Fortunately, Bucknell has found a home
with like-minded schools in the Patriot
League. Now celebrating its 25th anniversary
as an all-sports conference, the league is
one of only two in NCAA Division I
competition to enforce rigorous academic
standards when admitting athletes.
Along with the Ivy League, the Patriot
League uses an academic index, based
on high-school GPA and college-entrance
test scores, to ensure that athletes are, on
average, no different academically than the
rest of the student body. Because of the
index, teams cannot fill their ranks with
phenomenal athletes who will struggle to
handle college work.
HIGH STANDARDS MAKE
“It’s absolutely critical to get coaches who
are committed to the scholar-athlete
model,” says Director of Athletics &
Recreation John Hardt. “We put it right
up front [in the hiring process].”
Hardt says prospective coaches are told,
“We are all about student-athletes’ academic
success and well-being. That’s the No. 1
priority for us. No. 2, we want to have
Grieb, the longtime Bison-coach-turned-
administrator, says of Bucknell’s academics-
first approach, “As a coach, you’ve got to
recruit that way; you have got to coach
“It was a big adjustment for me coming
in,” says veteran tennis coach Rebecca
Helt, but she quickly got the hang of what
Bucknell expects. She mentioned a case a
few years back involving a tennis player who
just would not get up and go to an 8 a.m.
class. “I would go there every Monday,
Wednesday and Friday morning,” she says,
and deliver a wake-up call that couldn’t
Grieb says the key is that coaches “want
the kids to have a good experience,” a point
that Helt also embraces. “You can’t coach
stressed-out athletes,” Helt says. When her
players made it clear they needed a little
time for a social life, she says she adjusted
her expectations accordingly.
Bucknell coaches keep a close eye on
GPAs. Helt mentions that the women’s
tennis team boasted a 3.52 average. Football
Sunday to study, while all her dorm mates snoozed in past 11.
She and several others said they would actually do better with their classwork
during playing season. The crushing demands on their time simply forced them
to focus and made sure they kept up with their studies.
Are there times when something may have to give on one side or the other?
For field-hockey star Abby Watson ’ 16, the crunch came when the team
made the playoffs. She says with a laugh, “There were times when what I gave
up was sleep!”
Klug, the men’s soccer player, is well known on campus for speaking out
on LGBTQ issues and supporting other social causes. He says keeping up with
academics and soccer meant that he had to dial back more than he liked on
Unlike big-time sports schools that happily set lower academic standards
for hot recruits, Bucknell doesn’t offer athletes special help to keep up in class.
Terrie Grieb, now associate athletic director for business and team services,
says that during the two decades she spent coaching several different Bison
women’s teams, “I never had study hours — never had to. Never had a kid not
eligible.” As a Bucknell coach looking for recruits, she says, “You’ve got to get
a kid who gets it.”
Bucknell does offer some academic help if needed, says Maisha Kelly, senior
associate director of athletics, but it’s open to all students, as there is not a
special track for student-athletes. Kelly says, “The standard, at least during my
time, has been that the same resources and levels of support are extended to all
student populations regardless of their affiliations.
“So far it’s worked, as it is rare to see student-athletes have NCAA academic
eligibility issues,” says Kelly.
It will be hard for a team of scholar-athletes to win consistently if it always has
to play against schools that take superstar athletes with sketchy academic records.
KYIARAH ENGLISH ’ 19 I BASKETBALL