Life science majors popular among BYU athletes

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By Brittani Good

Critics call it clustering. That’s when athletes group in certain majors at the urging of athletic advisers and coaches.

A national study by the Associated Press shows clustering is prevalent at many schools nationwide because of channeling advisement as well as pressure from NCAA academic requirements. At its worst, it can open the door for academic fraud.  Officials say BYU is an exception to this practice.

While BYU doesn’t have large percentages of student athletes in any one major, some majors are certainly popular among athletes.  A Daily Universe review of student althetes’  majors shows that exercise science is the top major (67 student athletes), followed by pre-management (46 student athletes) and exercise and wellness (43 student athletes).  In all, about 25 percent of student athletes at BYU are majoring in the life sciences.

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Senior Charles Abouo is an exercise science major.
Trevor Wilson, director of the Student Athlete Academic Center, said there is a normal gravitation towards exercise science since athletes are interested in athletics and how the body works.

Basketball player Charles Abouo, a senior majoring in exercise and wellness, said he didn’t feel pressured to choose a certain major because he was an athlete.

“I just wanted to do something I was interested in with the amount of time I had,” Abouo said.

Time is the major factor.  Between practices and traveling, athletes have busy schedules.

Along with common interests,  students’ ability to make NCAA-mandated academic progression in certain majors also plays a role.

The NCAA requires student athletes to make a certain amount of academic progress each year. Student athletes must complete 40 percent of the coursework required for their degree by the end of their second year, 60 percent by the end of their third year and 80 percent by the end of their fourth year.

Student athletes must also take a minimum of six credit hours each term to be eligible to play the next semester.  The NCAA’s academic requirements are intended to encourage graduation, but can also promote congregation toward certain majors.

“The sport itself doesn’t play a role in what they major in,” Wilson said. “But what can sometimes be a challenge is if practice time is at a certain time and a certain major requires coursework to be done in that time. That’s probably a bigger challenge we face.”

The Student Athlete Academic Center helps athletes explore which majors they are most interested in and how those majors and professors will work with their time and eligibility clock.

“I know that after a couple years if you haven’t chosen [a major], they’ll encourage you to pick something you can finish sooner,” said David Parry, a baseball pitcher majoring in accounting. “I would say that any major is possible if you’re able to balance your time.”

According to student athletes and advisers, there isn’t any pressure to choose a certain major.  Instead of encouraging clustering, the NCAA academic regulations seems to help BYU student athletes to excel academically and progress toward graduation.

BYU alumnus and former basketball player, Fred Roberts, recalled his time as a college athlete about 30 years ago.

“When I came here to BYU, I wasn’t given any direction on a major except that I needed to take eighteen credits,” Roberts said. “I don’t remember my coaches ever stressing school and I never met with anyone about school.”

Since then, there have been major improvements in the academic support for the student athletes. The Student Athlete Academic Center  provides tutors, mentors, advisors and other resources for every NCAA student athlete.

“The biggest role we play is we identify what is available to them and what the pathway would be to that graduation,” Wilson said. “Our focus is and always should be on the student athlete.  What they want to do, what they feel capable of doing and what they want to do in the future.”

According to the Associated Press, clustering is prevalent at many schools nationwide because of channeling advisement as well as pressure from NCAA academic requirements.  However, Wilson believes BYU is an exception.

“We really don’t advise our students athletes that way,” Wilson said. “There are no majors that we funnel them into, it’s based on what they like. But I do know that can possibly occur at other institutions.”

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