Beeline: Student-athletes should play hard, but study harder

Spinnaker

Sean Dale, the Atlantic Sun men’s golf Player of the Year and leader of the UNF men’s golf team, decided to redshirt the 2011 season to focus on academics. It got me thinking about the emphasis we as fans put on the “student” part of the term “student-athlete.”

While many will question Dale’s decision to sit out a year because he wants to focus on school, I found myself applauding him, which actually surprised even me. I never really thought about it.

How often do we see a top-level college athlete place a higher emphasis on schooling than on sport? As I search my brain, I can’t think of many.

It appears players are going pro younger and younger these days. It makes you wonder why they go to college in the first place, rather than play pro overseas for a few years until they are eligible to play professionally in the United States.

It seems like every year when the NBA Draft comes along, the first pick ends up being some 19-year-old whippersnapper who just got his driver’s license. I don’t think those kids spent too much time in the classroom. Guys like John Wall of the Wizards, Greg Oden of the Blazers and Derrick Rose of the Bulls all left after their freshman seasons with their respective college teams.

I’m not judging these guys by any means. If that kind of money was offered to me I doubt very seriously I’d worry about that last social science credit I needed to finish my degree. It would be extremely tough to turn down. However, I applaud the players who do want that degree as much as they want their success in sports.

Sure, Dale doesn’t stand alone. Look at Stanford’s quarterback Andrew Luck. He had every reason to leave Stanford after his junior year, in which he led the Cardinal to a 12-1 season and 40-12 win over Virginia Tech in the Discover Orange Bowl.

Luck was sure to be the first pick in April’s NFL Draft after he threw for 3338 yards, 32 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. Not to mention his head coach, Jim Harbaugh, left Stanford to coach in the NFL, taking the head coaching job with the San Francisco 49ers.

However, Luck said, “No, thank you” to the $50 million plus that would have come with being the first pick in the NFL Draft. He decided to stay at Stanford to finish his degree in architectural design.

I don’t understand the decision to turn down that much money, especially as a football player. What if, God forbid, he gets hurt next season? Even if he stays healthy, it looks like there will be a rookie salary cap in the NFL in the near future. So even if he is still the first pick next year, he may not get that huge contract.

I can’t fault him, though. The reality is that most college athletes will not go on to play professionally. They need something to fall back on once their sports careers are over. It’s a breath of fresh air to see some athletes realizing this and making the decision to study hard.

So bravo to Dale, Luck and any other student-athlete who wants to do just as well in school as they do in sports. I can’t fault college athletes who remember they are student-athletes, not athlete-students.