening some champagne even though my parents never drink, and I remember my dad saying, "What does this mean?" My mom and I burst out laughing and replied that it meant that he didn't have to pay for college.

Many people refer to an athletic scholarship as a "free ride" for a student-athlete. Nothing could be further from the truth. Of course, I only have my own experiences to relate to as a scholarship athlete, but from what I saw during my time at Villanova there was nothing easy ,or free, about the hard work, time and dedication that I put in as both a student and an athlete.

According to the NCAA, on average, college football players spend 44.8 hours a week practicing and playing; golfers average 40.8 hours a week on the golf course; softball players spend 37.1 hours on the field. As a track athlete, my day consisted of a morning run, shower and breakfast, class, off to practice, dinner, another shower and homework. Not only are athletes under pressure to perform athletically, but they also have to maintain academic standards in order to compete and keep their scholarships.

While I was at Villanova, I never skipped a class. This was not because I was such a dedicated student, it was because we traveled pretty much every weekend to track and cross country meets. I missed classes almost every Friday and sometimes on a Monday as well. Even though my missed classes were excused, it was still up to me to make up the work and track down the day's notes. In a time where laptops and email didn't exist, this was tough to do.

When we traveled, we not only packed our uniforms and spikes, but also textbooks and sometimes a take-home exam that somehow needed to get done between warmups and races, or on the plane ride home. I spent many Sunday nights typing early into the next morning due to a delayed layover in an airport.

There are also many benefits to being a student-athlete. Because an athlete's day must include practice time, sometimes there may be extra help in getting into a popular class that others would not be able to get into. There are mandatory study halls to make sure that the athletes are getting their work done and maintaining their GPAs. Tutoring is available. If an athlete is traveling to a competition during an exam period, he or she may get one or two days extra to complete the exam.

However, these benefits in no way create an easy ride for student-athletes. Receiving a scholarship to a college, whether athletic, academic, or both, means that you have worked extremely hard. They are recognizing you for that. The institution feels that you will be an asset to their university or college, and fully expects that you will continue to be disciplined and work even harder for them. Believe me, there is nothing easy about those expectations.

I feel very lucky that I received a full scholarship to Villanova, but I would never say that I got a "free" education. I worked extremely hard, and dedicated four years of my life to a program and a coach that believed in me. As hard as it was, I would do it all over again.

While I was at Villanova, I never skipped a class. This was not because I was such a dedicated student, it was because we traveled pretty much every weekend to track and cross country meets. I missed classes almost every Friday and sometimes on a Monday as well. Even though my missed classes were excused, it was still up to me to make up the work and track down the day's notes. In a time where laptops and email didn't exist, this was tough to do.

When we traveled, we not only packed our uniforms and spikes, but also textbooks and sometimes a take-home exam that somehow needed to get done between warmups and races, or on the plane ride home. I spent many Sunday nights typing early into the next morning due to a delayed layover in an airport.

There are also many benefits to being a student-athlete. Because an athlete's day must include practice time, sometimes there may be extra help in getting into a popular class that others would not be able to get into. There are mandatory study halls to make sure that the athletes are getting their work done and maintaining their GPAs. Tutoring is available. If an athlete is traveling to a competition during an exam period, he or she may get one or two days extra to complete the exam.
However, these benefits in no way create an easy ride for student-athletes. Receiving a scholarship to a college, whether athletic, academic, or both, means that you have worked extremely hard. They are recognizing you for that. The institution feels that you will be an asset to their university or college, and fully expects that you will continue to be disciplined and work even harder for them. Believe me, there is nothing easy about those expectations.

I feel very lucky that I received a full scholarship to Villanova, but I would never say that I got a "free" education. I worked extremely hard, and dedicated four years of my life to a program and a coach that believed in me. As hard as it was, I would do it all over again

Vicki Huber represented the USA in the 1988 (6th place, 3000 meters) and 1996 Olympic Games (1500 meters). While at Villanova, she won 8 individual NCAA titles (3 indoor and 3 outdoor titles at 3000 meters in 1987, 1988, and 1989, the 1988 indoor mile, and the 1989 cross country individual title). Huber was USATF national champion in the 1500 meters in 1988, set a USA 5K record, and was 4th at the 1992 World Cross Country championships.

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