Liberty places emphasis on ‘student’ athletes
As raindrops rapped against the windows of Williams Stadium, an athlete and his tutor are brushing up on some problems for an upcoming exam.
Liberty University has placed importance in the performance of their athletic programs since its debut in 1971. However, for students to participate in athletics, they must first be academically sufficient. This is where Liberty’s athletic tutoring service takes action.
All athletes must attend tutoring services during their first semester at Liberty. The policy helps student athletes adjust to academic, social and athletic pressures at the collegiate level. After the first semester, the only time tutoring becomes compulsory is if a student drops below a 2.3 GPA.
Last semester, Liberty athletes earned an overall average 3.0 GPA according to Nate Witkowski, a graduate assistant in the Academic Affairs for Athletics office.
“There is intense pressure to compete at the NCAA-D1 level, but they are definitely student-athletes first,” Witkowski said. “They have committed to make sure they do the work.”
But tutoring is not easy. Sometimes there are tears and frustration.
When an athlete is good at his sport, and that sport comes with ease, then when he comes to something that is more difficult, “It is traumatizing,” Associate Athletics Director for Academic Affairs Kristie Beitz said.
Beitz tutored athletes at the University of Virginia for three years before coming to Liberty.
At UVA, Bietz said she would have never been able to connect with students like she does at Liberty. There was no “let’s stop and pray,” but at Liberty she, as well as those tutors in her program, are free to speak openly about their faith.
“Not every athlete here is a Christian,” Beitz said. “[Tutoring] opens doors and allows us to reach students in different ways.”
Some muttering rumors imply that the program is a front for athletes to get others to do their work so they can focus on their sport. “Nate (Witkowski)? No. (Witkowski) never gives me a thing,” junior heptathlon athlete Christina Mitchell said. “I always have to figure it out on my own. They just guide me.”
“Cheating makes a mess,” Witowski said. “Not only are the students in trouble, but the NCAA is reported to and repercussions are far reaching.”
For this reason, the program hires tutors based not only on their GPA, but on their character as well.
“It’s on our tutors to not cheat,” Witowski said. “We hold them to a strict honor code.”
“I’m coming to school to get a degree in personal training,” Mitchell said, “I’m a student first, always. Then I’m an athlete.”
The athletic tutoring program at Liberty has proven its worth with the athletes involved having some of the highest GPAs in the conference. The program plans to continue to produce rounded athletes to compete for Liberty.
“I’m glad I have a tutor,” Mitchell said. “At first I hated it, but now I go in for help on school work even though I’m not forced. I definitely believe it’s a benefit to the athletes.”