How Will the Three Year Degree Track Affect Athletics?

With the University’s decision to transition to a trimester system looming in the distance, SUU Athletics is facing important changes. There’s a lot to take in when looking toward the future and considering the three year degree track.

While President Scott Wyatt continues to insist that this is only a proposal and the calendar hasn’t been decided on, I’m here to tell you this plan is probably already in place and already in motion.

So for the sake of argument, let’s agree that SUU will transition to the trimester system with a shortened academic calendar and optional summer enrollment. How will this transition impact what’s happening in and around SUU athletics?

Well, it’s hard to say. There aren’t very many Division I programs that have done it. SUU is not exactly joining elite company in adopting the trimester calendar and three year degree program.

San Francisco, St John’s, American, Ball State and the University of North Carolina Greensboro are among the other universities that have embraced the three year degree plan. San Francisco are particularly fond of the 12 week semester program President Wyatt has suggested.

Guess what? None of those universities’ athletic departments have folded, but they haven’t really excelled either. That’s a product of their long time standing in athletics. SUU’s athletics aren’t going anywhere, but there are some outcomes to consider.

Will Student-athletes Take Summer Classes?

This is a huge issue, but it will probably be easily bypassed. There are lots of things to work out with the NCAA. Chief among them is if student-athletes can use their scholarships during other semesters.

The decision here will be make or break for the rest of the impacts because student-athletes aren’t going to be paying out of pocket to take on more unnecessary stress. They have enough on their plates already.

If the NCAA is flexible with scholarship use, theoretically athletes could be done with their schooling in three years. If not, things will stay exactly the same, but student-athletes will have to work even harder in the classroom because of the more intense curriculum that comes with shorter semesters.

I don’t think this is in the cards, but it would be pretty sweet if a student-athlete could not be in class during the semester where their sport is in season. Imagine if the football players could go to class in the spring and summer and only focus on their sport in the fall.

What if gymnasts could study in the fall and summer but use the spring to compete. It would cut down on the class time missed because of travel and could theoretically put a better product out on the field.

It’s a stretch though. I haven’t read anything about San Francisco student-athletes taking advantage of that opportunity, and I’d imagine it’s because the NCAA has poo-pooed it. It would be pretty advantageous though.

Will SUU Become a Feeder for Bigger Schools?

If an athlete redshirts his freshman season and takes summer classes in consecutive years, they could hypothetically graduate transfer to a school of their choice after only using two years of eligibility.

The only thing keeping the NCAA from becoming and upgraded version of the AAU is the transfer rule. Student-athletes have to sit out a year in order to play elsewhere. Coaches can even place parameters that prevent a player from transferring to another school within the conference.

Graduate transfers don’t have to worry about that. They can pick any school in the country without sitting out.

If student-athletes finish in three years, Pac-12 and Mountain West schools could cherry pick all of SUU’s players without them sitting out for a season. All an athlete needs to graduate transfer is to enroll in a graduate degree that SUU doesn’t have.

SUU has 15 graduate programs. According to their website, BYU has 84 graduate programs. Finding an available program won’t be hard for students looking to grad transfer.

Again, this comes back to scholarship permission. If student-athletes can’t go to school for free in the summer, they won’t take a full class load. That will prevent any graduate transfer scares.

I have a hard time seeing SUU become a feeder school. There have been SUU players that have grad transferred to bigger schools, but SUU is not an athletic powerhouse yet. Considering the busy lifestyle of student-athletes, I imagine most won’t have the time or endurance to finish so quickly.

It’s not like the athletic department will be pushing athletes onto the three year track. They’ll keep student-athletes around for as long as they can.

There are other wrinkles left to be ironed (how the calendar will affect travel, recruiting, etc), but overall the transition will be largely seamless. Debbie Corum is well-equipped to handle it, and things will look basically the same barring a major change to the plans.

Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo courtesy of SUU Athletics Strategic Communication