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NCAA "Celebrates Student Athletes"​: We Agree! (2 of 4)

Updated: Feb 16, 2023

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn in an effort to help save Olympic Sports at the NCAA level. This is Part II of a four part series.


As I watched the games this weekend, one thing in particular stood out: the games played at Hinkle Fieldhouse on the campus of Butler University. Hinkle (as we call it) is on the National Register of Historic Places and is also a National Historical Landmark. Hinkle has hosted some of the most iconic Indiana high school basketball events and was a design influence for the Pacer’s Bankers Life Fieldhouse. My mother and father became Butler season ticketholders for a while when they moved to Indy from Chicago and they watched my cousin David Speckman play for the Bulldogs. The aura of Hinkle is so great that sometimes we even have to measure the dimensions just to make sure it’s real.

My other observation as I watched the games this weekend? The NCAA partnering with me in their advertising of this Final Four part series! The ad plastered at center court “Celebrates Student Athletes” was front and center. I could not agree more with the sentiment. Some national pundits have mocked the term “student athlete.” However, while I understand the controversy, it is an appropriate term for the vast majority of the nearly 480,000 NCAA athletes. Football & basketball athletes only account for 19% (92,500) of total NCAA athletes, and Division I participation is 7.2% (35,000).

I would like to take the opportunity to highlight just a few recent athletes from Michigan State University’s Men’s & Women’s Swimming & Diving program who embody the very best of the term “student athlete.”

Amanda Ling (Diving): On March 18, 2021, Amanda Ling became the first woman in Michigan State history, and second Spartan overall, to capture the prestigious Elite 90 award at the NCAA Championships. The Elite 90, an award founded by the NCAA, is presented to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade-point average participating at the finals site for each of the NCAA's championships. The award recognizes the true essence of the student-athlete by honoring the individual who has reached the pinnacle of competition at the national championship level in his or her sport, while also achieving the highest academic standard among his or her peers. Amanda boasts a 4.0 GPA as an English Major.

Scott Piper (Swimming): On February 13, 2020, Scott Piper was one of two recipients of the Big Ten Wayne Duke Postgraduate Scholarship.Scott was the first recipient of this award in Michigan State history. Scott was a 4.0 cumulative GPA Biosystems Engineering major and 2020 Olympic Trials qualifier. Scott is currently pursuing his Masters Degree in Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering at Stanford University.

David Zoltowski (Swimming): On November 5, 2015, David Zoltowski was named a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship and came close to becoming the 17th Michigan State student and first athlete since 1982 to be awarded the scholarship. David was a 4.0 cumulative GPA Electrical Engineering Major who went on to obtain is Masters in Engineering at the University of Cambridge. Currently, David is pursuing his Doctor of Philosophy in Neuroscience. At Princeton. But let him tell you about himself.

We celebrate these Spartan athletes! However, these athletes aren’t alone. Swimmers & divers represent 26% of the Big Ten Wayne Duke Postgraduate Scholarship recipients despite only being 2% of NCAA athletes. In addition, according to the NCAA, more than 80% of student-athletes will earn a bachelors degree and 35% will earn a postgraduate degree. For Division 1, 90% achieve graduation as compared to 61% for the student body. One of the things they teach you in MBA school is to make financial projections based upon “expected value” which takes into account the probability of occurrence. Thus, a nearly 30% difference in expected graduation rate makes investing in student athletes a no-brainer.

That said, to quote the movie Hoosiers “there are two kinds of dumb” one that cuts a program which makes the university $1.2M per year and the other kind which cuts a program creating this kind of academic excellence. Bravo Mr. Beekman. I wonder what post collegiate success will be like...

Mark Emmert I cannot thank you for the advertising assist. Instead of us meeting for lunch, why don’t I meet you at the Hall of Champions and we can take a walk along White River Park.

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