Making the grade

The broken link between academic and athletic success.

By Brian Jones
[associate sports editor]

There’s an old adage that when referring to student-athletes, the ‘student’ part comes first.

If this is true, then Kwantlen should be at the head of the class when it comes to recruiting students to play for its athletic teams.

Since Kwantlen started competing in basketball in the PacWest conference in 2000, (back then it was named the BCCAA – British Columbia Collegiate Athletic Association) the Eagles have failed to stand atop the podium at the provincial tournament.

Capilano, VIU, Douglas and Langara’s men’s and women’s teams have combined to win B.C. gold twice each in that 13-year span.

It makes sense that Kwantlen has taken time to develop, but it doesn’t make sense that Kwantlen hasn’t attracted a large group of the Lower Mainland’s best talent in recent years – since it became a full-fledged university in 2008.

Capilano only offers 15 bachelor’s degrees, with eight of them being fine-arts oriented. VIU offers 13 bachelor degrees. Douglas offers nine bachelor’s degrees, with five of them being recreation or health focused. And Langara offers no bachelor’s degrees – just two-year associate of arts programs.

Kwantlen offers 32 bachelor’s degree programs, including 14 BA double minors, four honours degrees, and five more bachelor degrees under development.

Is the problem that prospective recruits don’t know about the wide-range of degree-offering programs that Kwantlen boasts? Or do 18 year-olds that enroll in post-secondary studies even care?

“I think it’s a personal thing,” said Stefon Wilson, head coach of the men’s basketball team. “I think everyone’s different. Because when you recruit a player, you have to figure out what the pitch is going to be to get him. Is it the academic side, is it the system you run, or is his buddy on the team?”

Some just want to play ball. They have the potential to get $500, $1000 or more of their tuition paid for by playing for an athletic team, and may not always know what they want to do with their lives upon high-school graduation.

But Wilson says that there are some students who do adhere to the ‘student comes first’ mantra.

“You talk to some players, and the first thing they say is ‘Do you have a criminology program?’ And they won’t even discuss the sports side of it until you have their program,” he said.

“And I like that. It tells me that they care about their academics. When someone says to me ‘I want to be a police officer, do you have a CRIM program? How is it?’ That tells me that they’ll be academically eligible the whole time they’re here.”

Academic prowess doesn’t always translate into athletic dominance. If that were true, then Ivy-League schools in the U.S. like Yale and Harvard would sweep the NCAA tournament every year.

It’s unclear how important a role academics plays in a school’s athletic success, and just looking at past PacWest champions doesn’t offer much insight into this conundrum.

But if education is supposed to be the backbone of a university, then why isn’t it the deciding factor in choosing a place to further your education – either on the basketball court or off of it – the first thing on an athlete’s mind?

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