Georgia athletes face fines, suspensions for missing class

ATLANTA -- When Georgia officials tried to find a way to make student-athletes show up for classes and academic appointments, athletic director Damon Evans made a bold proposal:

Unexcused absences should bring $10 fines or game suspensions.

After having six months to examine the attendance policy, introduced in January, Evans concluded Wednesday "It's the right thing for us to do."

Georgia officials say the policy deserves credit for a strong academic showing this spring.

For the first time, more than 50 percent of Georgia's student-athletes had 3.0 or better grade-point averages in the spring semester.

Also, when compared with last spring, there were far fewer dropped classes and a sharp increase in credit hours earned -- 954 this spring, compared with 770 last spring, according to Ted White, Georgia's director of academic services.

"It's a great sign," White said.

Word of Georgia's early success with the policy has spread. Georgia is receiving calls from other schools interested in starting similar programs.

"It's exactly what we want," Evans said. "We want our individuals going to class and getting a quality education."

The policy produced dramatic results in its first month.

In a three-week period in January, student-athletes missed 46 classes or academic appointments, a 90 percent drop from 421 over a three-week period in September.

White said adding the fine to the attendance policy was "a stroke of genius on Damon's part."

"They say, 'I don't want to owe 10 bucks, so I'm going to show up,"' White said.

"For some students, it's the one thing though that stops them from missing more appointments."

The money is donated to United Way.

Evans said he wants academics to be treated with at least as much respect as athletics.

"How many of them are going to skip practice?" Evans asked. "We don't have a problem with kids skipping practice, so we shouldn't have a problem with them skipping a class or an academic appointment. That's what I want them to know. It's not OK to skip an academic appointment.

"Kids aren't going to compete if they miss practice. You go to practice to get prepared for competition. You go to class and to your academic appointment so you can get prepared for your tests and do well. We've got to hold those at the same level, and to be quite candid, the academic component should be held at a higher standard."

Other athletic departments may follow Georgia's lead.

At its annual spring meetings last week, the Southeastern Conference passed legislation that requires each school to make an attendance policy.

"We were very proactive with this, and now to see it has become
adopted by the conference, that's a step in the right direction," Evans said.

White said the Georgia policy will be discussed this weekend in
Phoenix at the annual meeting of the National Association of Academic Advisors for Athletics.

"We get calls all the time from schools about this," White said. "I've already been contacted by a number of people who want to put together an impromptu seminar this weekend. A lot of schools are interested."

According to Georgia's policy, student-athletes who miss more than two classes in the same course will be suspended for about 10 percent of their team's games for each additional class they miss.

Student-athletes who miss more than one academic appointment must pay a $10 fine. They face suspensions for missing more than four.