Student-athletes balance education, sports, social lives

Taylor Ricci, a current OSU student and former OSU gymnast, practices high beam during a gymnastics practice in Gladys Valley Gymnastics Center.

Arianna Schmidt, News Contributor

Scholarship allocation dependent upon sport, meant to assist student-athletes.

The day-to-day life of an average student can be stressful, from coursework to working a job to social and personal obligations. However, a particular group of students at Oregon State University balance a very different kind of life; their job is to perform athletically while maintaining academic accountability. Students on athletic scholarships are provided with resources and faculty assistance to them are here to lessen the strain of an athlete’s collegiate life.


Opportunities For Success

Kimya Massey, senior associate Athletics director, and his office is responsible for overseeing four sports administratively, as well as the Student-Athlete Development programming for all student-athletes. According to Massey, student-athletes are able to receive assistance for professional, personal and leadership development to be prepared for their lives after being a college athlete. Massey said there are specific training facilities for athletes because of time demands around practice and games. 

“In terms of academic support, there is a team of academic counselors and learning specialists focused on our student-athletes,” Massey said via email. “Because student-athletes have to adhere to specific institution, Pac-12 and NCAA rules and regulations, there are extra layers of academic responsibilities they must meet in order to receive aid, practice and compete.”

Massey said the athletes have counselors specifically for monitoring these rules and making sure they are adhering to them. The tutoring center is staffed at specific times to coincide with the times student-athletes can meet with tutors and mentors around their class and practice schedules.

“Practices are scheduled around classes the vast majority of the time,” Massey said in an email. “If a student-athlete has a class conflict with practice, they must attend class. In terms of games and competition, the Pac-12 schedules the conference games, so that is out of the control of each institution. In some cases, a staff member will travel and proctor an exam on the road. Or the host institution will have one of their staff proctor the exam.” 

According to Mat Kanan, assistant Athletics director of Development, Communications and Stewardship, through collaboration between areas such as student-athlete development and the Our Beaver Nation office, OSU Athletics tries to make the athletic experience at a collegiate level as unique as possible.

“Our student-athletes have access to career networking, interview training and job shadowing on a professional level,” Kanan said. “Donors should know that this is the kind of life-long lessons these athletes are learning with the help of their donations. As for skills learned on the field, things like team building, leadership, facing adversity and learning to perform under pressure are all a part of what these athletes will use long after their playing days.”

Taylor Ricci, current student and former OSU gymnast, said receiving an athletic scholarship not only helped her pursue athletic and academic dreams. She said being a student always comes first, which in turn earned her athletic prominence, like being named onto the All-Academic PAC-12 first team, and being awarded with Oregon State’s Waldo-Cummings Outstanding student award.

“Because of my athletic scholarship I have become a first-generation college student,” Ricci said in an email. “Earning an athletic scholarship started at age four for me when I took up the sport of gymnastics and involved years of hard work and dedication. Gymnastics, and my athletic scholarship, became my means of achieving a different dream, which is to become a doctor. My scholarship was my ticket to college and allowed me to focus on my athletics and academics without a significant financial burden or stress.”


Allocation of Funding

Alex Gary, senior associate Athletics director/senior director of development, is a part of the office responsible for fundraising and alumni relations as it relates to OSU Athletics. Gary has been at this position for almost six months, fundraising for student-athlete scholarships, facility enhancements team operations. 

Gary said the NCAA regulates how many scholarships are able to be given out to each sport. The two groups of sports are known as head-count sports and equivalency sports. Headcount sports include football, volleyball and both men’s and women’s basketball, that guarantees those athletes full rides. Equivalency includes the remaining sports and athletes only get an allotted scholarship based on what the coach chooses to award them. 

“So in baseball for instance, you have 11.7 percent of (overall) scholarships to provide,” Gary said. “But you’ll typically maybe have 30 players on the roster, so if the coach feels like they really want to get the pitcher out of Salem, Ore., they may choose to give them 75 percent. Coaches may choose to provide another 25 percent, but they have to stay with the 11.7 that the NCAA regulates just to kind of keep equity throughout the sport.”

David Allison, Customer Service supervisor at the Beaver Store, said the bookstore is only responsible for processing textbooks for student athletes.

“Our role is just to guide the athletes, helping them find their books of course, just like we would do with any student,” Allison said. “Then ringing them up, processing the transactions, making sure they’re getting the correct books on their scholarship.”

On campus, the Beaver Store is the primary store for the selling and renting of textbooks, Allison said. The store works to be the easiest and best outlet for students to get their books without much hassle. 

“For the athletes, you know we have a good relationship with the Athletics Department,” Allison said. “So it just makes sense for them to be able to come over here and grab their books as opposed to going through multiple different vendors and trying to work that out.”

Allison said the process for ringing up a student athlete and their books is a little different than for a regular student. The athletes go through a process called an athletic scholarship sale versus the traditional book sale with a standard cashier.

“It involves making sure they have their student ID and vetting them,” Allison said. “Making sure they’re really an athlete, which of course they always are, but they’re using OSU money to buy their books so they just ring up at a different location at the customer service desk.”

By processing, Allison means the athletes are able to come in and pick up what they need in the textbook department and walk up to Customer Service desk with their syllabus or booklist to check for correctness. Allison said a stamp on their papers means they have been sent by the Athletic Department and a vetting process through their student ID occurs.

“We make sure that all the books that they’re getting are part of their required course materials and we ring them up,” Allison said. “We actually do the sales here for them.”

Fundraising is the main revenue source of athletic scholarships at OSU, as well as other resources, according to Gary. In 2017, the bill for athletic scholarships was 10.1 million dollars and the Athletic Department was able to transfer 8.6 million from donors to the scholarship fund. The goal for Athletics is to be able to cover the athletic scholarship bill entirely from the donors.

“So if you have season tickets to a lot of the sports we have, so like football and men’s and women’s basketball, there are contributions that are tied to the ability to purchase season tickets,” Gary said. “And those contributions help fund our scholarship bill.”


Donors Directly Affect Athletes

According to Gary, donors don’t realize how much of a force their donations have on athletes at the school. He said it is so much more than just a ticket and a seat at a game, but having a greater impact on the experience of these students academically, as well as athletically.

“In a case where an alum is not happy with the product that they’re seeing on the field and chooses to reduce their contribution, what we try to highlight is the greater impact their support is having on 551 student athletes that participate in athletics at Oregon State University,” Gary said. 

Donors then see why it’s important to support the student-athlete experience at OSU and how it benefits them as a people, so more relying on a philanthropic message and less on ticket sales, Gary said.

“I just think we have to continue to push a message of athletics as a worthy non-profit option for people to give,” Gary said. “If we depend strictly on donations tied to ticket sales, our annual scholarship fund may be inconsistent and unreliable to cover an ever-growing scholarship bill.”

Gary said that fully covering the scholarship bill through donations will allow the Athletics Department to use other profits made to increase team operations budgets, additional support for coaches, expand the training table capabilities to student-athletes and invest in the academic success program for professional development and other off-field initiatives.

“It’s actually in our strategic plan,” Gary said. “The one that was released a few weeks ago, the Build the Dam strategic plan and the goal is to fully fund our athletic scholarship bill through donations and what that allows is us to use other revenues like ticket sales and other things like that to invest back in the student-athlete experience.” 

Not all revenue acquired goes towards scholarships. Money is also raised to improve athletic facilities through many different programs, Gary said. Women Leading OSU is a program funded for experiences student-athletes have on campus, not just their scholarships. Funds from this program recently went towards enhancements to the women’s locker rooms in the basement of Gill Coliseum. 

“The Valley Football Center, that our football team, our coaches and the training table for all of our student-athletes, we did significant enhancements in that and we had donors step up specifically for those amenities,” Gary said. “There’s a scholarship side, but there’s also the capital investment side.”

According to Ricci, opportunities like sitting on three NCAA Committees, going on international service trips and co-founding the Dam Worth It mental health campaign have been made available to her. She said her work as a student-athlete will translate to her life as a working adult and in a professional setting.

“Personally, my scholarship not only affected me but my entire family,” Ricci said via email. “Coming from a single parent household, the opportunity to be financially supported throughout my college career was a blessing. Attaining a scholarship involved a lot more than just picking up a check. When a school or Athletics Department invests in you, you learn how to be accountable and learn that there is a standard you have to set for yourself.”

A lot of student-athletes are strong in their abilities to complete coursework efficiently, Massey said. Athletes are responsible for communicating with their professors if an event will cause them to miss class time. In the case of a midterm, final or assignment, the athlete must make sure there is time to complete the task or make time to have the test proctored.

“Inevitably, there are times where a student-athlete must make some life choices and sacrifices,” Massey said via email. “To compete in a sport at this level and also be strong academically, it sometimes leaves less time for social life.”

According to Ricci, all the people involved within the Athletics Department have been crucial in positively impacting her experience as a student-athlete. Additionally, resources such as professional development events, a medical school pipeline program and an international study abroad program called Beavers Without Borders, help student-athletes as well.

“Being a student-athlete is by no means an easy task,” Ricci said via email. “Most of my days started at 6 a.m. and went until 11 p.m. You are managing a full-course load while training 20 hours a week, not including treatments and meetings. The resources provided by Athletics made this lifestyle a lot more manageable and a lot more rewarding.”

There is no other experience in life quite comparable to being a student-athlete at the Division I level, according to Ricci. Personal and free time, as well as sleep, are limited when student-athletes are expected to perform at such a high level in both athletics and academics.

“You definitely are faced with the challenges of balancing it all, but as an athlete it is in your nature to do so,” Ricci said. “Mental health is a growing concern in college athletics, and through personal struggles and adversity that hit me throughout my college career, I was inspired to co-found the #DamWorthIt Campaign with a current men’s soccer player Nathan Braaten. Our hope is that this campaign not only aids with the mental health grievances student-athletes face but all students at Oregon State.”

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