During the current scandal culture that pervades college athletics and blankets the whispers of academic negligence, it’s comforting to know that UCSB takes pride in confidently enunciating each syllable of the word student-athlete.
The University of California, Santa Barbara is home to one of the most academically responsible athletic programs in the country, balancing nationally competitive programs with a commitment to breeding successful academics in the classroom. Clearly enumerated in its mission statement, the UCSB athletic department demands that its intercollegiate athletes “place the highest priority” on its academic progress.
“We work closely with the College of Letters and Science to ensure that our student-athletes meet eligibility guidelines,” Assistant Athletic Director of Compliance and Eligibility Wispeny Ellis said. “We want to make sure that we can provide every opportunity for our student-athletes to succeed academically.”
NCAA President Myles Brand has called for stricter academic minimum requirements for its Intercollegiate Athletics Program (ICA) student-athletes, but Santa Barbara has insisted on being one step ahead of the curve. UCSB has established consistent standards for its minimum cumulative grade point average among its students population, student-athlete or not. The UCSB Student Athlete Handbook states that each student athlete must comply with University standards requiring students to maintain a cumulative GPA of 2.0 or above in order to participate in ICA.
Ellis said the University places tremendous expectations on its student-athletes. UCSB is a unique place to be a student-athlete because of its emphasis on the classroom.
“Student-athletes at Santa Barbara do progress academically at a lot quicker rate than other [schools],” Ellis said. “The admission requirements are a lot higher than other schools and the rigorous course load certainly contributes to this. There’s just a different type of athlete here.”
During the hiring process, the athletic administration makes it clear to coaches that their commitment to players extends far beyond the realm of athletics. UCSB women’s basketball Head Coach Mark French, arguably the most successful coach in the athletic department over his career, demands three staple goals for his players during their college careers: success in academics, basketball and self-growth. French credits Chancellor Henry Yang and Athletic Director Gary Cunningham for providing a vision that promotes academic excellence throughout UCSB intercollegiate athletics.
“Everything stems from the top and having those two people leading athletics here is why the [academic] goal of the university can be fulfilled,” French said. “Giving a great effort, something that we call our ‘habits of excellence,’ is not limited just to basketball. It’s part of an integrated package, it’s giving a great effort in the classroom.”
At the most immediate level, Santa Barbara demands academic responsibility from each of its student-athletes. The Student Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB), a committee comprised of two representatives from each team to discuss issues that affect their educational and athletic experiences at UCSB, meets once a month. SAAB is an important link between the student-athlete and the athletic department and university over issues such as current NCAA and Big West policy and academics.