Ex-coach: Tech a win for student athletes

As a former Division I basketball coach with more than 360 wins in 18 seasons, Mike Jarvis has seen it all. From coaching future Hall-of-Famer Patrick Ewing at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, to taking Boston University and George Washington University to the NCAA Tournament, to leading St. John’s University to the Elite Eight and an NIT championship, Jarvis has a good understanding of the challenges that face student athletes. One of these challenges is the struggle to balance the intense practices and traveling required of athletes with the demands of a full-time college workload.

Jarvis went to VBrick Systems with a challenge: Take the company’s video technology and use it in a way that would help the student athletes he’d once mentored and coached keep up with their studies. The result is the Promise Initiative, a program that lets student athletes avoid missing lessons by accessing classes virtually from anywhere in the world.

Based on VBrick’s EtherneTV technology, the Promise Initiative gives student athletes the ability to watch live or recorded broadcasts of their classes on their computers. The videos can be tailored to fit various formats, so they can be streamed through the internet or even downloaded onto an iPod for watching while on a plane or bus. By placing video technology in each classroom, every class or lecture at a school or university can be recorded and stored in digital format on a video-on-demand server.

“Student athletes certainly have additional challenges in front of them,” said Pat Cassella, senior director of marketing for VBrick. “They’re not always going to be able to be in the classroom and participate in a live manner. So it’s important that student athletes have the ability to have some level of interaction and … not miss a class.”

VBrick’s goals with the Promise Initiative are to increase the grade-point averages of student athletes, raise their graduation rate to 85 percent, and eliminate missed classes. In September, the NCAA reported a 77-percent graduation success rate for Division I athletes. This was up from 76 percent last year. The NCAA has set a goal of an 80-percent graduation rate for all Division I athletes.

A major stumbling block to student athletes receiving a high-quality education is the difficulty in scheduling classes. Many courses they might like to take “conflict with practice times or might fall on a day that the team is usually traveling a lot,” said Jarvis in an interview with eSchool News. “Youngsters–many times on their own volition, or sometimes after being encouraged–choose not to take certain courses because of these conflicts.”

He added: “In order to stay eligible, these youngsters will take the easiest courses available. … It’s almost impossible for most student athletes to get anywhere [near] the same quality of education that regular students get, because of the [number] of classes they miss.”

Allowing these students to watch their classes while traveling to and from games gives them the chance to get the high-quality education they deserve, said Jarvis.

“As a coach, it’s not enough just to try to help your kids get a degree, but you want them to get the most meaningful degree they can and as much education as they can,” he said. “The opportunity to receive a high-quality education and get all of the same materials and information that any other student would get would be available through the Promise campaign.”

Jarvis said one of the hardest times for a student athlete is during the postseason, especially during the NCAA basketball tournaments. “If these athletes have a really good team, they could be traveling and missing three or four days of classes–for three or four straight weeks,” he said. “It’s a wonder that as many of them graduate …as [do]. As bad as some of the statistics are, it’s a wonder they’re not worse.”

Currently, most schools have some sort of academic advisor, be it a staff member assigned to the team or an assistant coach, who is responsible for keeping the athletes up to date in class. Usually an assistant will be assigned to monitor a study hall in which student athletes are given an hour or two to complete their work. “What Promise will do is let these students almost physically attend their class during their designated study time, or when on a bus or plane,” said Jarvis. “If the broadcast were live, they would even have the ability to interact with the professor.”

The live aspect of the project “is a great idea,” said Cassella. “But the reality is, [students] wouldn’t be able to catch [the broadcast] on a live basis. Making it available on demand helps it fit their lifestyle of being an athlete and lets them watch it at their leisure.”

VBrick founder Rich Mavrogeanes said the company’s video system could cost universities between $50,000 and $1 million, depending on how extensively they use the system.

NCAA President Myles Brand has made academic reform his top priority since taking over in 2003, pushing for more stringent academic standards and better graduation rates.

Brand recently cited improving graduation rates among student athletes–higher even than the general student population–as one of the greatest successes in college sports.

NCAA rules prohibit student athletes from receiving extra benefits that are not generally available to other students. NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson said officials declined to comment on the proposal before it was made public this week

Mavrogeanes said the product would be legal under NCAA rules as long as a school offered it to all of its students.

Jarvis noted that the only time the Promise Initiative systems would be used for athletes would be when they were traveling, injured, or had missed a class because of practice.


VBrick Systems

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