Pressures of highly-publicized college sports

A majority of students who go away to college pay hefty sums of money in exchange for the four years of hospitality.

But in rare, special instances roles get reversed and universities find themselves passing the big bucks in the opposite direction.

As a result of these unusual circumstances, the recipients of these highly-prized scholarships have their fair share of obligations to their universities.

Whether that responsibility be juggling a full course load, participating in community service events or hitting the gym for practice, these student-athletes are held accountable for their every move.

New Authority

As college athletes arrive on campus they wave goodbye to their parents then turn around to greet their new authority figures.

Lana Rukavina, University of Illinois basketball player, said despite the importance her school and its fans place on winning, the most pressure to excel on the hardwood stems from this new authority.

Rukavina plays center for The University of Illinois basketball team. (contributed photo from Lana Rukavina)

“I think most of the pressure [to perform well] comes from my coaches,” Rukavina said. “They put so much time and effort into promoting the team and coaching us during practice, so we know we have to do the same. So they definitely put the most pressure on us.”

Megan Considine, University of Iowa basketball player, said the previous season’s results have a lot to do with the amount of pressure coaches put on the players.

“There’s always expectations coming into new seasons,” Considine said. “Usually  it’s a reflection of what your team did in the past. So there’s always pressure put on you right away [from coaches] to perform up to those expectations and take it to the next level.”

Christina Johnson, Ph.D., and lecturer in health and human physiology, with an emphasis in sports psychology, said because coaches are the most prominent figures in college-athletes’ daily lives, the greater pressure felt from coaches, instead of fans or peers, is to be expected.

“I would imagine the pressure [on college athletes] kind of has a waterfall effect,” Johnson said. “There’s public pressure on the Athletic Department, and the Athletic Department puts pressure on the coach, and the coach then puts the pressure on the athlete.”

“So the athlete might never experience the public scrutiny, but I’m sure they know in the back of their head that it’s there.”

School Obligations

Despite taking a 15 semester-hour course load, Rukavina, a psychology major, said basketball is her top priority.

Rukavina said keeping up with academics can get stressful and overwhelming at times, but overall her schoolwork does not attribute to the pressure she feels as a college-athlete on a regular basis.

“I don’t think it’s so much that the academics effect [the pressure],” Rukavina said. “Yes we are one of the top academic schools in the nation, but at the same time, that’s not necessarily why we’re here. Realistically, we’re here for sports.”

Ashley Wilson, Purdue University basketball player, said her busy basketball and school schedules can put a lot of pressure on her to properly manage her time.

Wilson’s routine consists of class in the morning, a three-hour practice, an hour of weight lifting and then “study table,” the two-hour time slot the team dedicates to keeping up with school work.

Wilson said her teachers typically acknowledge her long list of priorities, which helps her relieve some of the day-to-day pressures of being a college athlete.

“Teachers are for the most part nicer and more understanding with the timeliness of stuff,” Wilson said. “We miss class often so they usually let us take exams later or earlier, and [teachers] give us extensions on things.”

Rukavina and Wilson are both on full athletic scholarships at Illinois and Purdue, which Johnson said can contributes to why college athletes feel obligated to make their sport their top priority.

But Johnson also noted the negative to this obligation, because of the small number of college athletes that have a professional future in their sport.

“When you play for the NCAA you’re not an athlete, you’re a student-athlete,” Johnson said.”That’s very specific in [the NCAA’s] terminology, that you are a student hyphen athlete.”

“And the student part really disappears for a lot of the students because so much time is spent with their sport, and their scholarship is based on their sport performance and I think that can be damaging in a lot of ways.”

Social Experience

When outside the gym, Rukavina, Considine and Wilson are expected to carry themselves in a specific manor.

Rukavina and Wilson said their coaches banned the use of Twitter to prevent any mis-communications that might jeopardize their team’s image.

Considine said Iowa has not implemented any rules against the use of social-networking sites, but like Illinois and Purdue, Iowa’s coaches have a strict set of behavior rules in place.

“[My teammates and I] have to make sure that we’re always being smart with where we are, and what we’re saying to people,” Considine said. “Everything reflects back to being a part of the Iowa women’s basketball team. It’s hard sometimes to remember that, but it is something each day that I’m trying to think about, I know I’m out representing more than just myself now.”

Aside from behavioral obligations, Rukavina and Wilson said their teams are heavily involved with fans and the community.

Wilson said her team interacts face-to-face with the members of “The Boilermaker Network,” a particularly dedicated group of fans, at least five times throughout the season.

Because Iowa does not have any professional sports teams, Considine noted the state’s fans strong dedication to the school’s athletic programs.

Considine did not see this extra attention as any added pressure, but instead she said the team uses the heavy support to their advantage.

“Some people would say [the lack of professional teams] adds pressure,”  Considine said.”But I think it makes Iowa a better place to play because you have more of a fan base. I’ve only known Hawkeye fans to be loyal and true to the school, so I don’t see [the heavy fan support] as added pressure. I just think it’s an added benefit of being a Hawkeye.”

Despite the extra responsibilities, Wilson said she does not regret her decision to be a college athlete.

“You really do miss the experience of being a regular student and getting done with class at like two and not knowing what to do with yourself,” Wilson said. “But that’s about it. I’d choose to be an athlete over just a regular student any day.”

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