Student Athletes: The kings and queens of campus

Sports rule. And for those who play, this campus is their kingdom. 

This occurred to me as I noticed my one friend take out her student athlete class planner. I front a small fee for an iBook. Her student athlete school supplies are free. Not only do they get blue and orange gear free of charge, which includes those trademark Nike tracksuits and backpacks, but student athletes are also privy to tutoring services that the rest of us standard, non-athletic-scholarship students have to go out of our way for or otherwise not have. But I wonder how many of those athletes would be doing so well if they were just plain, non-athlete students?

I wasn’t the slowest kid in gym class, but I never finished the mile run. I always dropped out around a third of the way to puke or pass out — whichever came first. It would take me 18 years to discover coordination, stamina or anything that vaguely resembled athleticism. And it’s too bad, really — had I hit my fitness stride just a few years earlier, maybe I could be getting more out of this University. Because that is exactly what student athletes do. 

It’s no secret that it pays to play. Sports generate money, and every state in the Union knows Illinois is basically broke. But not everyone knows just how much is spent on sports and the student athletes who play them. Athletes at nearly all American colleges and universities get some sort of specialized physical, nutritional, psychological and academic accommodations. I understand the priority put on food, workouts and mental health, and there are services at the University that are of little to no cost that us mere-mortal, sport-challenged folk can go to for our own lifestyle concerns. But academically, student athletes here are blatantly getting a leg up on the competition.

At the Irwin Academic Center, student athletes have to log mandatory hours in either the study rooms or computer labs reserved specifically for them. It is the Salt Lake Temple of our supposedly “Inclusive Illinois” — these tutoring services and study spaces are for members only. Tell me again what’s wrong with the UGL? Or any of the other 20-some area studies libraries on campus? Several of my friends who happen to be student athletes are both highly intelligent and motivated — do they really need this service? Illinois athletics boasts that Irwin is “offering the very best in academic services to Illinois student-athletes.” So what does that leave for the rest of us? Are we not “striving for excellence” as well? If a non-student athlete had issues passing a class, few professors, instructors or TAs would take the initiative to seek me out for extra help. (I say few because I have had the privilege to meet some outstandingly passionate and dedicated educators who will all but bleed for their students to succeed, but I digress.) 

If a student athlete’s grades start to suffer, Illinois has it covered.  

Of course every student athlete on this campus will have his or her own experiences with the system. I don’t blame anyone for trying to get the most out of a college education — it’s what I’ve tried to do for the past three and a half years. It’s just that preferential treatment toward student athletes leaves me a bit envious, even questioning how this University and others like it rank its undergraduates. As a not-too-out-of-shape outsider looking in, there seem to be more direct opportunities to student athletes than there are for regular students. 

Is being just a student no longer enough? This argument was made long before my epiphany. Athletics provide a “necessary component” to the modern college education, as published by The National Association of College and University Business Officers. Besides the money, the memories and the merchandise, the association says that student athletes are more likely to live longer due to healthier lifestyles developed through forced fitness. Leadership skills and discipline are almost a given on any team, but become a college athlete and you get to write those skills on your resume with the stamp of Illini approval.

I can run several miles today. But the time for scholarships and color-coordinated perks are behind me — so what’s the point? I’ll buy my own planner.

Renée is a senior in Media. She can be reached at