What should be more important to a high school athlete, sports or education?

    In a world obsessed with sports and popular culture, a potential college athlete sometimes has to decide between academics and athletics

    More stories from Parker Reed


    Photo by Kelsey Smith

    The decision between a good school, and a school with a good athletic program, sometimes conflict with each other.

    So often is the case where a school has an impressive athletic program, but a lackluster academic record (and vice versa). That paradigm is one that keeps potential college athletes up late at night.

    Since before children even enroll in school, they are told just how important a good education is. It will help you get a good job, and without one you will surely not go very far in life. But, for many children and young adults, individuals sometimes find their home and passion in the world of sport.

    The field of education, and the field of sport, are usually able to co-exist rather harmoniously through an individual’s grade school career, but once senior year roles around it can become an entirely different story.

    When a high school athlete begins scouting out potential colleges, they usually weigh two areas. The first being if the school has a quality academic record and requirements, and the second being if the school’s athletic program is respectable. And for all of the athletes who don’t have their pick of Division I grade A schools, many times the two aspects aren’t equal.

    To provide a local example I’ll compare the academic and athletic programs of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

    Green Bay has a D1 athletic program. Their men’s and women’s basketball teams play in the Resch Center, an arena on par with the Kohl Center (where the University of Wisconsin-Madison plays). They regularly are invited to compete in the annual NCAA March Madness tournament, and they attract world class athletes from all around the globe. On the flip side of that, they do not have an academic reputation on par with the rest of the UW system. They require a lower GPA and ACT score while applying than similar school’s such as UW-Eau Claire or UW-Lacrosse.

    The reverse of this paradigm is Platteville. The university is known as a quality engineering school, and is known to be in good academic standing. On the flip side of that, their athletic program is nothing to write home about. Due in small part to their smaller enrollment total of 8,712, the team cannot play on the level of schools such as UW-Whitewater.

    So what does this all mean? Well, it means that potential college athletes a lot of the time will not be able to have it both ways. They will have to consider three key factors while choosing where they want to attend college, and possibly compete in athletic competition. Those factors are: Will they get a scholarship? What are their athletic prospects? What is their intended career choice post-graduation?

    A scholarship is something that is likely unattainable for the average athlete, but in today’s economic climate they are sometimes achieved. If an athlete has an opportunity to receive a free education, all while playing a sport that they love, that is something that they should strongly consider taking advantage of. However, the first part of that statement rings true for about 99% of high school athletes.

    The number of high school athletes vs. the number of college athletes shows a large discrepancy. According to collegesportsscholarships.com, the percentage range of high school athletes involved in basketball, baseball, hockey, football and soccer have anywhere from a 3-11 percent change of playing in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). And to stretch things even further, of those college athletes, only 1-9.4 percent will become professional athletes. You can see how the scale shifts in the other direction at that point.

    As many of these high school athletes won’t be going pro, what is their hopeful career field post-graduation? That is something that these men and women will need to consider very thoroughly, because choosing a school that has a series of good sports teams, but a lousy academic reputation, will end up hurting them when they start applying for jobs after they graduate.

    All of these factors add up to the conclusion that high school athletes should prioritize the quality of their education over their athletic goals when considering where to go to college. It will be difficult due to their love for the sport they are involved in, but it will lead to a more promising career opportunities in the long run when their athletic career has come to an end.