A failure to reach male athletes
at Central Michigan University
By Seth Newman
It’s 2 a.m. and sophomore Chris Fowler finds himself on the Central Michigan University athletic’s bus traveling home from an out-of-state basketball game in Athens, Ohio.
Fowler, the star point guard of the team, is sitting by the window with a dim light overhead and his homework sprawled out in front of him. Most of his teammates are either sleeping or relaxing. After scoring a team high 19 points in a loss against Ohio, Fowler, a theater major, has a three-page musical analysis due in six hours, in his class tomorrow. Despite being exhausted from his game, he still is reviewing the report, making last minute changes to it.
That dedication is why Fowler has been named Scholar-Athlete of the Week numerous times during his career at CMU.
He finds himself on pace to graduate in 2016 with a 3.5 GPA.
But Fowler is unusual at CMU.
Student-athlete graduation reports provided by the NCAA show that in most male sports, CMU ranks near the bottom in the Mid-American Conference in graduation success rates, most notably in football, men’s basketball and baseball. On the other side, female sports at CMU tend to rank toward the top of the MAC.
Not just at CMU, but nationally, women tend to have an overall better graduation success rates than men do.
The average for Division 1 female athletes graduating in all sports are 88 percent, while men are at 75 percent.
Graduation success rate is defined by the NCAA as any athlete that is able to graduate within six years. Some factors that count against a student graduating are students who leave to travel, transfer to another college or might be dismissed for academic issues.
Last place for most male sports
Out of the 12 teams in the MAC, CMU ranks last in men’s basketball, last in football and 11th in baseball.
Being a student-athlete at CMU comes with a few requirements.
During their freshman year, athletes are required to attend study hall. As a sophomore, athletes must maintain a 3.0 grade point average to avoid study hall sessions.
It is recommended, but not required, for athletes to sit in the first two rows of their classrooms.
Fowler thinks the fact that there aren’t more enforced rules might lead to the reason of poor graduation rates at CMU.
“For us, we don’t really have a lot of rules,” Fowler said. “As far as where we have to sit or what we have to do. Depending on your grade point average, there may be class checks to see if you go to class.”
Along with study halls, CMU provides athletes with academic advisers, personal computer labs, tutors and priority class registration.
Travel time away from school
The men’s basketball team played 15 road games during the 2013-14 season.
Traveling to away games not only take student-athletes out classes, but away from tutor sessions.
While athletes are required to attend every class when they are not traveling, missing classes does happen.
In the past season, Fowler estimates that he misses up to a day and a half worth of classes on each road trip.
That’s 22 and a half days worth of class this season for the men’s basketball team.
“You want to have a good report with your teachers,” Fowler said. “We are always told to introduce ourselves and let them know we are an athlete. We tell them that there is a possibility that we will miss class. Once they know they aren’t more lenient, but they are more accepting if we miss.”
One of the ways Fowler stays on top of his grades is emailing his professors and setting dates on when to turn in homework if he doesn’t turn it in early.
Fowler does most of his homework on his own or in his hotel room.
His teammates give each other the space they need when it’s homework time.
“We give each other the respect we need,” Fowler said. “We want to improve academically, we wouldn’t go in the gym and bother each other when we are shooting. We aren’t going to distract each other when we are taking a test.”
When told about the poor graduation success rate at CMU, Fowler was in disbelief about the information.
When asked why CMU is last in the MAC in graduation success rates on those three core sports, Fowler turned to his teammates and peers.
“Attention to detail by the student-athletes,” Fowler said. “We have to pay more attention and spend more time with our academics as we do with our sports and social lives. It’s personal now, because when it’s time to work out you do it, when it’s time for sports you do it, and when it’s time for school you do it.”
The temptation to be rich and famous for male athletes
Every year, underclassmen declare for the NBA, NFL or MLB. Each year college athletes turn pro to make millions of dollars.
Last year CMU offensive linemen Eric Fisher went No. 1 overall in the NFL draft and signed a contract worth more than $22 million.
An athlete to turn pro from the NCAA is rare – less than 3 percent will go on to play professional sports.
But it’s that dream that keeps the male athletes on the court and out of the library.
Fowler believes the chance to play professionally for men distracts most male athletes from their school work.
“You get that especially in the male aspect because every male thinks they will be a pro,” Fowler said. “Everyone comes here with aspirations of being a professional. The females don’t have as many opportunities to play professional sports. They use their sport to get them through school where we think college is just a stepping stone to the next step.”
Cooper Rush started the majority of the season at quarterback for CMU in 2013. As a quarterback, Rush is used to studying game film, play books and opposing defenses.
While he puts his education first, not all of his teammates do the same, as turning pro is often on their minds.
“I think that can be part of the problem,” Rush said. “Guys lose direction. You have that goal and it’s in the back of your mind everyday. Guys need to know that you need an education.”
Morgan Yuncker, a pitcher for the softball team at CMU believes that because the football team is bigger, playing time is smaller for athletes. That can cause transfers and a decline in graduation rates.
“I feel like the women’s sports we have here at CMU are smaller team sports than football who has a 100-man roster,” Yuncker said. “The playing time is more likely better on the smaller team than a football team.”
Yuncker might be on to something with the transfers.
Stability hasn’t been in the football or basketball program over the last 10 years with three head coaches in men’s basketball and football.
When a coach is fired or takes another job, many athletes transfer including 11 that have transferred from the men’s basketball team over the last two years that will hurt GSR numbers in the future.
Because of this and the lack of security at the head coach position, CMU’s men’s basketball GSR is at 54 percent in comparison, Western Michigan is at 100 percent.
With what CMU offers, Fowler finds it impossible for any athlete not to graduate.
“With what we are offered as athletes there is no reason for us not to graduate,” Fowler said. “We get every opportunity to graduate. We get priority registration, which means we get into our classes before any else. Having a study hall and tutors to pass your class should never be an issue. If you know you need help all you have to do is ask. They make it almost impossible for you not to graduate.”
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