By Dave Wagner
Coaches at the college level are faced with a two-fold task — recruit good enough athletes to be competitive on the playing field while also trying to help them achieve academic success as they prepare for the “real” world.
Eastern New Mexico University appears to have found a good balance based on fall semester grades in 2003. The overall GPA for 354 athletes in 14 sports was 3.04, with 191 making the honor roll.
Male athletes (six sports) had an overall GPA of 2.87, while female athletes (eight sports) were at 3.31.
According to ENMU registrar Betty Crane, the general student population posted a 2.90 GPA last fall — 2.72 for men, 3.03 for women.
Third-year ENMU athletic director Mike Maguire said most sports have programs in place to help their athletes succeed in the classroom, including tutors if necessary.
He said the number of athletes making the athletic honor roll (3.0 GPA or better) has gone up.
“I think it has been steadily increasing over the past four years,” said Maguire, who has also been the school’s volleyball coach for the past 17 seasons. “I think we’re getting there, but we still have a lot of work to do.”
Eastern compares favorably overall with other four-year colleges and universities in New Mexico and in the Lone Star Conference South Division which provided similar information.
In most cases, women carry overall higher GPAs than men.
At Eastern, for example, the six highest GPAs by sport last fall belonged to women’s teams — tennis (3.56), softball (3.54), basketball (3.32), soccer and volleyball (both 3.31) and rodeo (3.28). Women’s tennis has the smallest squad on campus, but all eight of its members were at 3.0 or above.
The top GPA for a men’s team was baseball at 3.15.
“I think it probably goes back to the way you were raised,” Maguire said. “I think men think more in terms of a career in sports, while women see it more as a way to attain a degree and have security. I don’t think women have that dream of going (pro); they have a little more realistic view of it.”
Due to travel commitments, virtually all college athletes miss class time.
Laci Lee, the leading scorer on the Zias’ basketball team, said athletes simply have to make organization a priority.
“Coaches tell us to manage our time wisely,” said Lee, a junior pre-med student who was named to the LSC South’s all-academic team in March. “If you have a couple of extra hours, you might like to just sit around and watch TV, but usually you have some classwork to get done.
“The main thing is just establishing good communications with your professors. You try to make sure they know you’re trying to stay on top of things.”
Football has by far the largest number of players, and veteran coach Bud Elliott said academic and athletic success are high priorities.
He noted that in his 10 years at ENMU, three players have been named Burger King Scholar Athletes, resulting in a $45,000 contribution to the school’s general scholarship fund.
“We try to make sure they keep up with the (class) work,” Elliott said. “We run regular grade checks, like most do, and we use some of our players to help as tutors.”
Assistant football coach Mike Howard, whose duties include overseeing academic progress of football players, said coaches try to make sure players take advantage of available help.
He said nine players were in pre-med classes this year, and in-season practice times were adjusted accordingly.
“We fit football practice around our kids’ class schedules,” Howard said. “A year ago, we practiced on Sundays, Tuesday nights, Wednesday afternoon, Thursday nights and Friday afternoon to accommodate things like labs.”
Eastern women’s soccer coach Travis McCorkle said a study hall was set up on Mondays and Wednesdays during the fall.
“In order to get out of that, you have to get a 3.0 or better for the semester,” he said.
“I’m proud of our grades,” he said of the women’s fall GPA. “The fact that we have 16 of our 19 (players) on the honor roll was very good.”
McCorkle said he realizes it’s a little different for men than women when it comes to academics — Eastern will start a men’s soccer program in the fall.
“In society, men are given more accolades for sports than women are,” he said. “I think it comes down to expectations. If you put expectations on your players, they’ll do what they can to reach them.”