Lately the student-athlete experience has undergone scrutiny in the media regarding recent changes and proposals around the NCAA. In a March episode of SCI TV, current and former collegiate student-athletes across a spectrum of universities and sports shed light on their experiences and reflect on common challenges. The special panel consists of athletes who have competed for universities across the country in sports ranging from football, track and field, baseball, and volleyball. They discuss the value of their experiences, the challenges of balancing competing priorities as college athlete, and the differing support at their universities.

Balance is Key

While the five person panel largely described their student-athlete experiences as overwhelmingly positive, all agreed that balancing athletics and academics is a major hurdle. There is often an implicit choice on where to put your primary focus, affecting which major one chooses and the likelihood of a post collegiate athletic career.

Ian Dobson, who ran track and field and cross country at Stanford and went on to run professionally in the 2008 Olympics, spoke about choosing a major that fit with athletics and watching teammates decide whether to pin their post-collegiate hopes on running or academics.

“At some point in the middle of your college experience people would decide whether or not they thought a professional career was realistic,” said Dobson, who chose to focus on running professionally. “That was one of the hardest things for me, knowing that I’m making a conscious decision to miss out on all these amazing opportunities that school provides.”

Husband and wife Stetzon and Bethany Bair, who played football and volleyball respectively at the University of Oregon, say that finding a life balance between all the tasks of a student-athlete is difficult, but manageable with the right support and mentality.

“It definitely is a challenge, but being married and having a family really puts your priorities in line,” Stetzon said. “For us the big picture is more than sports, and that’s been a big help.”

Future Matters

When deciding on a future career path Dobson and Zach Daeges, who played baseball at Creighton before joining the Red Sox, were glad to have the extra time that their professional careers allowed to figure out what they wanted to do after sports.

“I have a much better understanding of what I want to do now,” said Daeges, who is pursuing an MBA at Oregon. “In a lot of ways it’s been beneficial to have had that period where I got to play a sport and figure things out later in life.”

Resources Taken for Granted

While the group cited parents, older siblings, teammates, and alumni as common support structures, almost all of the athletes said they did not use official academic and career resources as much as they should have, and at the time even rolled their eyes at the resources.

“I didn’t really want to accept the fact I wasn’t going to be a student athlete anymore. In hindsight it backfired because I had a really hard time after I was done with volleyball; I didn’t have plan, didn’t really utilize those resources to help plan the next step,” said Bethany Bair.

Partly because of the difficult balance between athletics, academics, and social life, there is a segregation on many college campuses between athletes and other students. Teammates and fellow student-athletes become natural friends through daily schedules and shared goals.

“There’s this conventional wisdom that you can only do two of the three well, and you solve that problem by combining two. I chose to combine my athletics and social life, and by default that’s what most of us end up doing,” Dobson said.