Web Exclusives: From the P-Nut Gallery
a column by Nate Sellwyn nsellyn@princeton.edu

November 20, 2002:

Down and out on the playing field
One student-athlete has to sit out until the grades improve

I set out this week to write something exposing the difficulties endured by student-athletes. I don't play any sports, or do much of anything, but I still can't seem to find enough hours in the day to get all my work done. Throw in two hours a day, at least, of practice? I'd be hiking home on Route 1 in no time.

I figured I could get to the bottom of the issue by interviewing a sophomore who has been forced to take this season off from his team due to academic difficulties last semester — specifically, a GPA under 2.0. I expected to find a lurid tale of late night practices keeping a student from his passion for the books. What I found instead was, surprisingly enough, pretty heartening. The student asked that he remain anonymous, so that's what I've done. Feel free to email me.

P-Nut: Who asked you not to play sports this year?

Student-Athlete: To my knowledge, [an associate Dean of the College] had the final say about whether or not I would be eligible to compete this season. [My coach] held me out of practice.

P-Nut: Let's go back a bit. What was your initial reaction, when you arrived at campus last year, as to how athletics integrate with academics at Princeton?

Student-Athlete: The way Princeton has things set up, with athletes and nonathletes rooming together and with no special treatment afforded to athletes, it seemed to me that athletics and academics were pretty well integrated.

P-Nut: Were you prepared by the school to handle both workloads, from the start?

Student-Athlete: I definitely wasn't. I was used to rigorous training from my high school experiences, but college academics are much tougher than the challenges presented by my high school. I didn't totally realize how much time schoolwork in college requires.

P-Nut: How long did it take you to realize that you weren't going to be able to meet both sets of demands?

Student-Athlete: It wasn't until midterms that I realized how big the problem was. In high school, I could always cram and still perform very well, but my classes here were too hard to possibly cram for. So before midterms, I wasn't doing great on problem sets or quizzes, but I assumed I could just try harder for midterms and finals and still do fine.

P-Nut: Was there any system set up by the team to help you academically?

Student-Athlete: We had a faculty liaison for the team but I am not really sure of his function, and we received notices about the writing center, but I would say the residential college facilitated the most help.

P-Nut: Did you not realize it was there until it was too late, or was the help simply not enough?

Student-Athlete: It was because I didn't realize that things were so bad until too late. If I had taken advantage of the help earlier, I might have been all right.

P-Nut: Were there times when you found yourself sacrificing academic preparation for athletics?

Student-Athlete: It didn't feel like it... I definitely could have studied more on travel trips. There were opportunities to study and I chose not to. It was my own poor planning

P-Nut: What about the team liaison? You said you weren't really aware of his function.

Student-Athlete: Yeah, our liaison came to our games most of the time, but there wasn't much communication.

P-Nut: So it was your residential college that stepped in, more than anyone else.

Student-Athlete: Yeah, it was the dean of our college that communicated with me after my poor midterm results.

P-Nut: Did you feel like there could have been more support from your team?

Student-Athlete: I am not sure the team could have done much more for me

P-Nut: What about during the second semester last year?

Student-Athlete: Second semester was just a problem semester; I had both the stomach flu, and then I got mono right before midterms, so I missed two crucial weeks. I ended up performing terribly, and I never quite caught up

P-Nut: Did the residential college continue to be supportive?

Student-Athlete: Yeah, they continued to contact me.

P-Nut: What about this year? Has the team been pretty active in encouraging your return?

Student-Athlete: My coach mentioned it to me at the beginning of the year but since then he has mostly been silent and not very helpful, but my teammates have been very encouraging.

P-Nut: So you don't really hold anyone to blame for what happened last year?

Student-Athlete: Not really.

P-Nut: This year, now that you're a little better prepared, do you find it easier?

Student-Athlete: Yeah. This year, besides being healthy, I feel so much more prepared now that I know the pace of things... school, sports, etc.

P-Nut: So it's entirely possible, you think, to have a productive four years in both athletics and academics.

Student-Athlete: Yeah, but I am not sure someone like me could be. Coming from a high school such as mine, I am not sure there is any way I could have been prepared, but perhaps for students from more rigorous high schools, they might have been able to. Plus engineering is so much tougher.

P-Nut: With that knowledge, what would you suggest to the school? A way to improve preparation for students like yourself, perhaps?

Student-Athlete: Hmmm, I guess, if improvements could be made, it would be on the advising side. I probably took classes that were in over my head. For example, I probably should have started with easier math and physics programs than I originally selected. But maybe if I had known how to study better I could have tackled all that.


You can reach Nate at nsellyn@Princeton.EDU