Credit where credit is due: give student-athletes more than one unit

Illustration courtesy of Adriana Pera / The Occidental

Approximately 25 percent of students at Occidental College are student-athletes, but these athletes aren’t getting the credit they deserve. Occidental awards student-athletes with one unit of course credit for each athletic season they participate in, but this doesn’t reward student-athletes enough for their efforts in promoting the college’s excellent athletics program. If Occidental values its student-athletes, it should compensate them for the amount of energy and time they dedicate to participating in their sports.

Although student-athletes do their very best to put their academics first, participation in athletics makes this difficult and stressful. As a member of the NCAA Division III athletic league, Occidental is bound to strict rules that do not allow it to offer athletic scholarships to student-athletes. Hence, participation in athletics is based solely on a student athlete’s skill and will. The college does provide student-athletes with incentives, such as unlimited access to on-campus sports facilities. However, it also requires them to provide their own equipment, such as baseball bats or golf clubs. Athletes are generally willing to take on these costs, but they have to raise funds to attain the equipment they need.

According to the college’s 2016–2017 Academic Policies Catalog, Occidental allows student-athletes to earn one course-unit — also known as the Physical Activities Credit — for participating in a college sport for an academic year. But according to this policy, students can only earn one course unit for physical activities (PA) in a semester. This means that student-athletes who participate in sports and take a PA class in the same semester only earn one credit for their PA class, and none for their sport.

According to Coordinator of Community Wellness William Morris, the college considers student-athletes as students first and does not give them special privileges or honors. They’re supposed to entirely prioritize their academic life on campus, as opposed to some large colleges, where a student-athlete’s entire time in college is centered around athletics. The academic performance of Morris’s athletes is as important to him as their athletic performance.

“I really like that student-athletes are not differentiated from other students here,” Morris said.

Although academics comes first for student-athletes, the amount of time they put into practicing for and competing in a game often exceeds the amount of time they spend with their books. Ordinarily, four-unit courses translate to four hours of expected work outside the classroom per week, but athletes receive only one credit for far more than one hour of work. According to golf player Jack Moeller (sophomore), student-athletes spend at least 15 to 20 hours a week practicing for a game.

Sports sometimes conflict directly with class time as well. Some professors are very accommodating to student-athletes, allowing them to miss a particular number of classes or giving them the opportunity to make up tests for lost time, but others are not. Some student-athletes are unable to take specific classes in a semester if they conflict with their practice time. Women’s soccer player Sydney Tomlinson (senior) said that she wanted to take a neurobiology class only offered in the fall semester, but the lab is only offered on Tuesdays from 3–6 p.m., which conflicts with soccer practice.

Student-athletes’ commitment to their sports is generally self-rewarding. It gives them well-balanced athletic, academic and social lives and the chance to improve their skills.

“The reward for student-athletes is intrinsic; it’s the wonderful relationships built with teammates, the beauty of playing the sport and the pure joy of it,” Morris said. “It teaches athletes the importance of time management.”

However, this does not take away the fact that the work of student-athletes also merits substantial compensation. One credit of coursework does not adequately compensate the number of hours and effort they dedicate to athletics.

In order for Occidental to better appreciate and reward our student-athletes, the college should increase the number of units of coursework awarded to student-athletes. It must also do away with the restriction imposed on student-athletes by the Physical Activities Credit policy. This will serve as a greater incentive for students to do well in their sports, their academics and their personal lives.

Malcolm Sowah is an undeclared sophomore. He can be reached at