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All NACDA Members
The Student-Athlete Experience
(Monday, June 10, 9:15 - 10:00 a.m.)

Wright Waters:

First of all, I would like to congratulate Jim Copeland and Coach Dooley for putting the emphasis of this meeting on the student-athlete. When we set out in January to find someone to address the entire crowd and bring this together, we spent a lot of time finding someone who is unequally qualified to do so. We think we've done that. We've found someone who competed as a student-athlete, someone who has coached at the Division I level and someone who has served as an athletics administrator and a former member of this organization. He now serves as dean for student services.

As a student-athlete at Arkansas State, Tom Hill was a four-time conference champion. He was an NCAA champion, president of the Black Student Association and received his ROTC Commission at Arkansas State. From there, he became the assistant track coach at West Point and continued to compete for several years, holding the world record in the 110 high hurdles. He was the all-Service Champion five times and won a Bronze Medal at the Munich Games. After his stint in the Army and after competing as Captain Tom Hill, he went to the University of Florida to pursue his doctorate and became, with Bill Carr's grace, the co-founder of the University of Florida's Student Life Program which, at that time, became a model for a lot of programs. During his time at the University of Florida with the Student Life Program, the university set new records for academics in football and the graduation rates increased substantially.

He then became an assistant athletics director at Tulane where he also co-founded the Student Life Program there. From Tulane, he became the assistant athletics director at the University of Oklahoma, and while at Oklahoma, served as the president of the NAAAA. He is now the dean of student services at the University of Florida, where he has expanded his services, not just to student-athletes, but to all students.

On a personal note, I've now known Tom for almost 20 years. He is the most caring and loving human being I've ever been associated with. He genuinely cares for students and for student-athletes. He is the father of two recently graduated student-athletes. His son, Thomas, graduated from Duke University after competing on their national championship team in basketball. His son, Lamant, has just graduated from the University of Texas after competing in basketball there. He is, without a doubt, the finest listener I have ever been around in my life. Any skills that I have learned in working with student-athletes over the years are because of Tom Hill. He is uniquely qualified to speak to us today. He does a tremendous job of bridging the gap between student-athletes and reminding us always that our most important resource is students. If we don't learn from our students, we have no business in this athletic endeavor. Dr. Tom Hill.

Tom Hill:

Thank you Wright. Good morning and thank you for having me here today. I would have to follow this guy, Billy Payne. I'm sitting there listening to him going, why me? Well, I'll give it my best shot. I do not have all of the answers. I've got a few of them but, I don't have the answers.

I'd like to have a dialogue with you about the student-athlete and what we do. If I say anything wrong, or if there's anything I say that you want to kill me for, it's not my fault, it's his fault. Get him. If I say anything right, give me the credit. Remember, anything you want to hurt me for, get him first because I learned it all from him.

Sitting, listening to everything that Mr. Payne had to say puts a different twist on things. I told myself I wouldn't say this to you, but I think, after his presentation, it's very appropriate. I know intercollegiate athletics' purpose is not to develop Olympians. As a member of the 1972 Olympic team as a medalist, had it not been for people like you, I wouldn't have made it. I know that's not your role and I know that's not what you are designed to do, but I'm glad you were there to do it for me because it made all the difference in the world. I know there are a lot of young people out there who are desirous of an opportunity just like I had to get some things done. To go from the Magnolia Project in Louisiana to Munich, Germany is a long trip. It wouldn't have been possible without people like you making things possible for people like me to get, not only an education, but to go from being just one of the kids on the block to one of the best in the world. That's a heavy trip. I thank you for it.

There are four aspects of my life that Wright touched on that flavors my perspective. One is my experience as a student-athlete. Those of you who are track coaches will understand. My first hurdle race was 15.2. You know that 15.2 won't get you to the Olympic Games. I ran 15.2 as my first collegiate hurdle race, so I've been at the bottom and at the top. I've got a good perspective on the student-athlete's point of view. Keep in mind, that perspective comes back in the late 60s, early 70s. Things have changed quite a bit in the 90s.

The second aspect is as an athletics administrator and coach. I know what it's like to battle those pinheads on campus. I'm one of those pinheads now. It's an interesting perspective. The third perspective is that of dean of students. I'm on a 40,000-student campus. It's like a city. There's a little bit of everything there. I don't have the luxury of homing in on those 300 or 400 known individuals that you can probably identify by name, where they come from, parents, the whole nine yards. So, I have that perspective. Lastly, and not least, I have the perspective of a parent. I know you athletics directors have been blessed with those knucklehead parents who know everything. I was one of those too because I had two kids. Whenever they didn't play or didn't get what I thought they should have gotten, I screamed and hollered just like a good parent should.

I'm going to use those four perspectives to talk about the student-athlete of today and what that individual is all about. My hat's off to you for being the individuals who go out to raise the money, earn the money that make it possible for us to have meaningful programs for student-athletes. As an assistant athletics director, I very rarely worried about hustling any money. I admit that now. I didn't necessarily worry about that. But, I most certainly gave Wright Waters, Bill Carr and Donnie Duncan all kinds of advice on how to spend it. I was good at that and I spent a lot of it. If you don't believe me, ask them. I take my hat off to you.

I want you to stop and think about whom you are actually raising that money for and who are you spending that money on. I was thinking, as Mr. Payne was talking, about the differences in student-athletes today. Mind you, I'm not saying good or bad, I'm saying different. I distinctly remember in the late 70s, early 80s, how the athletes would come into my office and talk. We'd schedule a meeting with the head coach. Whenever we would head in that direction, you'd see a lot of fumbling going on. It's not like that so much today because things are more overt now. But, back then, they would cover any tattoos they had, get the earring out of their ears before they would meet the head coach. What's important, is that we know and we understand what these young people are all about. If we're not careful, we will only see that individual that the student-athlete wants us to see. It's important for us to know whom we're dealing with. After the athlete has the meeting with the coach, they put their earring back in, roll up their sleeves and do their thing. So, there's almost a whole other life out there, and if you're not careful, if you stay isolated, or if you only see that portion of the student-athlete that you want to see, you can miss the boat and miss it totally.

I'm going to talk about the characteristics of today's student. Keep in mind, within these characteristics and within the things that I talk about, student-athletes are a subgroup just like fraternities and sororities, honor students and students who do volunteer work. They fit into this broad population that we call students. These characteristics are also characteristic of student-athletes. Not all, but some. These things do apply. As I walk the campus, I notice certain things. These are some of the ways that students of today of higher education are characterized. They use these adjectives to describe them -- older and traditional age. Well, the first thing you think about is there are very few older students participating in intercollegiate athletics. By the way, I just saw a 40-year-old tennis player at one of the institutions. So, older is creeping in too. Older and traditional age.

Another description is Asian American, Hispanic American, African American, Native American, biracial, multiracial are all characteristics of the students of today. Obviously, men and women, gay, lesbian and bisexual, full-time and part-time. For us, part-time doesn't count, but it could be a factor when you begin to think about the things on the horizon. We're going to have to start thinking about how do we determine who's a full-time student and what is a residency.

What effect will distance learning have on intercollegiate athletics? That's something we're not isolated from. That will affect how we look at full-time and how we look at residency requirements, different things to determine who's eligible to compete in intercollegiate athletics. Commuter versus residential students. Again, these are characteristics that are used to describe today's students. Students with disabilities have a significant impact on what we do. Since the l970s, the percentage of freshmen who report having a disability has tripled. With ADA and other things that have made it possible for individuals with disabilities assistance, there is a great impact on the student-athletes and the athletes we deal with today. During the fall of l994, about nine percent of entering freshmen reported a disability. One-half of all of those freshmen reported disabilities that would be considered hidden disabilities. These are prevalent within athletic departments. Student-athletes are coming to campuses with disabilities and we need to pay particular attention to this.

The last characteristic they use is international students, and we do have international students competing in our universities. Older and traditional ages, Asian American, Hispanic American, African American, Native American, biracial, multiracial, men and women, gay/lesbian, bisexual, part-time/full-time, students with disabilities and international students. Those are some of the characteristics that they describe student-athletes with today.

What is our expectations for the characteristics of our clientele, student-athletes fit into that?

I guarantee you that as you look through this list of characteristics, you will have your fair share of student-athletes that will share these characteristics, every last one of them. If you think you don't, you're in for a rude awakening, you're not in touch. You will have student-athletes that will be characterized by these characteristics I've just mentioned.

What are our expectations of student-athletes? Basically, we talk about graduation, participation in university life, making contributions to the community. We talk about developing them as whole individuals becoming productive citizens of society. Another expectation of student-athletes is becoming good alumni, because that's part of the fund raising efforts. You want them to become good alumni so they can donate money to their universities. Those are our expectations. How do we get those student-athletes with all of those characteristics that I just talked about to fulfill or complete those expectations that we have of them?

There are a variety of ways we do this. One of the ways is that you raise the money for the programming and we have programs to help these individuals develop. As we're helping these individuals develop, we need to be aware that, as we push for total integration into the student population, student-athletes will spend more time with people that share these characteristics than they do with their athletic teams. We are now getting involved in behavior and having friends and having influences on student-athletes that we don't necessarily have the control over that we did in the past. As we push for full and total integration of student-athletes, we need to be aware that we're going to wind up with some things that we hadn't anticipated.

What does higher education have on students? If you want to get a good feel for what the student population is all about today, take a look at some of the student hangouts. At the University of Florida, we have what they call the Plaza of the Americas. Student-athletes are rooming and reading with all kinds of students, the spiked hair, the tattoos, different religious beliefs, you name it. They are exposed to that. They're having at least as much influence on student-athletes as we've had in athletic departments in the past. Now, having done that, how do we help student-athletes deal with the different challenges they are being faced with? We do it with the programs, the Life Skills Program and all of the other programs we have. It's been my experience that in dealing with student-athletes today, there are some interesting things happening to them as far as their treatment on our campuses. We're pushing for full integration of the student-athletes. We've eliminated residence halls and eliminated training tables. We've minimized the amount of time that a student-athlete can spend in practice sessions.

But, at the same time, we still have some things that we expose to student-athletes that gives me the impression, as dean of students, that we have a double standard and we're sending a mixed message. For example, recently I had disciplinary cases where something negative happened.

Let's call it instead of theft, unauthorized use of a person's belongings. We call it that. We don't call it theft, we call it unauthorized use of another person's property. Well, I recently had a case where some of our athletes were involved in the unauthorized use of someone else's property. As soon as it hit, the newspapers called for automatic suspension. They thought those kids should be thrown out and they called it stealing. We don't necessarily call it that, because when you get into these disciplinary cases, it's more complicated than the mere fact of stealing. When you get into a conflict where a student uses his roommate's shirt, it's unauthorized use of someone's belongings. The newspapers wanted us to just get rid of him. I could not divulge this to the press nor to the people in the community, but just that day, I had dealt with 10 or 15 cases that were very similar, if not worse, that nobody knew about, nobody cared about and nobody called for a suspension. As we talk about integrating student-athletes, I think we're sometimes sending mixed messages to the student-athletes about how they're being treated by us and by the media. We've got to do a better job of getting them to understand how things really work.

We used to think that the athletics scholarship, and I'm not suggesting that we change the NCAA rules, all I'm doing as a dean of students is asking that we take a look at and think about the things that we're asking for because we're getting what we ask for, but it's creating some problems that I don't know if we're dealing with like we should. I get into it with my colleagues because I will bring up things like probation, for example. Probation means something totally different for a student-athlete on our campus than it does for a non-athlete. Our probation states that you cannot represent the institution while in a probationary status. I put the average student on probation and they laugh at me. It means absolutely nothing. They can still play intramurals. They can still do all of the things they do. I put the athlete on probation during a season and for a semester. I can actually kill the season of a football, basketball or track kid just by treating them like other students. We need to take a serious look at this.

Financial aid is something we need to look into. I recently was able to look into this completely, and on our campus, it's about $6,000 per year full scholarship for an athlete at the University of Florida. I began looking around and some of you are of my vintage and some older, but you remember getting an athletic scholarship was the absolute best scholarship you could have on a university campus. Well, $6,000 is what our athletic scholarship is worth. We have scholars on campus now getting scholarships worth $8,000, which is a good $2,000 more. They don't have to prove that they're as poor as Joe's turkey. That is something that we need to look at. Maybe that means we have to look at the NCAA's requirements for what a full scholarship is.

They talk about giving students money to go home and never asking them if their parents can afford to send them home. They don't ask questions like that. It's there. The athletic scholarship is not the best scholarship on campus any longer. There are a lot of scholarships that are a lot better. We want to continue to bring student-athletes to the campus and stop them from pursuing other opportunities that they may have out of high school. Now, you can't compete with the NBA and the NFL and I understand that, but there are some other things we can do that can make that experience a better one. That's another example.

We've got to be careful that we don't send mixed messages as we talk about main streaming for student-athletes. We've got to be very careful that we don't send mixed messages and that we don't selectively enforce those things that we want to force and deny those things that we think we don't want to be part of. For example, there's this overwhelming sentiment not to pay athletes and I understand that. I'm torn about the payment of athletes, but at the same time, when everybody around you is living at a certain level -- we're talking about main streaming and getting you in there with everybody else, you really have to consider that. We need to relook things like the scholarships and the disciplinary process. We, at the University of Florida, are examining our disciplinary process and the sanctions. We're looking at something as simple as what does probation mean for a student-athlete? These are the problems that you find when you begin talking about main streaming. We talk about mixed messages. We want main streaming. We want student-athletes to feel just like everybody else and that they are as important and belong at the university just like everyone else. We have specialized housing for a number of groups. You, just like me, can think of several right off the top of your heads. Greek housing is the first one that pops up. We have honors housing. We have different language residence facilities. You can go on and on.

There are some implications of mixed messages that we're sending as we talk about main streaming. It makes the student-athlete, in my view, question our sincerity and our integrity. I know it's not done intentionally, but nonetheless, they are talking about what those other students are getting. When we start talking about main streaming, they may now have roommates who may be honor students and are getting that $8,000 scholarship while they're getting that $6,000 scholarship. Now, we've told them they have a full scholarship. That raises a question. Do I really have a full scholarship? Somebody is cheating me. Somebody is taking something away from me. We've got to be very careful that, as we talk about main streaming, we've got to look at the things that we're exposing student-athletes to and the demands that we make of them.

The last thing is the student-athletes of the future. I've given you some characteristics of the current student-athletes. Let me talk briefly about the future student-athletes. We need to be ready for the changes that are taking place in higher education, in society, and we need to be particularly aware of what implications that might have for athletics in the future. For example, I mentioned distance learning. I've been thinking about this thing and it's the hottest topic on our campus. We're talking about how we can implement this on a broad basis and what else we can do. This May, we graduated the first student from a consortium that we have here at the University of Florida, between the new world School of the Arts, which is in Miami, Miami Dade Community College and the University of Florida. This young man was a performer, a dancer. He received his degree this May. He was recognized as a top scholar for this graduating class. This young man was a full-time student, received a degree from the University of Florida. His first time stepping foot on the campus of the University of Florida was for graduation. We're main streaming now.

Can the track athlete have the same opportunity that young man had? Can I do my thing as a track athlete, because it's not as important that I practice and work out with the team on a daily basis? For football, basketball and team sports, it's a little different. Will we make the same opportunity available to a track athlete, a gymnast, to a student who's married and has a family in another location, just like we made it available to the young man who graduated with honors having never set foot on the college campus? Will we make opportunities available for a young student-athlete to have a semester in another location, being enrolled full-time at the institution, but fulfilling the obligation through distance learning? Will we provide financial aid? These are some of the questions, having been on the other side, that are serious questions as far as I'm concerned. I'm dealing with these things on a daily basis and these student-athletes, while they may not ask the athletics department employees, they don't hesitate to question the things that I do or say. As far as discipline is concerned, I've been told a number of times that I was unfair. The discipline I imposed on a student-athlete was unfair, and I'll be honest with you, I've changed some disciplinary sanctions based on conversations with the student-athletes. I have that ability as the dean of students. It's amazing what you can do. Those are some of the things that I want to address for consideration.

Will we provide the student-athletes in the future the exact same opportunities? In all your committee meetings, are we talking about these things? Are we dealing with these things? Are we make provisions to see how they fit into the scheme of things in the future? The student-athlete of today and tomorrow are not the same student-athletes that we dealt with in the late 60s or early 70s. They are very different. They are a lot smarter, for one thing. They question a lot. They've been exposed to a significant amount of information.

In dealing with the student-athletes of the future, I encourage everybody to have your athletic department staffs to get out and know, not just student-athletes, but students on campus because your student-athletes are dealing with students on campus. If you don't know what everybody else is doing, you will only see a snapshot of the life of a student-athlete. I routinely have students come in and tutor me on the trends. I have to know. It's invigorating to understand and know the things that are going on on campuses today. I tell them to come in and tutor me every now and then so I will not be an embarrassment to them. When I go to meetings on a national level, I need to know what the trends are. They also insist that I hang out with them. I go to the Plaza with them and watch all of the weird kids. Those weird kids are also your students. They are who your student-athletes hang out with and interact with. They may not interact with them in front of you, but they're still doing it. Just like they take their earring out when they go in to talk to the coach. I encourage you to have your staff and you, athletics directors, to go out and walk your campus sometime. Don't necessarily talk to only your student-athletes. Talk to all students to find out what's going on. You'll be surprised at the little you know. I'm surprised on a daily basis and I have to deal with them on a daily basis. I'm totally surprised about how little I know about the current trends and activities of students. Encourage your people to do that.

Encourage them, also, to look at things on the horizon and think about how that's going to impact five, 10, 15 or 20 years from now, things like distance learning, consortiums within the university. I know the NCAA is talking about this in detail. Take a look at it and see if it is actually meeting the needs of what the future is going to bring. I suspect that we will have more people who will graduate and be honored that have never stepped foot on campus. Will we make things available to those students?

I saw an article in the newspaper about sixth graders being involved in the courts in a sexual assault case. Think about this. One of those sixth graders may be the next great volleyball player, the next great running back, the next great sprinter. They are being exposed to things that we were not exposed to until we were grown men and women. You need to take a look at those trends because, believe it or not, they will be your freshmen in 2006. You are going to be staring them in the face and they're going to be presenting you with problems that will actually blow your mind. In that article, there was a breakout of the nursery rhyme "Georgy Porgy." Now, I don't know how many of you have ever thought of Georgy Porgy encouraging sexual harassment, but in that article, that's how they viewed it. "Georgy Porgy kissed the girls and made them cry." That court case had some basis in that nursery rhyme and how it was being taught and what male sixth graders were doing in front of female sixth graders. This actually went to court. You're going to inherit those young people who will have a lot more exposure to things you've never thought about, things that we're talking about dealing with in the Life Skills Program now. They will be much more advanced than you would ever think. Those individuals have been heavily influenced by an electronic medium with strong imagery and fast paced interactive features and the effects of such experiences on them will flavor their view of the world.

That generation will also be influenced by some very serious moral conflicts such as AIDs, alcohol, drugs, violence. When we get to a point where we see people getting killed for sport, we're going to have students on campus in 2006, 2010, 2020 that will have had a lifetime of those kinds of things. Are we ready for it?

As a result of some of those things, it may be difficult for many of these individuals that are coming through the system to have a positive outlook on life after having had such negative experiences for such a long time. Athletics is still one of those places where they can go for positive experiences. The things that you do make those things possible.

I appreciate what you do for student-athletes. I also appreciate what you do for the campus as a whole. The University of Florida would be a much different campus without the athletics program. I would hate to see a campus without an athletics program. It adds a lot of character.

Thank you for having me and good luck with the rest of the conference.

Jim Copeland:

Dr. Hill, we really appreciate your being here. On a personal note, as the director of athletics at the University of Virginia, one of your sons took pleasure in giving us heartburn while he was at Duke. Then, I had the pleasure of your second son doing the same thing to us. I'm glad to see the person responsible for all of that. We have a small token of our appreciation for the time you have spent with us. We really appreciate that and thank you very much.