How to balance both academics and athletics: A look at the athletic absentee policy

Student-athletes, professors, and administration discuss the procedures and lifestyles that go into the process of balancing academics and athletics at Muhlenberg College

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On Friday, Apr. 7, a panel of Muhlenberg faculty members, ranging from the athletic department to professors, addressed student-athletes about the athlete absentee policy. The event took place during Common Hour in order to ensure that both student-athletes and faculty members are on the same page about the absentee policy.

Corey Goff, Director of Athletics, stated, “I think that the whole point of the conversation was to help create an understanding among faculty and students that is what I like to call the ‘Necessary educational conflict’ – when you’re invested heavily in both being the best student you can be and the best student-athlete you can be.” Goff also mentioned that “watching student-athletes navigate the schedule conflict challenges is a part of growing up.” Clearly, being a student-athlete at Muhlenberg is about performing as well as you can on the field, while growing into an adult off the field and learning how to navigate and manage time in the real world.

Some coaches have created systems that make it easier for the student-athlete to notify their professors that they are missing a class, while still making sure that the student-athlete is the one taking responsibility. Field hockey head coach Megan Eddinger said that her team “makes fliers for their athletes to give to professors to approach their professor and talk to them at the beginning of the season. It contains the game schedule for informative and inviting purposes.”

Eddinger recollected a more surprising and odd moment with one of her athletes, “I received a request from one of my athletes to call a professor and verify that she would be missing the class.”

The women’s tennis coach Linda Andrews said that she prefers to have her players meet with their professors face-to-face and “have them verbally ask ‘can I _____’ or say ‘this is my schedule, what do you think?’” Each coach may have their athletes take a different approach in letting their professors know they will be absent due to competition, but the most important thing is, as Goff explains, “coaches shouldn’t give students the easy way out.”

Goff explains, “coaches shouldn’t give students the easy way out.”

The most common issue between professors and student-athletes regarding absences is timeliness. Goff remarks, “Almost all of the conflicts that come up that are problematic are related to student-athletes communicating early enough with their faculty members. I think occasionally, our student-athletes have to learn about early and often communica- tion, especially outdoor sports that are significantly dependent on weather [because of rescheduling]. Those particular sports require a whole elevated level of communication between the student-athlete and the faculty member. Ultimately, it falls on them [the student-athlete].”

Professor of economics Dr. Lindsey Nagy is very understanding toward the student-athlete absentee policy. She realizes that student-athletes “have been playing a sport their entire life. At the same, time, academics is what is going to help them get a career. If we could all be in two places at once, life would be wonderful.” As a student, one must find the balance between sports-first and academics first. It is important and when a student-athlete does not balance their athletic and academic priorities, it could ruin the overall integrity of student-athletes. Nagy states, “One bad apple will spoil the entire crop.” Women’s basketball player Ashley Polera ‘20 experienced the difficulty of communication and absentees first hand. “We knew the risks of leaving. We would find the notes and we would get the material somehow. I don’t think he [the professor] understood that we weren’t trying to get out of the class. It was definitely a learning experience.” Mostly it’s a matter of communication, timeliness, fluency and being proactive.

Evan Overcash ‘18 is a member of the Muhlenberg’s men’s golf team. He is in a unique situation because golf is played during both the fall and spring seasons and matches are scheduled during the same times and days throughout the season. Overcash states, “Most of my professors haven’t had an issue.” He even discovered that being a student-athlete will help him in his future career. As Overcash has learned to balance both his academic life and athletic life, he may look better to employers because he is well-prepared to hold a job. “If I wasn’t a student-athlete, I wouldn’t have had a chance in the interviews I was in. I can say that playing golf has absolutely helped me advance my career now as a professional.”

Most of the time, student-athletes need to work out an absentee plan with their professor. Dance faculty member Megan Flynn proposed a two absence excuse (before the grade is affected) plan. “When they would come to me with that dilemma, we would need to make sure that they don’t waste any [sick days] and let’s sit and look at our schedule and think ‘which one of those games would it be okay for you to miss.’ That kind of policy helps student-athletes.”

Goff credits the Registrar’s office for being “incredibly helpful with getting athletes into classes.” There is even a discussion of persuading athletes to take part in particular academic scholarship programs, which could help student-athletes find class times that don’t interfere with their athletic priorities. Goff claims, “those are some of the big picture institutional discussions that we have to have.”

Even though scheduling conflicts and misunderstandings of how to handle being absent from classes occur, the Muhlenberg athletic community is overall satisfied with how student-athletes have gone about missing classes. “I think they do a really good job of being proactive in just trying to be present for every single aspect of their life that they have going on,” Eddinger states. “All in all, I think we as a community do a great job of navigating this,” Goff declares.

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