Exclusive group of students that are rarely seen on campus, seldom interacts with other students, and shines the stage of Ko-Yon games—collegiate athletes are often separated from ordinary college students by one common prejudice; They are far from academics.
A misconception that prevails in our society is that collegiate athletes are inherently less academically driven. This misinterpretation oversimplifies the underlying problem that exists in the sports education system. In fact, the reason athletes cannot find interest in school education is much more multifaceted than it seems.
The fundamental cause of the issue extends to the early years of the collegiate athletes. In order to become a respected athlete, students need to undergo strident training that often begins at an age as young as six to seven. The harsh training sessions inevitably makes students focus solely on sports. “I started rugby during the summer of my middle school. After I started training, school classes became a thick wall that I could not overcome. Even the athletes that were interested in getting education slowly give up education due to their environment,” said Hong Seok Ho (’12, Physical Education). As such, athletes slowly lose interest in academics starting from the early years of their lives.
By the time athletes achieve success in their athletic performance and enter university as collegiate athletes, most, if not all, athletes drift apart from the academic life. Even if the athletes were interested in class, it would not be easy to suddenly understand the difficult concepts of college education. It is almost impossible for them to maintain a balance between academic achievement and athletic performance. In fact, student athletes dozing off in the middle of a class became a familiar sight.
▲ Collegiate athletes playing rugby during The Annual Ko-Yon Games Photographed by GT Photo Division
Even if the athletes were interested in learning, they often have to miss many classes due to their harsh training sessions as well as the sports related events. They sometimes have to miss three to four weeks of school preparing for big games. Furthermore, the col l egiate athletes often are in separate classes which takes away the opportunity to interact and study along with students from other departments. “Since I play a team sport, I have to schedule my classes based on practice sessions. I cannot take the classes that I really want to take. ” said Hong. Although athletes have equal rights to receive the same level of education as other university students, it is very difficult to claim them in reality.
Most people presume that in order to become a top athlete or a player, education is a necessary trade off. Some might even believe that it is unnecessary for athletes to receive higher education. This presumption disregards the fundamental human rights of collegiate athletes. After receiving lopsided education, many athletes fails to assimilate to the society, since they only learnt to play sports their entire lives. “[By ignoring college education], we lose the opportunities to learn other aspects of life. We cannot interact with anyone other than collegiate athletes,” said Hong. “Although higher level of education may be difficult for collegiate athletes, college education should at least be able to teach them common knowledge and culture in various fields that enable athletes to communicate better with others.”
▲ Professor Lee Han Joo, explaining the reality of education Photographed by Song You Jin.
The problem worsens for the amateur athletes that cannot enter the major league, or for those who are not in popular sports. “Some of those who do not go to the major leagues end up working part time jobs. In order to give them the capacity to find an alternative path, education is imperative,” said Professor Han Joo Lee (Department of Physical Education, Yonsei University).
Realizing the importance of education among student athletes, South Korea also legalized the School Sports Promotion Act in 2013. This act prevents student athletes from attending sports event if they do not reach a certain academic standard at school. If students cannot pass certain classes or exams, they are not eligible to attend the events. This, system, however, did not make much contribution to the advancement of athlete education. “There is no legal force that is strong enough to reinforce this law. Instead of using forceful ways to educate the athletes, we need a more pragmatic system,” said Professor Lee.
In the case of the United States (U.S.), National Collegiate Athlete Association (NCAA) maintains a strict rule on the grading system of collegiate athletes. One of the methods is through Academic Progress Rate (APR), which measures the academic progress of student athletes, which decide whether the athletes are eligible to attend sports events.
Additionally, in order to encourage athletes to study, many collegiate athletes receive scholarship from the school if they excel both in sports and in their classes. These funds are monitored by the Athletic Congress, a national governing association for amateur athletes that guarantee the student athletes’ rights.
More importantly, however, NCAA enables the athletes to adapt to the school through practical methods. According to Professor Lee, the college uses these financial aids that it receives from the NCAA not only to give financial aids but also to provide private tutors for the athletes. This is only possible with the public support and interest in college sports. In South Korea, however, it is very difficult to aid students with money. The fundamental problem lies in the lack of interest between citizens, and it will be very difficult to change this in a short amount of time.
Within the given situation, different approach for education is being sought out for collegiate athletes. According to Professor Lee, both KU and YU will play an important role in shaping the future changes, since both schools have leading collegiate athletes. Depending on how the two schools, the entire schooling system of athletes may change. Specifically, efforts are being made to give them proper education
One example of this could be the tutoring system that Professor Lee implemented couple of years ago. He asked some of the freshmen and sophomore students to do volunteer work by tutoring the student athletes. The results were very satisfying, since all the students showed higher level of academic scores, and they were very happy with their works.
Finally, professors and coaches also need to work together. Many professors let the athletes pass even if the athletes do not even attend the classes. This often worsens the problem and the athletes believe that it is okay to not attend class. A program for the athletes to catch up for the missed classes could be implemented.
In order to fix the fundamental problem of athletes, it would be crucial for KU and YU to first start communicating with each other and find an alternative method to guarantee the e d u c a t i o n o f s t u d e n t athletes. Winning medals does not bring up the sports level in South Korea. if we infringe on the fundamental rights of athlete students.