Making plays on the field and in the classroom


Nick Jahnke, Sports Editor

Members of the football team are charged with attending position meetings, workouts and practices, all of which take away from time they could be using for their studies. Players are referred to as “student-athletes” but for the individual player and for the team as a whole, what comes first? Student or athlete?

Senior linebacker Grady Graff said that during the fall season, he has almost no free-time. Graff said between his job updating floor plans for CWU, his academic and athletic responsibilities, he only has a few hours during the week to relax.

According to Graff, in a normal (in-season) day he has to be at work at 7 a.m. and doesn’t make his way home from classes and football practice until after 6 p.m. He said that some days, he had an additional practice in the morning that required him to meet with the team before 6 a.m.

When students are failing to meet academic standards set by the coaching staff, they are subjected to penalties based on a four strike system. Graff said the first strike means consequences for the individual player and as the player racks up more strikes, the consequences affect their position groups and then the whole team. According to Graff, if a player reaches the fourth and final strike, the coaches must consider whether they will remain on the team.

Graff said that even in the off-season, players are still kept busy with workouts and team meetings. He said coaches don’t go easy on players just because they’re not in-season, and the level of academic monitoring remains the same.

Graff said that to monitor athletes’ grades, their coaches are constantly checking academic standings. He said they also require that students attend study halls. They also have tutors available who are dedicated to providing support for athletes.

Athletes are given different levels of monitoring based on their in-class performance, according to Offensive Coordinator Kelly Bills. Bills has been the CWU football’s new academic coordinator since his start with the team in March.

Bills said he was previously the academic coordinator for Weber State’s football team. He said the few things he is implementing at CWU, he learned from his time at Weber.

According to Bills, freshmen are required to be in study hall for at least four hours per week. For upperclassmen, the time spent in study hall is dependant upon their in-class performance. Bills said that players are put into three different groups based on grades, with the first group being “at-risk.” Bills said the better players do in class, the more freedom they are given.

“Our goal is to have [players] go home and not have to do homework,” Bills said.

Tweaks to the way football does class checks are one of the things Bills said he has brought over. Bills said that players are expected to sit in the front three rows in all their classes, and they are not allowed to wear hoods or have their headphones in. Bills said coaches enforce these standards by having people go around and peak inside classrooms and if players aren’t meeting the standard, they are counted as missing for the day.

“Going to class is part of having a good, winning program,” Bills said. “If you can’t go to class, then you’re not going to do the little things that matter on the football field.”

Bills said that one of his goals as academic coordinator is to bring the team’s overall GPA up  to a 3.0. The current GPA is a 2.8, which according to Bills, isn’t a bad place to start.

Freshman receiver Trey Mason said in his first quarter at CWU and on the football team, he struggled with his classes. He said as a freshman, it takes awhile to get used to the college life, especially with the addition of football.

Mason said along with him managing his time better, the coaches played a role in getting him back on track. He said the coaches keep them accountable by checking attendance in study hall and even requiring freshman players to check into their classes via GPS.

“To me, [academics] comes first, and then there’s football,” Mason said. “You can’t go anywhere with bad grades. You can’t step on the field and you can’t graduate college or get a degree.”