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Academic Services for Athletes: Now Open 24/7

Buffalo, N.Y. — “I feel guilty even being here.”

“I know. I haven’t checked grades in two days.”

Summertime used to bring well-deserved downtime for many athletics employees. But in listening to people gathered here for the annual convention of the National Association of Academic Advisors for Athletics, it’s clear that May, June, and July—or any months, for that matter—no longer offer such a reprieve.

Summer “bridge” programs—in which many transfer and first-year football and men’s and women’s basketball players get a head start on classes—keep most academic-services programs humming through months traditionally reserved for recharging. And increasing demands on advisers during the rest of the year—including additional weekend commitments and responding to text messages and other requests from students and coaches, sometimes at all hours—mean that many counselors are putting in repeated long days.

While academic-service facilities are not yet keeping all-night-diner hours, plenty of advisers say they’re feeling burned out from the nearly around-the-clock service.

“We don’t have down time anymore,” said Joseph P. Luckey, head of academic support for athletics at the University of Memphis and president of the national advisers’ group. “In wanting to do everything for students, we continue to develop programming and assist them–and they’re on our campus year-round.”

The pressures have led many people to leave the profession, oftentimes just a year or two after breaking into the field. At this year’s national convention, about 180 of the roughly 500 attendees are here for the first time. That’s partly a reflection of increasing attendance by interns and graduate assistants looking for jobs, Luckey says, but also a sign of turnover in the industry.

During a break from sessions here, several academic advisers described the demands on their time.

“I work Sunday through Thursday,” said one Big Ten football counselor. But during part of the year, she and her colleagues clock in every day of the week.

“Sundays I work from 3 to 10,” she says. “Monday through Thursday I work a split shift, 9 to 2, and then I’m back from 6 to 10 or 11. Fridays during the season we have recruiting. And we’re expected to do game-day Saturdays. The first 12 weeks of the semester, the only days we get off are away-football Saturdays.”

Emily L. Blackman, assistant athletic director for student support services at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, keeps tabs on the men’s basketball squad in addition to running a four-person department that oversees some 300 athletes. She says she used to look forward to fall Saturdays. But because her husband is the sports-information director, he has to work every Saturday during the season. That leaves her to take the kids to the game.

Evenings and weekends are increasingly the best time for athletes to study, which has extended the work day (and work week) for many counselors. “There aren’t enough hours to get everything done in the day, so they have to study at night,” another adviser says. The way she figures it, “If you’re here working, I’m here working,” she says of the players she is responsible for.

On many campuses, advisers are working weekends not only to help players whose schedules are more open then, but to show off their fancy multimillion-dollar facilities to parents and recruits. “As the facilities have grown,” Luckey says, “so have the hours.”

An academic counselor in the Southeastern Conference said that, like a lot of academic advisers, she is having trouble keeping pace with all the commitments.

“Summers used to be nice, but it’s gotten just as hectic as the rest of the year,” she said. “Now, I hate summer.”

(Photo of U. of Michigan’s Ross Academic Center)

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