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After Josh Rosen’s remarks, Sun Devils admit to student-athlete challenges

Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins (5) warms up for the team's NCAA college football game against Washington State, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

TEMPE, Ariz. — UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen ignited a controversy when he opined, in a wide-ranging interview with Matt Hayes of Bleacher Report last week, that “football and school don’t go together.”

Rosen’s comments rekindled the long-raging debate of student-athletes being better compensated for the money they make universities, but he also offered a simpler critique of the dueling academic and athletic demands placed on student-athletes.

“Trying to do both is like trying to do two full-time jobs,” Rosen told Hayes. “Human beings don’t belong in school with our schedules. No one in their right mind should have a football player’s schedule, and go to school. It’s not that some players shouldn’t be in school; it’s just that universities should help them more—instead of just finding ways to keep them eligible.”

Rosen isn’t alone in his thinking.

Ken Shropshire is the first Adidas Distinguished Professor of Global Sport at ASU, a newly endowed faculty position created with a contribution from Sun Devil Athletics’ partner, Adidas. The new center, which is global in scope, aims to create, support and encourage collaborative, multidisciplinary inquiry and translate complex sports-related research to broad audiences through multiple media platforms, forums and global gatherings.

Shropshire will hold a joint faculty appointment at the W. P. Carey School of Business and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

“We want to move the public away from this conversation about better compensation for student-athletes to better education,” said Shropshire, whose book “Miseducation of the Student Athlete: A Manifesto for Change” is due out in November. “Maybe it doesn’t happen in four, five or six years. Maybe it’s 10 so we create a more realistic way for them to focus on both athletics and education, but how do we get them to earn meaningful degrees and to have meaningful direction in life?”

One of the ideas Shropshire has posited for student-athletes is the notion of lifetime scholarships.

“As we contemplate being able to focus on courses while playing at the collegiate level, maybe you spread it out so you anticipate it’s going to take longer than five years,” Shropshire said. “With the funding in place, it becomes a more realistic way to focus on both athletics and education.”

Sun Devil football players receive a great deal of academic support from academic coaches, staff and senior associate athletic director for student-athlete development Jean Boyd. Coaches are generally provided schedules and academic updates for all of their players to keep abreast of their accomplishments, but also to keep abreast of their struggles so they can avert crises before they arise.

Arizona State is proud of the academic progress and achievements of its of its athletic programs. Eleven ASU teams, including football, had their highest four-year Academic Progress Rate (APR) score and eight were first in the Pac-12 in their sport in the latest NCAA Academic Progress Rate report for the 2012-16 period, released in May.

University President Michael Crow bristles at cynical perceptions that the term student-athlete is a misnomer.

“People have all these jokes about athletes from the 70s. They’re actually a form of bigotry,” Crow said at the State of Sun Devil Athletics address on Tuesday. “In all of our men’s and women’s sports, what we’re after is finding great student-athletes who will become great academic performers. Make no joke about that.”

With all that they are given, most student-athletes view Rosen’s stance as a political hot potato. No matter what their true views, they know they will absorb criticism for perceived privilege.

“I don’t want to say we don’t get enough credit for the schedule we have because I know somebody, she works like five jobs, she’s one of my girlfriend’s best friends and she’s a full-time student taking like 19 credits and she just busts her ass,” Sun Devils quarterback Manny Wilkins said.

“There’s not a day where she’s not tired and she has to go to work, but there’s a physical part to what we do. When I hurt my ankle [last season] and I had to get up and I had to go class, my ankle is killing me and then I’ve got to get up early in the morning for practice and film. There are times when you go to bed at 1 o’clock because you have so much homework and film to watch and you’ve got to get up 5 o’clock in the morning. You get four hours of sleep.”

Defensive lineman JoJo Wicker said the demanding schedule takes its toll.

“It’s hard — not to meet the minimum — but just to excel in it. It’s hard to even get a B sometimes but it’s hard to excel and get As. You’re tired in study hall, sleepy, and then we go to camp and have to work when you want to go to sleep so bad and rest and take care of your body.

“It’s definitely manageable, but it’s probably the hardest thing I have ever done. What Josh Rosen said, he’s definitely right that it doesn’t go together. It’s not something that should be together. It’s hard to do what we do, but we have to do it so don’t have a choice.”

As Shropshire’s and others’ ideas impact the student-athlete balance, better alternatives may arise, but both Wicker and Wilkins stressed that they have learned to manage their lives and they believe it will benefit them as adults.

“That’s an area that I’ve grown in as I’ve gotten older,” Wilkins said. “When I wake up, I speak excellence to myself, tell myself that ‘you feel good, your arm feels good, your body feels good, your mind feels good, go out and have fun today.’

“You’re playing a game that you love and you’re getting a free education so I’m very grateful to be in the position I’m in. Is it challenging sometimes? Yes. If life was easy we wouldn’t have fun with it. If it wasn’t demanding there would be no competition. As humans, we live for competition in everything we do. You don’t go to work every day and just sit there and do your work. You’re competing to be the best because you want to get a paycheck. That’s in everything in life: the classroom, the field, whatever it is.

“So I soak it in. Not a lot of people get the opportunity that I have, that we all have. We get to come into a $50 million facility every day and live here. It’s a blessing.”

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