Faculty works to keep student in student-athlete

Michael Stave has to balance both his schoolwork and his intramural basketball.

Eric Coulter

Michael Stave has to balance both his schoolwork and his intramural basketball.

Greg Monahan

Behind every successful collegiate athletic program, there is a contingent of university faculty that makes the life of student-athletes possible. Well-known are the coaches and athletic director. A lesser-known position, but equally integral to the success of any program, is the faculty athletics representative.

Grand Valley State University has been home to the most successful Division II athletics program during the past decade. The school has also had an NCAA compliance record that is cleaner than about any other, regardless of division. That is due in large part to GVSU’s faculty athletics representative, Dr. Paul Leidig.

With a job description ranging from signing student-athlete eligibility reports to certifying all varsity coaches, Leidig is the most important member of GVSU athletics that no one has ever heard of.

“My job is to be the academic oversight eyes for athletics,” Leidig said. “Student is always in the front of student-athlete; they have to be a student first.”

The concept of the student-athlete is a main focus at GVSU, with 55 percent of the schools varsity participants earning a 3.0 GPA or higher. Athletic Director Tim Selgo said the No. 1 priority for the school’s athletic programs is not winning national championships, but rather excellence in academics.

“We take great pride in the fact that we’re in Division II, and one of the themes of Division II is that we have life in the balance,” he said. “Our first goal is to create the best learning environment possible. They’re here to get an education, they’re here to learn, and our job is to prepare them for the rest of their lives.”

Not only do the majority of GVSU athletes obtain a B average or higher, but the graduation rate for student-athletes is higher than the rest of the student body on average. Leidig believes success in athletics and academics goes hand-in-hand.

“I absolutely think that the athletics helps the academics, and every student-athlete will tell you that,” he said. “You have to be very disciplined athletically to compete at a national level like we do here. If you can discipline yourself in that way, then you can discipline yourself in academics.”

With the travel schedule of Laker student-athletes paired with their college courses, Dr. Damon Arnold, the director of academic services in GVSU’s athletic department, said the instructors and students not involved in varsity sports also play a role in the life of the student-athlete.

“We talk to our student-athletes about the importance of creating a network of other students who are in their class to help with notes that one might have missed during a study session or a class period,” he said. “More important is the relationships that our students develop with their professors. We have a group of wonderful professors that we work with that want to see the student-athletes and all students succeed, and they’re willing to work with the student-athletes.”

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