What would you give up for an athletic scholarship? Would you change your major, compromise your career path or put your dreams on hold? Would you sacrifice your academic autonomy to stay on your team?
Some athletes with rigorous major requirements are pushed to switch their majors, and consequently their career paths, by Texas Athletics. Some athletes feel that UT’s main goals are to keep them academically eligible to compete and push them out in four years. If they start to struggle in school, they feel the department’s first instinct is to tell them to quit instead of offering resources for support.
Texas Athletics needs to do a better job supporting athletes who don’t want to pursue their sport professionally after college. The department needs to understand that asking asking students to switch their majors is more than just switching around some classes — it can impact their lives after graduation.
During the recruitment process, athletes are judged on both their academic and athletic records.
According to Dr. LaToya Smith, the senior associate athletics director for student services, recruitment is primarily in the coaches’ hands.
“They’re looking at how well (the athlete) has performed athletically, but also if they have the academic credentials to perform well here at the University of Texas at Austin,” Smith said.
Texas Athletics places a premium on a recruit’s academic life, but it seems as though the emphasis starts to waver after the actual recruitment. A high school athlete may have the academic credentials to perform well at the University, but that potential is not being nurtured at UT.
According to Smith, Texas Athletics offers resources such as strategy and content tutors who help athletes map out their course plans and assist them in understanding class content respectively. But if a student is still overwhelmed despite these resources, they are not cut much slack.
One Texas athlete, who prefers to remain anonymous for the sake of their standing in their sport, experienced pushback when they tried to supplement their academic inquiries. According to them, athletes are pressured to prioritize their sport over academics.
“We’re supposed to go to class,” they said, “but we’re not allowed to miss workout sessions, physical therapy or even drop-ins to go to things like office hours, review sessions or study groups.”
This athlete feels that the athletics department doesn’t support them in their pursuit of a degree that requires more hours than others.
“I didn’t take the right classes in high school, and I started struggling in some classes here,” they said. “While the athletic department offers really nice study spaces and tutors, I still had to put school on the back burner, and my grades were slipping.”
When the athlete expressed this concern to the athletics department, the coaches tried to dissuade them from continuing to pursue their major. According to them, their coaches are worried about them staying academically eligible to play their sport in addition to their graduation schedule.
“In athletics, if you stay for more than four years, you still get to keep all your scholarships and perks, so they actually lose money and resources if they have to invest in you for an extra year,” they said.
In response to this concern regarding a four-year graduation push, Smith gave the following statement:
“I can’t specifically speak to why coaches want student athletes to graduate in four years, but I can say that it has been a directive from our University and the president to increase and insure four-year graduation rates, so we’re in compliance with that.”
Regardless of where that initiative comes from, some athletes are feeling the resulting pressure.
The particular athlete mentioned in this article did not end up switching out of their major after they were encouraged by the department head to do so. While this student was not deterred by pressure from Texas Athletics, they faced undue anxiety their first semester of college.
According to Smith, there are over 500 athletes representing UT, and according to an email statement from her staff, only six of those athletes are double majoring. This speaks to the academic rigidity athletes are subject to.
Juggling travel, workouts, training and a full course load can feel like a full-time job. On top of this, athletes are pressured to alter their future plans, which can cause immense stress and uncertainty.
Instead of making their lives harder, Texas Athletics can support athletes unconditionally as they pursue their academic passions, without ulterior motives in mind.
Dronamraju is a public health sophomore from Dallas.