ESPN Network: | | | ABCSports | EXPN | FANTASY

Outside the Lines: Balancing Act

Here's the transcript from Show 51 of Outside The Lines - Balancing Act

Host: Bob Ley, ESPN.
Reporter: Scott Walker, ESPN
Guest: Robert Brickey, former Duke basketball captain; Kurt Kanaskie, head coach Drake University; Ellen Staurowsky, professor of sports science, Ithaca College.
Coordinating producer: Jonathan Ebinger, ESPN.

Announcer - March 18th, 2001.

The players who create the madness of March are also full-time students.

Unidentified Male - Student-athlete. You know, you're a student first, then you become an athlete.

Sean Harrington, University of Illinois basketball player - There's so much going on in their life that if you don't have time management, you're going to lose track of something - Your grades are going to suffer, your basketball career is going to suffer.

Bill Self, Illinois head coach - The reality of it is you only have a chance to be successful if you're responsible off the court.

Announcer - Today on Outside The Lines, how players under the national spotlight manage the balancing act between their books and their game.

Bob Ley, host - It's been said there are lies, damn lies and statistics. To that list, you might add NCAA graduation rates, a numerical attempt to measure the front portion of the phrase "scholar-athlete."

The NCAA stat allows a scholarship athlete six years to graduate. By that yardstick, over a four-year average, a majority of the teams in this year's NCAA tournament, 34 schools, have graduated less than half of their men's basketball players.

Coaches and administrators often cringe at some numbers like that, believing they fail to recognize the human circumstances inherent in running a Division I program.

On a weekend when sporting America sits with a bracket sheet in one hand and a remote control in the other, it is useful to remember these young men are expected to be students.

Yesterday, UCLA's Jason Kapono and Matt Barnes did not start against Utah State after leading a Friday study hall, a reminder that players, even in March, often have more than the next game to worry about.

Sure, they usually have academic counselors and a support system other students do not. But they also have, in essence, a full-time job. And as Scott Walker discovered, for the best students, even for them this balancing act between the court and the classroom is difficult and nonstop.

Scott Walker, ESPN correspondent - Hitting the big shot to help his school earn a conference championship and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament may be a great memory, but it won't get you to your 10 a.m. class on time.

Welcome to the life of University of Illinois sophomore guard Sean Harrington.

How much of your day is split between the student and the athlete? What's the percentage?

Harrington - It's pretty close to 50-50. If you look at a typical day like today, where I'm up at 9 o'clock and it's academics from 9 until about 2 o'clock, and then, sports is from, you know, 2 o'clock until 5 or 6 o'clock. So it's pretty even.

Walker - Harrington can easily blend into a campus community, but even if he didn't play basketball, Harrington could have starred academically at Illinois after earning National Honor Society recognition with a perfect high school GPA. That helped him prepare for the academic demands that can challenge a collegiate newcomer even before his first practice.

Harrington - I think it comes down to managing your time, and obviously, when you're traveling on the road or you have a tournament on the weekend or something, you're going to miss some class time. There is some study hour times, you know, that you miss out on, and now, that can make it a little tougher. But it all comes down to budgeting your time.

Sergio McClain, University of Illinois basketball player - I finished top 10 in my class in high school, and I got here and I felt like, I mean, this is -- their academic standard is very high here. And I...

Walker - And how did you deal with that? How did you manage?

McClain - You know, you manage, worked hard, and you know, it was communicated with my professors a lot. And you know, they saw that I wanted to learn.

Walker - Even that help is not enough for some players. The most recent NCAA graduation statistics show that 58 percent of men's basketball players did not finish their degrees in six years. Illinois officials and NCAA figures state that almost 60 percent of the Illini's players from the latest three-year period earned their degrees.

Illinois team officials perform spot checks on class attendance by players and help them assemble manageable class schedules to assist their academic development. That assistance is no guarantee of success.

Self - You can't hold their hand and get them to class every day, although we monitor that -- those situations. They've got to be self-starters in the classroom just like they are on the basketball court.

Walker - And how many of you four are on pace to graduate on time? How difficult is that to do?

Cory Bradford, University of Illinois basketball player - It's difficult. It's really difficult, because there's so much time management involved, and you have to, you know, basically level everything out, you know, basketball evenly with academics.

Walker - But college athletes, particularly at a school like Illinois with a high-profile program, are subject to greater demands than the average student.

After a morning in the classroom, Harrington and his teammates punch the clock at their second job.

Harrington - Everybody just kinds of knows at certain times, you know, it's a time to do certain things, and you just kind of know it. There's time, you know, there's a time for a practice, and there's time just so I can focus on the athletic side.

Self - We don't think that athletics is more important than academics, but also, you've got to be able to manage your time, where you don't come to practice saying, coach, I can't practice today, I forgot to do my paper last night.

Harrington - Sometimes, if there's an exam scheduled or something, you might have to work it out around practice time, and usually the coaches and the professors are pretty, you know -- they'll work together to work it out, so there's not a problem.

Walker - The NCAA limits players to 20 hours per week of activities, including practices, team meetings and games related to their sport. That means coaches require focus from players who are being pulled in different directions.

Self - Most coaches are going to maximize that 20 hours a week, but just because you stop at 20 hours a week, that doesn't affect how they ache when they lay around in bed. That doesn't affect how they're fatigued, so now they don't want to maybe spend that extra time or stay up until 1 a.m. studying for a class.

Walker - Harrington rooms with teammates Cory Bradford and Brian Cook. Their apartment serves not only as a meeting place for videogames, but a place to gather before hitting the campus hot-spots.

But time at home is valuable. Illinois played just 12 of 32 games at Assembly Hall this season. The team saw plenty of buses, baggage and hotel ball rooms before it even saw the basketball court.

Harrington - A lot of times when you're traveling, you have a night game on the road and we'll get back real late that night, and it's tough to, you know, really focus in on class. But at other times, it's, you know, everything's rolling on the court and you're playing well and the team's doing well -- you can use that energy in the classroom and you can really stay focused, and you always can get enthusiastic about that as well.

Walker - All the sacrifice and preparation seems worthwhile to players fortunate enough to earn a ticket to the NCAA tournament. For many, this is their final exam in basketball, with a test taken before a national audience.

Harrington - March madness, everybody's talking about that, and sometimes you lose track of the academics. And you -- this is a very important time to not let that happen, and putting, you know, an extra emphasis on the academics so you don't lose track of that.

Walker - What gives you more excitement?

Brian Cook, University of Illinois basketball player - The ball.

The ball, dude. I mean, we came here to play also. And yeah, you've got to have something to fall back on, but you know, our main goal is to win championships, and that's what we came here for.

Walker - Basketball players admittedly shift their focus to their sport during tournament time, raising their intensity level to a crescendo. But for most every team in the tournament, the season and the exhilaration will end abruptly. When it does, student athletes must find a way to shift their balance toward being students if they want to stay eligible for the opportunity to return to the stage.

For Outside The Lines, I'm Scott Walker.

Ley - Next, we'll continue the discussion of the March madness balancing act, and I'll speak with a former player who three times competed in the Final Four, a head coach who has confronted academic issues and now is critical of the system.

Ley - The balancing act for college basketball players. Joining us this morning from Greenville, South Carolina, Robert Brickey. In his four years as a player at Duke, he played in three Final Fours, including a national championship game his senior season when he was captain of the Duke Blue Devils.

Robert Brickey is currently assistant basketball coach at the U.S. Military Academy. Kurt Kanaskie is head basketball coach at Drake University, and at one point this past season, academic standards reduced his roster to seven scholarship players. He joins us from Indianapolis.

Ellen Staurowsky is a Professor of Sports Sciences at Ithaca College. She has also been a college coach and a college athletic director. She is in Ithaca, New York state this morning.

Robert, let me begin with you. What is it that those of us who watch the games and cover the games really don't understand about the life of a basketball player, especially at this time of the year, unless we're on the inside and living it?

Robert Brickey, Army assistant men's basketball coach - I think the difficult thing is, unless you've lived it, you don't understand all the things that go on behind the scenes - the amount of time and energy that's put into being an athlete, the fatigue factor, and trying to be a student. Those things wear on you.

You've got a long season, travel, papers, tests. It gets to be -- by the end of the season, guys are really worn down. So when they show up on the court, you see the athlete, but people don't realize all the behind-the-scenes activity that goes on in the life of a student athlete.

Ley - What are some real-world choices you have to make -- and you had to make -- between satisfying some needs and you want to have a little bit of a social life and be a normal person and also keep your grades up?

Brickey - Well, I think the key to -- one of the keys to life is finding balance, and that's hard to do in a student athlete. You have to give up some of that social life to be able to maintain your grades as well as to compete, and compete at a high level, because, you know, when you're talking Division I, most guys are thinking of going to the next level, to play professional basketball. So they want to maximize their opportunities while they have them.

Ley - Kurt, it could be said that your academic standards under which you coach at Drake might be the toughest in the country. They are tougher than NCAA standards. You lost four players after the first semester. How does that hamper you as a coach?

Kurt Kanaskie, Drake men's basketball coach - Well, Bob, we've always used it as a positive. We have what's called the 2.0 rule, which means that all of our basketball players must maintain a 2.0 grade point average at all times, and that includes the first semester, which could be tough for a student coming from far away and away from home for the first time.

But this is the first year in my five years that we've lost players, and it has affected us. There's no question about that. But I think academic integrity is important. Drake does not make special admits for students, and the Faculty Senate believes strongly in keeping our principles, and we're not going to make exceptions or special arrangements for athletes.

Ley - Ellen, is it to your ear an exception at Drake? Or are they the rule or are they the exception?

Ellen Staurowsky, Ithaca College Associate Professor of Sports Sciences - I've been hearing that they're the exception, and I think it's unfortunate in some ways that it's cast in that way. A 2.0 rule is not a particularly difficult standard, and I think many more schools may want to consider what Drake is doing from the standpoint that it ensures that students are going to be making progress toward their degree so that we don't have these kinds of drops in graduation rates that we see right now.

Ley - But what's the realistic chance of that, though, Ellen, given the culture of winning in college sports?

Staurowsky - Well, you know, you bring up an interesting point. I think that this discussion, as long as it happens with such dichotomies -- on one hand, we're talking about spectacle when we're talking about men's basketball and football in particular, and to a lesser degree but a growing degree, women's basketball as well. And the educational agenda is really being lost within that context.

A student like Sean Harrington is to be commended, and I know we have many students out there like that. On the other hand, what we don't see, as a result of the kind of lack of disclosure that we have working, we don't have extensive stories about the students at the other end of the spectrum, who would really help us understand more and put into context what Sean Harrington's story is actually telling us.

Ley - Kurt, to what degree -- and I'm not asking specifically about your school, but just being around the game -- are there athletes recruited to play that really are not prepared to be in college?

Kanaskie - Well, probably, Bob, but I think there's a fine line between exploitation of athletes and opportunities. I think to deny someone an opportunity is wrong. I think that different universities have different missions.

El and I are at private schools. I'm sure if we were at public institutions, maybe we would have a different take on it. But when Ellen mentioned maybe other schools should look at the 2.0 rule, I think that's admirable, but unrealistic.

It was proposed in NCAA legislation. In fact, some parts of legislation passed. Now freshmen can attend universities on scholarship in the summer prior to the first semester, and receive three to six hours of credit. That's passed. That's happening this summer.

But the 2.0 rule was also proposed, and it was -- failed unanimously. So I don't know if other schools are going to go to this, because I don't know if grade point average is the answer.

I think Ellen may be right. Disclosure is the answer, but I don't know about grade point averages.

Ley - Well, one of the yardsticks, Robert, that is used is graduation rates. You played your last year in 1990. It took you several additional years to earn your degree. We look at some of the numbers that come out, and of course, there has to be a yardstick, and it is the NCAA yardstick at six years. Do you think that's an accurate measure, to judge a school, Robert, if they're getting the job done?

Brickey - Well, I think universities should take some steps themselves to help ensure that students are going to be equipped to graduate. I think one of the things that would help is making sure that young men and women are given time management courses so they really understand how to balance their time so that they are continually making progress toward their degrees.

Ley - How much of it gets down, Robert, to freshman eligibility? Two of the three suite mates in our story did not play as freshmen, because they were non-predictors. And they said -- it was not included in the story -- but they did tell Scott Walker, you know, this was a good year for us. It helped us get down to our books. It seems to make the case for not having freshmen play.

Brickey - I think that might be a very good idea, because it gives incoming freshmen an opportunity to get adjusted to the college atmosphere, to the academic environment at a university, where they might be completely overwhelmed by the change from high school to college. So I think the adjustment period can be very advantageous for incoming freshmen.

Ley - OK, there's an absolute limit of 20 hours of the time that a scholarship athlete can spend on a sport. We'll talk about that as we continue more on this balancing act in our conversation with Robert Brickey, Kurt Kanaskie and Ellen Staurowsky on the balancing act in March Madness.

Ley - And we continue with Robert Brickey, with Coach Kurt Kanaskie, and with professor Ellen Staurowsky.

Robert, let me get back with you about the idea of there being a 20-hour limit, which is an NCAA regulation. It gets down to an accounting measure. I guess some assistant coaches actually have to track it. How realistic -- and I know you're at a military academy, but you did play at Duke. How realistic is limiting it to 20 hours the time that a coach can really spend with his player in a week?

Brickey - I think it's fairly realistic. Most coaches do a very good job of making sure that they don't exceed that 20-hour limit. And if you get over 20 hours, you're really, really wearing down your student athletes.

So I think those that do the job that their supposed to do in keeping it to 20 hours really help their student athletes by making sure that they're fresh for academic preparation and study time.

Ley - But Kurt, doesn't it really take more than 20 hours a week? I mean, there's some voluntary things that guys have got to do - They've got to be in the weight room, there's a little bit of peer pressure. It's going to be more than 20 hours a week.

Kanaskie - Bob, I don't think so. I -- we use about 19 hours per week, and that 19 hours, that includes all basketball-related activity, whether it's strength training and conditioning, like you mentioned, or individual skill work, one-on-one with the coach. It does not include study hall time, training room rehab activities.

But I really think that 20 hours is plenty.

Ley - Ellen, do you think that that's a fair measure?

Staurowsky - Well, I would tend to disagree with that assessment from the standpoint that even students here at Ithaca College, who are Division III student athletes, they'll readily admit that the demands of their sport take up more than 20 hours a week, and often times as many as 30 or above that. And of course, the distinction between what's mandated in terms of time with their coach versus the other voluntary activities, coming to play.

But what that raises for me is the question, if the student athletes who are at Division III and at Ithaca College are struggling to maintain some sense of balance, then to put them into the pressure cooker of something like men's basketball at the Division I level I think really would suggest that these demands are much, much more than what we may be willing to acknowledge.

Ley - Kurt, do you agree.

Kanaskie - Not really, Bob. I just think that, you know, obviously, it's going to take more time, but a lot of that time is spent either getting ready for practice or recovering from practice. But the actual activity, I don't think, is exceeding more than 20 hours per week.

Ley - Of course, travel is not part of that number, right?

Kanaskie - Right.

Ley - If you're traveling, the clock's not ticking.

Kanaskie - And I'm not saying it's easy to be an athlete. I think Joe Paterno said that if you want to compete and be successful, there are a lot of things you have to do, and it's going to really take a lot of your time. But if you don't do those things, you won't have a chance to be successful.

Ley - Robert, when you were at Duke -- there's an academic support system at most Division I schools -- were you able to avail yourself of it as a scholar athlete, as an athlete on scholarship?

Brickey - Certainly. Duke did a very good job of providing us with tutors and all the additional instruction that we would need. They encouraged us to get to know our professors so that when we traveled and we missed tests or class, that we would be able to make up those materials or those tests.

And I think most schools really have evaluated their systems, and they are putting things in place to make sure student athletes have the necessary tools to succeed.

Ley - But Kurt, at your school, there's not a separate academic support system for scholar athletes.

Kanaskie - No, there's not. The university feels that athletes are no different than normal students or regular students. So nothing is provided for athletes that aren't provided for the regular student body.

And really, that comes down to professor relationships, maybe peer study groups. But I have to admit that the Faculty Senate is looking at providing services for athletes because of what happened this past semester.

Ley - Do you think you'll get some aid in that regard in the future?

Kanaskie - Yes, I think so. I don't think it is casting a bad light on athletes if they do get help with tutoring and monitoring, and that sort of support system.

Ley - Ellen, you heard in our report, as one of the players talked about working things out with the professor. Is that a fine line? And you also hear that players are very defensive about saying, "We take real courses, we're in this for real."

Staurowsky - Well, you know, I think that what it does for the educational system overall, at least as someone who is a professor, when I get appeals from athletes in terms of what kind of special provisions I might need to make in order to accommodate them playing -- but I also have to ask the question, how else am I going to accommodate other students for class as well, because, other students are working, other students have other commitments.

And I think that in the grand scheme of things to limit our discussion in terms of student athletes only really sets up a certain kind of -- and this is a volatile word -- but sort of a preferential system in a way...

Ley - Yeah.

Staurowsky - ... because it denies the fact that there are lots and lots of students who have jobs. There are lots and lots of students who have demands.

Ley - The student athlete, certainly, they're the ones in the spotlight.

Staurowsky - Yeah.

Ley - Thank you all very much. Thanks to Robert Brickey. Good luck at West Point.

Brickey - Thank you, sir.

Ley - Coach Kurt Kanaskie at Drake, and Professor Ellen Staurowsky at Ithaca College.

Next, your feedback on the emotional issue of Native American sports nicknames, as we continue.

Ley - The controversy over the Fighting Sioux name at the University of North Dakota sparked a number of thoughtful e-mails this past week to our inbox.

A viewer in Grand Rapids, Michigan, writing - "Perhaps this should be the issue. Indian names are not inherently disrespectful, but how that mascot is portrayed should be the concern. In most cases, I see no attempt at belittling or degrading Indian tribal names. In fact, if not for some of the names -- such as Seminoles, Chippewa's and others -- I might not even know some of these tribes existed. Will future Michigan generations even know what a Huron was, as Eastern Michigan dropped the name several years back?"

From Montana - "I am a Sioux, and I find the quibbling over names used very offensive. As American Indians, we should be more concerned about the problems in our own backyard. We have probably one of the highest rates of dropouts of any minority, one of the highest rates of alcoholism, one of the highest rates of unemployment. Why worry about a name when our image back on the reservations is synonymous with alcohol, domestic violence, child neglect and welfare recipient?"

Those opinions registered online from front page. Type the keyword, OTL weekly, and visit our site with live runs of all of our Sunday morning programs, with transcripts and streaming video. You can also visit our new message board with discussion streams and dialogue on program topics.

And as always, we welcome your e-mail comments, criticisms and suggestions. Our e-mail address,

Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories

weekly OTL logo

Weekly Outside the Lines

Send feedback to the weekly OTL show

Mission statement of weekly Outside the Lines show

2001: Transcripts, videos of weekly OTL show

Copyright ©2001 ESPN Internet Ventures. Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and Safety Information are applicable to this site. Employment opportunities at