Making the Grade: Student Athletes Face Conflicts with Practices and Classes

Every Wednesday at 3 p.m, Obiajulu C. Agha, Jr. ’14 would rush across the Charles River from his sophomore tutorial to the soccer field, 30 minutes late for practice. Other nights, after three hours of training, Agha would sprint back to campus, barely on time for his five-hour organic chemistry lab.

“It could get a little hectic at times,” Agha, a forward on the men’s soccer team and a human and evolutionary biology concentrator, laughed.

While packed schedules are nothing new for most Harvard students, athletes face a particularly difficult predicament. According to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ Handbook, no courses beginning before 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday are permitted to run longer than an hour and a half in duration. As a result of this regulation, concentration requirements like tutorials and seminars, which are generally two to three hours long, are scheduled for the afternoon and evening, often conflicting with sports practices.

In order to fulfill their concentration requirements, many students must miss either an entire practice per week or portions of practice throughout the week.

Additionally, Agha noted, even if athletes do find seminars or tutorials that fit around their practice schedules, course options are often limited.

“For me, there were always classes that didn’t conflict too much [with practice],” Agha said. “But they weren’t usually the ones I was interested in, so your options are dwindled significantly because of practice time.”

According to Associate Director of Athletics Nathan T. Fry, coaches and students alike agree that academics should be students’ top priority at the College.

Still, athletics are no minor concern. According to Fry, 1,039 student-athletes performing on Harvard’s 42 varsity teamsthe nation’s largest Division I athletic programconstitute around 16 percent of the College’s student body, with each team presenting different demands to its members.

Many of these student-athletes have expressed desire to transition to more accommodating class times. And with a new task force currently working to re-evaluate the College’s schedulein light of the School of Engineering and Applied Science’s projected move to Allstonathletes’ concerns about their limited course options may influence policy change.

THE BALANCING ACT

While in recent years Harvard has gained national recognition for its athletic programs, like basketball and football, coaches have continued pledging to prioritize school over sports.

“Our coaches are prepped to have conversations with student-athletes where we will make whatever arrangements we need to to help set them up for success academically,” Fry said.

Because in-season athletic practices typically run anywhere from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., athletes often find that concentration requirements, like tutorials or seminars, cause conflicts. According to Fry, coaches must allow their students to miss practice for these classes, but at a cost to the entire team.

“Any day in which the whole team isn’t there and isn’t contributing to you being better is a day that you are losing something,” Agha said.

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