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STUDENT Before Athlete – Making Smart Choices

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I ran across an article in the Star Tribune about a student athlete Jeff Jones.  This article resonated with me on a personal level, both as an NCAA and professional athlete and as a father of an athlete.  It prompted me to write this latest blog.  It is not about basketball per se, but it relates to all athletes who have an eye on playing sports at the higher levels, beyond high-school athletics.  It is about making the right choices for the best chances of success as a student, and as an athlete.  For reference and credit, here’s a link to the Star Tribune article:  http://m.startribune.com/?id=265313941

Jeff Jones, is a running back from Minneapolis Washburn High School with some decisions to make. Rivals.com ranked Jones as the nation’s seventh-best running back on national signing day in February. As a senior, he had 1,525 yards rushing, 493 yards receiving and scored 42 touchdowns.  He was ranked the No. 7 running back recruit in the U.S. when the University of Minnesota’s Gophers signed him to a full-ride athletic scholarship.  But due to his poor academic performance, he is ineligible and his status for the upcoming season is in doubt.

Jones took a test on June 14 for his last chance to qualify for his scholarships by improving his ACT score. He improved, but didn’t improve enough to be eligible to play.  However,  he still has another chance.  If Jones was to raise his grade-point average by retaking two classes this summer he may still qualify.  These two classes are being taken at Washburn High School and would replace two of his worst grades from high school.  Depending on those grades, he may still not qualify as currently, the “jury is out.”

The NCAA Eligibility Center will award Jones and the Gophers the opportunity to work together if he raises his GPA. The NCAA uses a formula that is based on a sliding scale combining ACT test scores and GPA.  Jones ACT score is high enough to qualify but his GPA is so low that he needed a higher ACT score, or in the situation now, a higher GPA to counterbalance the offsetting combination of eligibility rules.

JONES’ OPTIONS:

Iowa Western Community College

Jones has the option to go to Iowa Western Community College for two seasons and earn an associate degree, therefore playing football and earning NCAA Division I eligibility status to go to any college of his choice.  Here are some considerations:

· There are 7 million high school athletes, and only 2% will compete in college.

· With college costs at an all-time high, it needs to be understood that there are many opportunities that are outside of the D-I realm.  There is D-I, D-II, D-III, NAIA schools that all offer scholarships.

· Jones can keep playing football and earn his general education credits and be debt free at the same time

· No one wants debt. Starting out adult life in debt is certainly not optimal.

· When Jones dominates this level, and he should, he should then be able to choose any program, anywhere, as he wouldn’t be locked into the University of Minnesota

University of Minnesota

Enroll at Minnesota as a non-student-athlete and join the team, if eligible in 2015. He would need to sign up for financial aid.  Here, he would not be a part of the football team. To gain 2015 eligibility, Jones would need to finish at least 24 university credits by the end of the 2015 summer session, with at least a 2.0 GPA. ( he would then have 3-years of eligibility, and a 4th if he is 80% finished with his degree in his fifth year of college). If he chooses to go the U of Minnesota and pays for college himself, without the ability to play with his teammates, there are too many questions flapping in the wind:

· Will he be able to hack the grades?

· Will he be self-motivated enough to keep in playing shape?

· Will he recover from the debt of college?

· Is there a guarantee from the University going into this scenario?  Maybe, but I doubt it.

Debt free and 24 hours of credit under his belt, with choices to join any team seems to be a better route for Jeff Jones. I believe it is a much better choice than the option at the U of Minnesota.  I am making this recommendation based on experience. My son got all-city honors in football and had a full-ride scholarship to play football at Mesa Community College.  A place where he could earn credits, learn the game at a higher level, have his college paid for, and earn a great opportunity to play football at Arizona State University, or Northern Arizona University.  But he decided that Community College was like banishing him to prison, that there couldn’t be a worse place to go than a community college, for any reason.

Long story short, he didn’t play football or any sport at the next level, at all.  I know to this day he wishes that he had not been so hung up on where, but just that he had. A dream of his to play a sport at the next level never happened just because it wasn’t cool to go to a community college.

His mom and I did our best to get him through college debt free, but we were not completely successful.  Therefore, he owes money on a student loan, a tough way to start out life as an adult.  As his father, this is very frustrating.  I earned 4 college degrees, two of them Masters Degrees, all on scholarship.  Where there is a will, there is a way!

What would you do?  What would you recommend? What do you think is in his best interest?

Why not have your school paid for? Why D-I or bust?  It doesn’t have to be that way. Athletes with the potential to play at higher levels should not limit their options.  Above all…they need to MAKE THE GRADE, so they won’t be scrambling like Jeff Jones.  Jeff is a talent that could play anywhere if he can just make the grade. Good luck Jeff, I am pulling for you!

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