The Free Press, Mankato, MN

June 14, 2013

COURRIER: Athletes' academic prowess shouldn't be dismissed

It wasn’t long ago, during a conversation with a Minnesota State coach who was lauding his team’s academic all-conference honors, that the response was something like, “I can’t wait until we can talk about conference championships and national tournaments.
As the two of us talked about another Minnesota State team, the smart-aleck remark was, “There’s the smartest team in America, and they can’t win a game.”
Yes, it’s not easy to admit, but the academic achievement of college athletes used to cause overwhelming disinterest. Wasn’t someone in college, even with athletics being the priority, supposed to be able to get passing grades? If memory serves, there was a series of high-school standards that students had to meet before being admitted into Minnesota State, so it would seem a bigger shock if a student was unable to achieve acceptable grades in the basic college courses.
But the recent report of the success of Minnesota State athletes during the spring semester was impressive, not necessarily for the individual awards, which you would expect, but for the across-the-board achievement in every sport, many of which accomplished great things on the field, too.
Six of Minnesota State’s 20 athletic teams won conference titles, and six others placed second. Seven teams finished in the top 10 nationally, with another 10 in the top 20, which helped the Mavericks claims fourth place in the Director’s Cup, one measure of the overall program’s success at the national level.
Those achievements alone are noteworthy for an athletic department, and many of you have enjoyed a fun evening at the stadium, arena or diamond witnessing these exciting events.
Yet, all of this success came without sacrificing anything academically. Of the 563 athletes at Minnesota State last year, 212 were on the dean’s list for the spring semester. Several athletes earned conference and national recognition for academic accomplishment.
Athletes’ grade-point average has long been the source of jokes and snide comments, but the cumulative GPA for the entire athletic roster was 3.18 in the spring, with 58 students achieving a 4.0. That doesn’t allow for many knuckleheads in any of the programs.
It’s not always easy to admit error, though that line about the “smartest team in America” was a good one at the time. The public — and media — should probably pay more attention to GPAs when they’re good, not just when they fall short.
Perhaps in the future, that will change. Hopefully, a semester like the most recent one by Minnesota State athletes, won’t go unnoticed, or be taken for granted.
Chad Courrier is a Free Press staff writer. To contact him, call 507-344-6353, e-mail at or follow his Twitter feed @ChadCourrier.