Kevonte Martin-Manley is relaxing, which is rare.
It’s a Wednesday night — Halloween 2012 to most people — and the 6-0, 205-pound wide receiver for the Hawkeyes is far from Kinnick Stadium or the training room. Rather, he’s hanging with three of his buddies, who also happen to be teammates, at Colonial Lanes. “KMM11” is his alias in the scoring system, and tonight he’s on, rolling 6 strikes and scoring more than 200 in his final round of the night.
But more of a success is the time apart from what dominates his life. Bowling is the only time of week, he said, that “doesn’t have to do with football or school.”
Being away from the football is a rarity for Martin-Manley. The sophomore from Pontiac, Mich., guesses he spends significantly more time in a given week on football than his classes.
NCAA bylaw 17.02.1.1 states athletes can only spend 20 hours per week on “countable athletically related activites.” The NCAA’s idea of such activities is a formal practice with coaches.
But add in travel, film-watching, and calorie-counting, and the time becomes much more.
In fact, based on interviews The Daily Iowan conducted with seven Hawkeye athletes, the average amount of time a Hawkeye athlete devotes to their sport’s activities is at least 30 hours per week, if not more.
“They say you’re here for school,” Martin-Manley said. “But if you break down our schedule, it’s like, ‘How can you expect [an athlete’s] No. 1 focus to be on school?’ ”
Other athletes interviewed concur. It’s important to note, however, that they also think Iowa is no different from any other Big Ten school or likely every school in the NCAA: In today’s world, college athletes typically spend an inordinate amount of time during their week pursuing athletics.
They say the demand of practice, getting to practice, and nursing injuries from practice means to play college athletics is a commitment unlike any other faced by any other college student. Further, athletes need to be serious about their academics in order keep playing, so the culture surrounding typical Hawkeye student-athletes is one of discipline and focus — on both their games and their books.
The NCAA has cited one Big Ten school for practicing too much in the last few years. Michigan football held too many workouts under former head coach Rich Rodriguez, resulting in two years of sanctions for the program.
Iowa is an example, though, of what likely occurs at every Division-I school in the country.
“Our coach [Jack Dahm] even says it: We only have 20 hours, but you have to put in more than 20 hours to be where you want to be,” baseball player Anthony Torres said. “You do a lot more than 20 hours of work.”
He also believes each player on a College World Series team puts in well more than 20 hours of work per week toward the sport. But it’s not all directly tuning one’s game; there’s the program’s greater good.
Morgan Johnson, a senior on this year’s Iowa women’s basketball team, agreed with Torres’ assessment.
“It’s the autograph signing,” she said as an example of nonathletic activities team members must do. “It’s those little things that make it 100 percent your life.”
However, many athletes thrive on full schedules, and many of them make time for outside activities.
Nile Kinnick, Iowa’s lone Heisman trophy winner, was also a member of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and student-body president his senior year.
While not all can be as ambitious as the football stadium’s eponym, some student-athletes do join the greek system, get elected to University of Iowa Student Government, or get involved in organizations as Salt Company, a campus Christian group.
After a recent Salt Company meeting examining “Romans 8,” the student-athletes slowly become recognizable. While the 6-4 Johnson towers over her women’s basketball teammates seven rows from the Englert stage, the silhouettes of three linemen on the football team grow even larger as they walk up the dark aisles toward the exit alongside volleyball player Bethany Yeager.
Five of Yeager’s teammates even participated in the 2013 Dance Marathon. The quartet was only able to dance for the kids because they play a fall sport, meaning they could participate because they weren’t in season.
But they’re always somewhat in season. Leppek is a biomedical engineering major and is heading for a field in which internships are crucial to post-college success. But her current occupation as a middle blocker for the Iowa volleyball team can be restricting.
“I don’t have any internships, because I don’t have time,” she said.
The Rochester Hills, Mich., native stayed over the summer in Iowa City because that’s what she and other athletes on campus do. The NCAA doesn’t allow many required workouts out of season, but much like the NFL, the off-season “voluntary workouts” are a misnomer.
“I’m not really sure what the definition of voluntary is,” Leppek said, joking. “Everyone stays [over the summer].”
“It’s still about 20 hours a week that you’re playing basketball during the summer,” she said.
Misconceptions (the not-so-dumb jock)
The “dumb jock” stereotype begins in popular culture. From the obnoxious Ogre in Revenge of the Nerds to basically the entire team in the Samuel L. Jackson film Coach Carter, football and basketball players especially are consistently portrayed as getting by on talent alone.
At the university, while it’s impossible to gauge everyone’s opinion, the stereotype persists in some forms.
This may not seem to affect the athletes themselves, but they’re well aware of what some presume about their intelligence.
“That’s a big stereotype,” Kevonte Martin-Manley said.
One of the wide receiver’s goals in college and life is to become fluent in Swahili. He’s taking classes at the UI to that end and said, “It’s definitely not an easy class, but some people don’t even think it’s a real language.”
Even non-football and basketball players have felt a perception persists about their intelligence.
“[Student-athletes] are kind of thought of as, ‘Oh, we don’t go to class that often,’ ” junior golfer Steven Ihm said. “But you know, we’re pretty smart.”
For example, Johnson is the Hawkeye’s career leader in blocked shots. She also aims to be a pediatrician.
“A lot of people just assume, ‘Oh you’re an athlete … what classes are you taking this semester for blow-off classes?’ ” she said. “But I think people who know me … they know the classes that I take.”
Beyond anecdotal evidence, the Hawkeyes’ sports program has a very good academic reputation.
UI athletes had the same GPA (2.97) as the general student population in 2011-12, according to Academics and Student Services employee Cynthia Leonard.
Recruits are often sold on academics as much as athletics. And many coaches seem to embrace smart players, not shun them.
“[Field-hockey head coach] Tracey [Griesbaum] was really willing to work with me to be an engineering major,” sophomore midfielder Brynn Gitt said. “I had other schools tell me to change my major.”
The 2011-12 national graduation rate — which counts students graduating within six years from the institution they originally enrolled in — was 65 percent for student-athletes. The UI’s was 77 percent, according to records viewable on the NCAA.org website.
And it’s not low-profile sports holding others up.
The Iowa football program tied for 13th among Division-I programs for graduating players, with approximately 82 percent of players graduating from Iowa or their transfer institution within six years, according to Examiner.com.
The habit of success isn’t all personal initiative. Beginning in freshman year, athletes have required hours in the Gerdin Athletic Learning Center. In addition to these study hours, there are also frequent meetings with an academic adviser, making sure grades are made and credits count.
“[The adviser] will say, ‘What did you get on this exam?’ ” senior volleyball player Allison Straumann said. “And he’ll keep track and calculate your grade-point average for you.”
Athletes are also academically accountable to their team, too. Most squads set academic goals of some kind. For instance, Iowa football players with a 2.8 GPA or higher are recognized internally, while each member of the field-hockey team has short term and long-term individual academic goals.
“That’s a way of contributing to the team,” Iowa director of track and field Larry Weizcorek said. “Maybe you’re not scoring points at the Big Ten championship yet. But meanwhile, you’re doing a great job in the classroom.”
Yet, required studying doesn’t equate to automatically passing a class.
The UI has a number of safeguards in place to attempt to ensure fairness with student-athletes academics. Tutors and employees at the Athletics Learning Center aren’t allowed to directly call a faculty member without the proper approval. And unlike a number of other schools in the country, academic advisers don’t report to coaches but to other athletics administrators.
Much of this isn’t necessarily for actual oversight but to create a better public perception of compliance. This, according to Fred Mims, the associate athletics director for student affairs, is because the public will assume the negative in regard to student-athletes.
“If something happens at Alabama, people are going to think that’s happening here at Iowa as well,” he said. “And that’s not right.”
The scholarship’s worth (what athletes have that other students don’t)
In the fall of 1974, then-University of Connecticut freshman football player Kirk Ferentz recorded the worst grades of his high-school or college life. The eventual English-education major said that back then, there weren’t many resources to help an athlete succeed.
“The freshman coaches proctored study hall,” Ferentz said. “It was basically walk into an auditorium or a large classroom and just sit quietly and don’t create a disturbance.”
But the Iowa football coach would have had similar support if he’d decided to play in Iowa City. The UI has had a history of study halls administered in a number of unexpected places.
In the late-1970s, there was a two-person department overseeing study hours in the Field House bleachers.
Eventually, student-athletes studied in the Hillcrest cafeteria after the dining hall closed for the night. Another upgrade for the program was a move from Hillcrest into the basement of Quad. But it wasn’t until “the LC,” as many athletes call Gerdin, was finished in 2003 that Iowa had a dedicated study space for athletes.
Some coaches contend Gerdin, which cost approximately $4.5 million to build, is their best recruiting tool. Even though other schools’ facilities are bigger or newer, they say, they still have one of the best learning centers in the country. Those working at the center stress its modest appearance is part of the Iowa charm.
“We’re a Midwestern institution, and the people in Iowa are not flashy people,” Mims said. “We’re just, more or less, hard-working and try to do the best we can with what we have.”
What they have is two floors of resources provided for Iowa’s student-athletes. There are tutors for any subject imaginable, quiet study lounges for both under- and upperclassmen, and exclusive seminars in courses toward building one’s professional career — and all at no cost as long the athlete is on the roster.
Wieczorek called Gerdin more than a center but “a comprehensive support program for student-athletes.” He also noted, though, during his 26-year tenure at Iowa, general students have also gained more resources than the past with the Pomerantz Building and both its Career Center and Academic Advising Center.
But there is a difference in comparing the Gerdin and Pomerantz facilities. The student-athletes have to be accountable to a lot of people.
Missing class on an unexcused absence is unacceptable on most or all teams. Because there’s usually missed class days for games in every semester for athletes — even fall volleyball has a spring season, while baseball has fall tune-ups — a personal day isn’t an option. If a player misses a class without an excuse, typically, the teachers are told to email the sport’s academic adviser, who will pass word to the coach. Torres said that on the baseball team, that means the player will be running.
Even missing class excused for a game is harder to do at Iowa than other Big Ten schools. Athletes are only allowed to miss excused eight class days per semester, although a day means one must leave before noon. At Nebraska, student-athletes may miss up to 16 days per semester without penalty. Iowa’s strictness in both missed classes and checkups are a large reason for the academic success.
“In general, every kid has got two or three people that are watching over [her or him],” men’s golf coach Mark Hankins said. “So it’s not as if a kid is going to slip through the cracks.”
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