Athletic department pushes academic excellence

Story by Collin Morris, Assistant Sports Editor

The college life has become infamously synonymous with poor sleeping habits, late-night studying binges and an overall teetering scale as students struggle to balance their overwhelming obligations.

Unfortunately for student-athletes, and despite the perception of the public, the workload does not culminate solely on the “student” aspect of student-athlete.

Student-athletes may begin cramming or enjoying their two hours of sleep, only after a grueling practice,  late-night game or long road trip for an away series.

Athletic Director Allen Ward said Murray State student-athletes traditionally haven’t allowed their sports to interfere with academic responsibilities.

“Our graduation rate, I believe, was 2 percent higher than the student body this past year,” Ward said. “Typically we’re higher than that, but this one actually represented a year in which we had two coaching changes. We were 22 percent higher [than the student body] the year before.”

Ward also said the cumulative grade point average of all sports teams has never fallen below 3.0 in his 12 years as Murray State’s athletic director. Their success has been achieved, Ward says, by following his mantra of “Four years, two goals.”

“I tell our student-athletes, when they come here, that I expect them to do two things,” Ward said. “I expect them to leave Murray State with a championship ring on one hand and a diploma in the other. It sounds simple, but it’s a model we live by and it’s something we expect every athlete to aspire to.”

According to the NCAA’s website, aspiring student-athletes must maintain a 2.3 grade point average in core courses, putting Murray State’s athletic department above the nationally-required averages. Ward also said the NCAA tracks student-athletes’ progress toward their degree.

“We have to meet certain NCAA requirements for eligibility, and that eligibility means that they’re progressing towards their degree at a mandated clip,” Ward said. “And if they don’t do that, not only will they not graduate, but they’re not going to play either so we track all of that.”

Ward said he gets support from the school’s advisers, professors and other faculty and staff with the academic performance of Racer student-athletes.

“Our advisers give them some very personalized attention to help them understand their time demands and make their classes fit within their schedule when they have practice and everything else going on and to make sure they’re making progress towards their degree.”

Ward said along with the support from the faculty, he also expects academic commitment from his coaches as well.

“Our teams have had a lot of success academically,” Ward said. “I expect that from the coaches because [academics] are their commitment and that’s the message they send to their team.”