Oct. 3, 2003
The Santa Clara
Seeing the Broncos atop the West Coast Conference standings is nothing new to Santa Clara sports fans. Women's soccer is a perennial national title contender, and the men's soccer and women's volleyball squads are growing accustomed to similar success. In addition, Santa Clara student-athletes are mopping up the WCC competition in the classroom as well, according to recent published reports.
Every year, the NCAA ranks the academic statistics and graduation rates for all of its schools' athletic programs. According to this year's report, Santa Clara's student-athletes have the highest graduation rate of any school in the West Coast Conference. Santa Clara's rate of 78 percent not only leads the WCC, but it also ranks second among all Division I schools in California. San Diego and Gonzaga, schools with similar academic programs, came in second, but they were both five percentage points behind Santa Clara.
"A lot of what contributes to success on the field helps in the classroom. The only difference is that grades are something personal, while sports are obviously more highly-publicized. It all really comes down to pride. You want to be proud of yourself and your team. [Santa Clara] tracks kids who value education and strive for success in both areas."
Men's Soccer Coach Cameron Rast.
"Our players know exactly how each other are doing, with respect to grades," said Head Coach Cameron Rast. "And you better believe that if someone isn't doing as well as they could be, they're going to hear about it from their teammates. They really police one another."
Added sophomore forward Kelechi Igwe, "Policing is one way to put it. Last year there was a case of someone turning in assignments late all the time, and of course we all knew about it. But it's also easy to get help from someone on the team if you need it. Somebody's bound to know something on whatever subject you're having a hard time with."
Rast was quick to point out that men's soccer has their own minimum grade point average requirement of 3.0, which goes beyond Santa Clara's already high standards of maintaining a 2.0. Meeting such a demanding requirement has proven to be no problem for a team that Rast described as "highly competitive and extremely goal-oriented."
"A lot of what contributes to success on the field helps in the classroom," said Rast. "The only difference is that grades are something personal, while sports are obviously more highly-publicized. It all really comes down to pride. You want to be proud of yourself and your team. [Santa Clara] tracks kids who value education and strive for success in both areas."
Senior forward Matt Upton summed up the situation a little more succinctly: "Yeah, it's pretty competitive within the team, for me anyway. And I think everyone else is the same, it's pretty simple. Nobody wants to be the dumb guy."
Women's volleyball Head Coach Jon Wallace has a unique insight into Santa Clara's success, having spent seven years at Pepperdine University.
"The athletic department here really has a great counseling department that takes care to help out all our student-athletes," said Wallace. "At Pepperdine, the counseling program and the resources really just weren't that good, and a lot of kids did actually fall through the cracks. You don't see that here."
Continued Wallace, "Besides that, all the teams compete for the best team GPA. It's a lot easier to go to class and take notes if there's a little competition to motivate you. Our team strives to be the hardest working team at Santa Clara."
According to Wallace, men's and women's cross country usually pull in first and second in the GPA department.
"But every team is really making a strong effort to work hard and do well, and it's something we're proud of," said Wallace.
But sometimes it takes more than pride to get a student-athlete through a difficult four years to graduation. One former Bronco athlete and current student, requesting anonymity, explained how the University works to ensure its athletes graduate.
"All freshmen and transfer student-athletes are required to attend study hall sessions, where they get a feel for and learn to deal with Santa Clara's curriculum," she said. "And even if you're not a freshman or transfer, you have to go if your GPA falls below 2.5, [so] they really try to catch you even before your grades make you ineligible. You can get tutors and everything. You can be put on academic probation for falling below 2.5 if you're not making progress in your classes or even if your coach puts in a recommendation for it."
A coach's recommendation leading to academic probation points to the tight-knit nature of Bronco teams, which is a positive for academics.
Even with the lengths the University goes to in order to graduate its players, sometimes the hectic schedule and demanding classes become overwhelming. The source explained that the demands of "classes, practice, individual workouts, more classes and travel can really take a toll on you."
After fighting to stay eligible, but falling just four units short, she was deemed "academically ineligible to participate." Even after withdrawing from her sport, the University's athletic program continued to offer any help she might need to graduate on time.
"Obviously, they'd like you to be able to play, but they're also concerned with making sure you're doing okay as a student, too," she said.
Santa Clara does its best as an academic institution and as an athletic program to put its student-athletes in a position to excel. Close administrative attention coupled with an effort by coaches and teammates makes success attainable on the field and in the classroom. And a competitive spirit between teammates never hurts, either.