ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. (Feb. 15) – Jamie Wallschlaeger sat at his desk in Plassmann Hall, scribbling down notes until the last minute of class.
He has to, because the St. Bonaventure University baseball pitcher and his teammates play 55 games this season, and 32 on weekdays, so he misses many classes.
“It's hard to tell how many classes I'll be missing this semester, but I'd say somewhere around 15, plus a few labs,” said Wallschlaeger, a physical education senior. “I'll be missing quite a few Clare [College] courses.”
St. Bonaventure University is the only school in the Atlantic 10 conference, the varsity athletic conference Bonaventure belongs to, that doesn’t offer priority registration to student-athletes, said Michelle Kent, assistant athletic director for academic support and student services.
In March 2010, Kent sent a proposal that would implement priority registration for student-athletes to Michael Fischer, provost and vice president for academic affairs.
Kent’s proposal said that in-season student-athletes should register at the head of their class.
Priority registration could “reduce class and practice conflicts,” said Kent, “because right now, baseball players could potentially miss 20 to 25 days of classes, and softball could miss at least 15. Once you add it up, that’s a lot of missed classes.”
“It’s a tough sell to the faculty senate,” said Denny Wilkins, faculty athletics representative. “Unless the proposal recommends an overhaul of all forms of priority registration, including double majors, honors students and *Academic Excellence students.”
Provost Michael Fischer declined an interview.
Academic Excellence Students are students with a mean GPA in the top 10 percent of any class in any school.
Larry Sudbrook, head coach of men’s baseball, said his players need priority registration to schedule earlier classes.
“Because we’re such a small school, missing some practices for labs only offered at a certain time is inevitable,” said Sudbrook, “but if players can schedule most of their classes in the mornings, they’ll make more practices and miss fewer classes for games.”
Sudbrook said student-athletes need to be more organized and have better time management than other students because they don’t have priority registration.
“I absolutely believe that when athletes are in-season, they should be able to register at least ahead of their class.” Said Sudbrook.
Sudbrook minimizes the number of classes his players miss by never scheduling practices before games.
“I don’t think that tossing the ball around a few times before a game will help much,” he said, “and if they can make a few more classes instead, then an extra practice isn’t worth it.”
Baseball earned a mean team GPA of 3.14 last semester, according to the fall 2010 student-athlete academic summary.
Men’s basketball earned a mean GPA of 2.564 last semester, the lowest of the 14 teams.
Kent said men’s basketball did not meet minimum academic standards and is under review by the NCAA each year. The NCAA required Bonaventure to submit an academic improvement plan.
The academic improvement plan said that the athletic department would look into priority registration for student-athletes, said Kent.
Eleven teams earned an average GPA of 3.0 or higher last semester, softball earning the highest GPA, 3.418, according to the fall 2010 student athlete academic summary.
All 14 teams earned a cumulative GPA of 3.167. The non-athletic student body earned a cumulative GPA of 3.006.
“Our student-athletes cumulative GPA is so high already, which just shows how much better we could do if we did have priority registration and students missed less classes.” Said Kent. “It’s not fair to the students who could do better if they went to more classes.”
English professor Tracy Schrems agreed.
“I’ve seen so many international students who had straight As before coming to Bonaventure,” said Schrems, “But they just don’t know the language and there’s so little time to give them extra help when they’re in season.”
“Most of my student-athletes are actually my best students,” French professor Guy Imhoff said. “I have no problem with them missing classes for sports because they always keep up and actually miss fewer classes than regular students.”
Imhoff said it would be more beneficial to student-athletes’ academic goals if they missed fewer classes for sports.
But for baseball this semester, reducing missed classes isn’t an option.
And baseball isn’t alone. Softball plays 38 matches this season and women’s basketball plays 29.
“We are Division I athletes and we have to fit in three-hour practices every day with our class schedule,” said Oscar Yanez, a tennis player. “Allowing us to register ahead of our class, at least, would help us manage our time better.”
Still, men’s tennis earned an average 3.240 GPA, ranking sixth out of the 14 teams, said the fall 2010 student-athlete academic summary.
“School comes first,” said Wallschlaeger. “My coach is really big on that. He makes sure everyone stays in their classes the whole time before coming down to the practice field.”