Time Demands of an Intercollegiate Athlete: By a Student-Athlete

By JIM O’DAY

During my 14-year career with intercollegiate athletics at The University of Montana, I was able to witness first-hand some incredible accomplishments, and hear some amazing speakers. Among them were legendary men’s basketball coach John Wooden of UCLA, former U.S. Secretary of State for the George W. Bush administration Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw, NCAA Presidents Myles Brand and Mark Emmert and South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier. And while each was extremely impressive, none delivered a message any more real and authentic than that of a former student athlete from Michigan State University a year ago in January.

On that particular day at the annual NCAA Convention in Indianapolis, Kirk Cousins, the former Spartans’ quarterback and now backup QB for the Washington Redskins, told a large group of university presidents and athletic administrators what he’d learned during his four-plus years in college. He explained the value of his college education (he graduated from MSU with a 3.7 grade point average and plans to attend medical school once his NFL career ends), but also emphasized that 75,000 fans “graded” him each Saturday on the playing field – and, thus, he had to put a lot of his energies there. Did he feel he didn’t give enough of himself to anything he did along the way?  Honestly, he said, he wished he would have had more time to spend on academics. But, his demanding schedule and the day-to-day grind of participating in football prevented it from happening. In retrospect, he said, the grading in the classroom was only between him and his professor… so he had to do his best to please the most people. Still, he was also able to excel in both football and academics.

“Arguably, we learned more through our athletics involvement than we did in the classroom in terms of what will help us going forward in life,” Cousins told his audience. “That is simply because of the opportunities that being an athlete in the Big Ten Conference and at Michigan State afforded us.”  Asked to describe his overall experience at Michigan State in one word, Cousins’ response was, “Challenge.”

Kirk Cousins – Backup quarterback for the Washington Redskins and former Michigan State Standout. CourtesyPhoto.

“My experience at Michigan State took a lot out of me, but it was rewarding,” Cousins said. “The expectations for athletes on and off the field in the collegiate realm have risen. The resources and the opportunities available to us have risen, as well.  I wish individually I would have enjoyed it more and taken stock of the resources and opportunities I had and appreciated where I was at the time.”

Cousins is just one of many thousands of college student-athletes who are faced with multiple challenges each day.  In addition to the intense spotlight, they also must perform well for their coaches, their families and fans, their teachers… and themselves. They are competitive not only on the playing fields, courts and courses, but in the classroom as well. They push each other, and know the importance of a college education. It’s a delicate balance, and reminiscent of a college student with a 40-hour-per week job in addition to his/her studies. It definitely is a “challenge,” and not an easy one.  Nor is it for everyone.

As we watch these young men and women participate at the intercollegiate level in all sports, let’s try to remember that they have very rigorous and demanding schedules – and that they are amateurs and not professional athletes.  They also have problems like any other college students. Yes, it’s easy to criticize them when they’re down and cheer for them when they’re successful.  But as Kirk Cousins so eloquently pointed out, they are only trying their best to perform to the high expectations of the masses who witness their athletic performances each week.

The student athletes at The University of Montana are to be commended for their fine work both on and off the field.  Academically, they are at an all-time high with a 3.11 cumulative grade point average.  Their recent federal graduation rates from 2005-11 were an impressive 77 percent – or significantly higher than the 43 percent rate for the entire undergraduate population at UM. In addition, they are performing at an impressive level on the fields.  They represent Montana quite well, as do the talented student athletes at Montana State and the other colleges and universities across the state.

Sometimes it takes from the “mouths of babes” to understand the real challenges and obstacles facing today’s student-athletes – and to put true perspective and facts in some conversations.  Kirk Cousins did just that in his address to university leaders… and it struck a chord for many of those in attendance. It certainly did for me, and for that, he will forever be included my listing of the top speakers I heard during my years with UM Athletics.

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Do you have questions for Jim?  Use this Contact Us form and we’ll forward your questions to him for possible inclusion in future blogs.  Like this blog?  Chances are you’ll like these other Jim O’Day blogs:  What the Financial Numbers mean for UM/MSU Athletics.  Hiring/Retaining College Coaches is Becoming ToughFormer UM Coaches/Missoula Stars Making it Big in College FootballWhy I chose to Make It Missoula, The Ups & Downs of Being a Griz Fan, Once a Griz, Always a Griz.

Jim O’Day was Director of Athletics at the University of Montana from 2005-2012. Prior to that, he served as the Assistant Director of the Grizzly Athletic Association and later as the Director of Development  for Intercollegiate Athletics atUM.

Prior to returning to his alma mater in 1998, O’Day was the owner and publisher of the family-owned Western Breeze newspaper in Cut Bank, Montana.

Jim currently works for The Farran Group, a real estate development/ investment firm based in Missoula, MT.  In addition, Jim serves as a consultant for Epio Solutions out of Seattle, a sports based agency primarily focused on monitoring social media platforms for various colleges and universities.

Jim and his wife Kathy have three sons: Chris, Kevin and Brian.  Chris and Kevin are graduates of The University of Montana, while Brian is currently a senior at UM.