A recent article in The Atlantic posited a provocative statement perhaps U.S. high school teachers would see better results from their students if schools prioritized funding for academics instead of athletics. In a few sensationalized examples, the article's author, Amanda Ripley, highlighted schools where spending per athlete was twice as great as spending per student in a particular subject: for example, $1,300 spent for each football participant in contrast with $618 per math student.
Although this metric is not a direct comparison, her argument that underperforming schools should reallocate funds from athletic teams to the classroom carries some salience, but requires one to consider how we weigh the benefits of athletics. Usually we assume the returns to athletics are greater than the market value of a winning trophy, including intangibles like building confidence, teamwork, peer relations, fitness and determination along with a team's record.
Studies show high psychological and social benefits to playing a sport, especially in early childhood but also throughout athletes' adolescent and young adult lives. A 2013 study by researchers at the University of Chicago found that students aged 7 to 10 who participated in an afterschool sports and mentorship program had significantly higher graduation rates and lower convictions for violent crimes. Female student-athletes are much more likely to go on to college. And high school athletes overall have higher GPAs and standardized test scores than their peers.
At Dartmouth, as in the rest of the Ivy League, academics come first. But for varsity athletes, competing at an extremely high caliber is an extremely important aspect of the college experience as well. It makes sense that Dartmouth, for example, offers free tutoring to student-athletes as well as additional academic advisors to help us navigate and balance our class work with our practice and travel schedules.
What is confusing to me, however, is why the Dartmouth class schedule prevents student-athletes from fully excelling inside the classroom and on the field. Although academic advisors and coaches will say that you can balance your academic and athletic goals, the fact that so many classes are offered during standard practice hours, 3 P.M. to 7 P.M., means that athletes face a trade-off between taking the classes that they are most interested in and remaining fully committed to their teams. This is a problem athletes face for not just one term, but often two or three for sports like crew and distance running.
According to my analysis of the Registrar's course listings for the winter term, 132 courses are scheduled in the 2A, 3A or 3B blocks and 444 courses are scheduled in all other blocks, meaning more than a fifth of classes conflict with regular practice times. Classes such as 10As that always use the 3 P.M. x-hour also restrict athlete participation, and some professors prevent athletes from taking their classes by not recognizing excused absences for athletics.
The breakdown is even more troubling within departments. While language and economics classes typically offer morning classes, other departments like psychology, geography and government only offer senior seminars in 2A, 3A and 3B blocks. Some departments like English rotate classes between 10A and 2A slots, but others do not.
While some sports may be able to adjust their practice schedules to accommodate athletes, certain high use facilities like Leverone Field House are only allocated to teams in limited time blocks. Other teams are constrained to practicing during daylight hours. When one player is missing, the whole team suffers. And working out alone is not the same thing as working out as a team.
There are solutions for this problem. Just 32 classes are scheduled this winter for the 9L block, and 15 language classes are scheduled for the 9 and 9S slots. This is compared to average 95.5 classes offered during other Monday, Wednesday and Friday blocks, and the high of 132 classes offered during the 2 block. If professors prefer the 2-hour discussion block, surely a new morning block, say an 8A from 8-9:50 on Tuesday and Thursdays, could conceivably be constructed as well.
Dartmouth spent $23.4 million on athletics in the 2012-2013 school year, and expends $835.3 million total. Surely someone can work on restructuring the academic schedule to offer more classes that do not conflict with regular practice blocks.