UB Athletes Are Top Performers In Classroom

By Sue Wuetcher

Release Date: December 11, 1998

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- University at Buffalo athletes are performing in the classroom, as well as on the court or on the field.

In fact, the director of the office that provides academic support for athletes says that between 30 and 45 percent of UB's athletes can be considered "scholar athletes."

The most recent example are the football players who snagged five of the 20 spots on the 1998 GTE/College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Academic All-District I football team. Lead by senior defensive end Dan Poulsen, who has earned a 3.84 GPA in physical therapy and a spot on the GTE/CoSIDA all-academic team for the second straight year, the "academic all-stars" include junior offensive tackle Mike Garofalo, with a 3.41 GPA in management; junior offensive guard David Pruce, 3.80 in political science; sophomore linebacker Brandon Nishnick, 3.36 in history, and redshirt freshman running back David Schmidli, who is considered a sophomore academically and intends to major in physical therapy, 3.54.

District I includes all Division I-A and I-AA schools within the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont, and includes schools from the Big East and the Ivy League.

Moreover, these football players are not the only athletes at UB to earn academic honors. Paul Vecchio, sports information director, notes that other stellar scholars include:

o Catherine Jacob, senior guard on the women's basketball team, who has been selected two consecutive years to the GTE/CoSIDA Academic All-District I women's basketball team and is considered a "lock" for a spot again this year. Jacob also was named the "scholar athlete" of the prestigious Rutgers Invitational Tournament held two weekends ago.

o Members of the men's swimming team, which placed first twice in the past five years -- based on team GPA -- on the College Swimming Coaches Association of America (CSCAA) All- Academic Team. The team also placed 12th this year on the list of NCAA all-academic swimming teams.

"As a group, athletes generally do well" academically, confirms Stephen N. Wallace, director of the Office of Athlete Academic Services. Wallace notes that between 30-45 percent of the 500 varsity student athletes at UB on average are considered "scholar athletes" -- earning a GPA of 3.0 or higher in graded courses during any particular semester.

That percentage is "somewhat higher than the percentage of the general student body," believes Dennis Malone, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and NCAA Faculty Athletics Representative.

Coaches of Division I teams expect a certain level of performance from their athletes, Wallace says, noting that leads to significant demands on the athletes' time for practice, competition and travel.

"To deal with that and the academic demands (of UB) is a real feat," he says.

As faculty athletic representative, Malone describes his job as "trying to represent the interests of the athletic program to the faculty and the interests of the faculty and the academic program to the Division of Athletics." He points out that the NCAA's motto states that student athletes are students first and athletes second.

"Maybe 1 percent of student athletes even get a look by a professional sports team," he says. "That's something our students perhaps understand; they (students and the Division of Athletics) take the (NCAA) motto quite seriously."

The Office of Athlete Academic Services has put into place an academic support program that is designed to "maintain the academic integrity of the (athletics) program," Wallace says.

Each team is assigned an academic advisor and team members can avail themselves of tutoring and mentoring programs. As freshmen, they participate in a course similar to UB 101 -- but geared toward athletes -- to help them learn about the university.

The office staff includes a learning specialist -- a doctoral student from the Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology -- who works with athletes experiencing learning problems ranging from learning disabilities to an inability to get organized to poor study skills.

The office also is in contact with athletes' instructors at least three times a semester, which gives staff a good indication how students are doing and allows them to help correct problems before the students gets into real academic trouble.

Wallace says that the real key to athletes' outstanding performances "is the sense of community and connection and support among themselves.

"It makes a difference to kids when a professor knows their name and asks them how their mom and dad are doing," he says.

Malone dispels the widely held notion that athletes generally are concentrated among easy majors -- the "rocks for jocks" syndrome, pointing out that the distribution of majors among athletes at UB is very similar to the distribution of majors among the general student population.

"There really is not an easy major at UB," adds Wallace, noting that a surprising number of athletes major in engineering, considered a "fairly inflexible" course of study.

Malone notes that people make generalizations when it comes to athletes -- "the big, dumb guy is one."

But these people "simply haven't looked at what the facts show," he says.

"In terms of the general academic quality of athletes, the university can be, and should be, proud of the academic performance of its athletes."