After losing to Kansas in Birmingham, Ala. Sunday, Sept. 10, women's soccer head coach Robbie Church and his players caught a plane to Atlanta and prepared to depart for Durham on a connecting flight. The only problem: they missed the last plane out from Atlanta that night.
With several of Duke's student-athletes facing 8:45 a.m. classes the next day, Church and his assistants made a drastic, but necessary, move. One of the team's assistants drove the six hours and 380 miles to Durham in order to get the Blue Devils to their classes the next morning.
Church's action reflected the words that are spelled out in bold letters in the 2006 Student-Athlete Handbook: "Go to Class."
But given the amount of traveling that many of Duke's varsity teams face, especially in the ACC and NCAA tournaments, many student-athletes have found that following this direction has become extremely difficult. And although the academics-athletics debate has been stimulated by the men's lacrosse scandal over the past eight months, it has been Duke's fall athletes who have most recently felt the crunch.
Even though student-athletes are allowed official excuses to miss class when their teams travel, with all the ACC's fall championships now complete and most of the NCAA tournaments well underway, many of Duke's athletes have found that it is difficult to fully contribute to the classroom atmosphere and get their work done. This has caused hardship for some student-athletes and their professors.
"It's stressful having to miss class," said Hilary Linton, field hockey captain and All-ACC Academic selection. "It's even more stressful when you have teachers who aren't understanding."
The extensive nature of travel
When junior volleyball player Ali Hausfeld signed to play at Duke, she knew that she would travel and miss class time. She probably did not expect, however, to travel to three different states in one week this season, which happened when the Blue Devils played Maryland, Boston College and Virginia in the span of a six days in November.
"We travel a lot," Hausfeld said. "It was more time than I had thought coming in, and it is hard to travel. It is a lot of time."
Being on the road like this is not uncommon for the volleyball team, which played away games at every ACC school as a result of a double round-robin schedule-and the NCAA Championship does not even start for Duke until this weekend.
The playoffs, however, are already over in some sports like field hockey and men's and women's soccer. Generally, these teams are not heavily affected by traveling due to weekend road games during the regular season.
But during the ACC tourament, the men's soccer team drove up to Germantown, Md. on a Tuesday night. Thanks to their success-the Blue Devils won the ACC Championship off a Mike Grella golden goal in overtime-the team stayed in Maryland until Sunday afternoon.
Likewise, the field hockey team departed for Winston-Salem for the final four on a Wednesday night and did not return until Friday evening following their semifinal loss to Wake Forest.
The amount of missed class time has a significant effect on student-athletes, some of whom said during the playoffs, the focus does not necessarily lie on schoolwork.
"It's always stressful to have to miss class," field hockey freshman player Brooke Patterson said before leaving for the Final Four in mid-November, adding that she would miss five classes and a quiz over the two school days the team would be gone for the NCAAs. "But there is a lot more focus on my athletics than academics because [the final four] is such a big deal."
Searching for a solution
Those displeased with the high amount of travel-especially professors-have proposed ideas to help reduce the burden on student-athletes and keep the focus on academics.
One very controversial idea, which some have championed in recent months in the wake of the men's lacrosse controversy, is to de-emphasize athletics despite the immense success of Duke's program. If Duke were to compete in Division III, the University would have to do away with all athletic scholarships and withdraw from the ACC. The result would mean shorter seasons and less travel, resulting in a greater emphasis on academics.
Orin Starn, a professor of cultural anthropology and currently abroad in Turkey, recomended Duke make such a move in a Sept. 15 editorial in the Durham Herald-Sun and made his intentions known again Nov. 16 in an e-mail.
"It's not a popular position, but we should consider dropping to Division III in the longer term or even just have club sports teams," Starn wrote in an e-mail. "Students could just as well learn the lessons of leadership, competition, and teamwork competing at the Division III or club level."
The potential fallout, however, could be enormous, and when President Richard Brodhead re-instated the men's lacrosse program in June, he re-affirmed the University's commitment to Division I athletics. Most members of the Duke community, both within and outside of athletics, have agreed with Brodhead.
"Duke has great traditions of athletic excellence, and I am eager for Duke to continue these traditions," Brodhead said June 5. "But as this university has long recognized, we must pursue our athletic goals within a larger context of educational values, and not as ends in themselves."
Brodhead confirmed his commitment to Division I athletics in an e-mail to The Chronicle.
One other alternative would be to delay playing championships until school breaks, such as during Thanksgiving and Christmas. Such an idea, however, does not sit well with the athletes.
"I think it would be hard to do because the season is so long as it is," Linton said. "Going into breaks would be awful because by the end of the season, you would be completely burnt out. I don't think you could [travel then]."
"There does need to be something that needs to be changed," Linton said.
Finding success despite difficulties
While student-athletes may have to cope with the stress of travel, and professors may complain about excessive missed class time, Duke's sports teams still lead the nation with a 91 percent graduation rate-just two percent lower than the student body. The high graduation rate exceeds the nation's average by 28 percent, and Duke has finished in the top 10 in the past two Director's Cup standings, which measures a school's overall athletic success.
Duke's student-athletes are not just scrapping by either. Linton said she currently takes three biology courses over the 100 level this semester, including a 200-level class normally for graduate students.
Hausfeld is a double major in Biology and Biological Anthropology and Anatomy with a 3.38 GPA. Perhaps most impressive, however, is cross country and track captain Charles Salmen. The fifth-year senior was recently one of 32 students nationwide to be awarded a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship.
"They're coming here because academics are a priority," field hockey head coach Beth Bozman said. "They want to play on a nationally competitive team. They want to win a national championship, but they also want to get the best degree possible."
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