The Ohio University community continues to go back and forth over an academic center built solely for athletes.
The Athens, Ohio university’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors denounced the Perry and Sandy Sook Academic Center in 2017, about a year before the building opened in October 2018. The AAUP was opposed to the center being controlled by the athletic department, rather than an academic office. According to The New Political, the opposition continues today, as the AAUP doesn’t believe that the center is in the best interest of student-athletes.
“When you have an industry that’s so inherently based on eligibility, keeping them eligible is not education,” Dave Ridpath, a member of the AAUP and an Ohio U associate professor of sports administration, told The New Political. “It’s really something very simple. It’s a reporting line structure so an academic adviser doesn’t feel intimidated by a coach or athletic director. It’s one of the better things you can do.”
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Prior to the Sook Center, Ohio University athletes were studying on the fourth floor of Peden Stadium – the football stadium on campus.
“I knew people who wouldn’t even go up to Peden because it was such a small, contained space, and it was always filled,” Melissa Koziol, the president of Ohio University’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and a senior distance runner, told The New Political. “I think the Sook Center does a really good job with opening that space up for student-athletes that really want and need that resource to actually use them and not question if there’s going to be a nuisance.”
Now, the university has a large building to the north of Peden Stadium to provide academic support to more than 425 student-athletes through a classroom, computer lab, tutor rooms and academic offices. The $6.49 million building, which had $5.7 million from private donors, also has a hospitality space for donors and fans on game days.
All freshmen and transfer student-athletes have eight hours of study hall hours per week. A January 2020 Board of Trustees meeting said that the athletic department spends an average of $60,000 per year on tutoring, which is provided for free to all student-athletes.
“I know there are some advisers who have very close-knit relationships with student-athletes, especially students who only went to college so they could be a student-athlete,” Koziol said, noting athletic advisers for each sport are located in the center. “I know relationships that have been built because of the Sook Center. There is a positive relationship between having guidance and increased performance in academics and athletics.
“We always talk about this Bobcat family, but there’s 450 student-athletes who are creating their own type of family. … Being a student-athlete in this type of school, we’re not turning over these crazy, world-class athletes who are getting drafted into leagues all over. It’s very cool that Ohio University is giving us this atmosphere to be the best athlete we can be, but also focusing on being a productive and influential human post-graduation.”
Members of the AAUP have pushed the Sook Center to open its doors to the rest of the students.
“We do a really poor job of integrating athletes with the student body,” Ridpath said. “We have these separate facilities where they’re eating together, studying together, and they’re not getting that full college experience. Siloing the athletes away is not what we want to do.”