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Echols says the Cal State coaches discouraged players who tried to take courses with substance and got "upset" if athletes tried to change from courses that were certain to keep them eligible. "There was nobody to show those dudes how to study or what to study. They were making A's in Backpacking, Badminton and Archery. They said, 'Hey, an easy A. That's 12 units.' I knew better."
Athletes are the arms and legs and beating hearts of the big business of major college sport. When, in the end, they are cheated out of the one thing they ought to have—an education and the paper that goes with it—it is one of sport's saddest injustices.
For the scholarship player, varsity athletics involves considerably more than games. Practice is long and hard. There are films to watch, wounds to heal, training table and meetings to attend. In the off-season there are fitness and weight-training programs.
Minnesota Center Steve Tobin, a geography major who had a B average, admits that he had dropped all but four credits during the 1978 football season, citing a commitment to his sport that kept him busy "from one in the afternoon to 7:30 almost every night.
"People don't seem to understand what we go through," says Tobin. "I'm a lineman and I have to rest at least an hour every day when I get home from practice until my headache goes away. There's no way I can open a book. When we travel, we leave Friday morning and usually don't get back to Minneapolis until sometime Saturday night. I'm not saying I would study the whole time, but if I wanted to, I could. But not while playing football. The weekend's shot."
Iowa State Athletic Academic Counselor Arch Steel, himself a former football player, was asked if, under present circumstances, the scholarship football or basketball player could fit into the mainstream of college life.
"No way," he replied.
What happens to the athlete is that he becomes a species apart, residing in an all-jock world. He eats with his kind and lives with his kind. He accepts the fact that he is really more jock than student—and finds that his failures in the classroom aren't nearly as important to him as those on the field.
"When the player finds he can't hack it on the field, it's a blow to his macho ego," says Iowa Academic Adviser Munn. "He can't go home and say, 'I couldn't make the team.' He'd rather say, 'I flunked out.' I don't understand it, but a lot of players flunk on purpose when they see they aren't making it athletically."
"They lead two distinct hard lives," says Dr. Thomas Tutko of San Jose State, a psychology professor and coauthor of Winning Is Everything & Other American Myths. Tutko teaches a class in Group Dynamics that attracts many San Jose athletes. He is sympathetic. He sees the student-athlete's dilemma "almost as a crime—a hard life as a student, a hard life as an athlete. Injured part of the time, chronically tired. Travel, disruption of classes, lack of consistency. They are really asked to lead almost a semidisturbed life."