The independent news organization of Duke University

Dude, where's my degree?

Jayson Tatum, a freshman forward on the Duke men’s basketball team, recently announced his intentions to leave the university and enter the NBA draft. Following the steps of his one-and-done predecessors, Tatum became the seventh player over the last six seasons to forgo his three remaining years of NCAA eligibility at Duke to pursue a professional career in the NBA. His decision to go professional after only one year as a Blue Devil is part of a larger trend in college basketball where it is increasingly becoming commonplace for players to announce their eligibility for the NBA immediately after the required one year of NCAA participation.

Tatum’s decision, as well as similar decisions being made by revenue-generating student athletes at other universities—to forgo a college education for a professional career in their respective sport—has generated controversy and discussion concerning the role of athletics in a university setting. Although collegiate athletics can represent a unifying force on campus, especially at Duke which prides itself on maintaining a strong athletic program in contrast to its ivied peers, it can manifest itself as an extremely divisive issue amongst undergraduates. Often, Duke student-athletes are singled out by classmates as being less academically inclined and all but disengaged from the intellectual culture of the university—a stereotype that is falsely highlighted by the one-and-done phenomenon commonplace in NCAA basketball.

It is important, however, to consider the many complex distinctions existing within the realm of Duke Athletics before making such generalized assumptions. Currently, the athletic program at Duke fields a total of 26 NCAA sports. They range everywhere from fencing, a non-revenue sport with a distinctly upper-class demographic, to Duke’s famed men’s basketball, which receives the most media exposure of any NCAA team at the university. Quite often the extreme media exposure around Duke basketball where the one and done phenomenon is commonplace can obscure the images of non-revenue student athletes who make up most of the athletic program.

The six-year graduation success rate (GSR) for all Duke student athletes enrolled at the university is 97 percent, with 13 Blue Devil teams scoring a 100 percent GSR. Certainly 97 percent of student athletes at Duke value their academic education at a top 10 university just as much as their non-athletic peers do. Forgotten among the one-and-done giants of Duke Basketball (both figuratively and literally), are the the unsung heroes of Duke’s academic athleticism. Former Duke standouts such as Becca Ward (a three time national champion in college fencing) and Abby Johnston (a Duke diver who medaled at the 2012 Olympics) have gone on to leverage their Duke education outside the realm of sports, and indeed the majority of Duke athletes go on to lead lives indistinguishable from their non-athletic peers.

When passing judgment on student athletes at Duke, it critical to look beyond the overly publicized promotion of Duke men’s basketball, including the phenomenon of one and done players. The clear majority of Duke student athletes are on campus for the sole purpose of learning at a world class university. Playing a sport is but an important side note for them. Though Jayson Tatum may choose to grace the courts of Madison Square Garden for a multi-million-dollar contract, he is hardly representative of the wrestler participating in his political science discussion in Allen or the lacrosse player studying for her organic chemistry in Perkins who are students first and athletes second.

Correction: Duke has 26 NCAA sports, not 21. The Chronicle regrets the error. 

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