Go Knights: Athletics in the Academy

On my recent trip to my native United Kingdom, I was pleased to soak up some of the soccer atmosphere that is common there. How cultures celebrate sport is fascinating, and reveals a lot about ourselves. How universities accommodate athletics also says a lot about our understanding of our missions.

It is not lost on me that UK universities practice athletics as Club sports, a key distinction from American higher education. There are no formal athletic programs in UK universities, simply student-led sports that still galvanize talent and interest. Watching the college football season here I am reminded how different the role of athletics is within the US context. Indeed, athletics have a long history in American academia, from the first Harvard-Yale rowing matches in 1852 to modern-day college football. Thousands of student athletes have proudly carried their school colors onto the field in the intervening years, and millions have cheered them on. But why do college athletics capture our attention?

First is the spectacle of sport itself. The drama of a well-fought match is something genuine that we can watch in real time. We join a league as old as humanity itself when we gather to watch athletes putting their all into the game. When we support student athletes, we’re not only doing something we enjoy – we’re also recognizing fellow Knights, celebrating their successes, and building a community together.

College athletes are not only playing for the love of the game – many are parlaying their skills into scholarships and using their talent to build towards a future dream, whether that dream carries them to the next level of competition or to the top of a different field altogether. Athletics are just one more way we’re helping students attain their educational goals, and that knowledge both sweetens victories and softens defeats.

Athletics are more than just the thrill of the game and the tangible benefits offered to student athletes. Sports offer us an exemplar for our overall mission – practicing a skill until we are at the pinnacle of our ability and then putting ourselves to the test. “Champions keep playing until they get it right,” says tennis legend Billie Jean King, and in that we have the thing that ties a university so closely to its student athletes. Whether one is perfecting their three-point shot or their creative writing skill, studying the playbook or a textbook- everything we do is designed to bring students to the top of their game and prepare them for the future challenges they will face.

In those regards, our Knights continue to make an exceptional showing. Within the past year:

  • Women’s basketball, women’s soccer, baseball, and women’s and men’s tennis teams all made appearances in conference or association championships.
  • Men’s tennis won the Southern States Athletics Conference (SSAC) championship.
  • Players from women’s soccer were singled out for recognition:
    • Miagh Downey was named to both the College Sports Information Directors of America and United Soccer Coaches (USC) Academic All-American teams.
    • Anna Hieronymus and Alejandra Wahn joined Miagh as USC “College Players of Distinction.”
  • Men’s tennis had two exceptional players earn national recognition:
    • Yuri Syromolotov was named 2021 ITA Senior Player of the Year.
    • Naufal Kamaruzzaman represented both his home country of Malaysia and MGA in the 2021 Davis Cup.
  • Of 173 student athletes, 116 appeared on either the Dean’s or President’s lists, and more than half earned a GPA of 3.0 or higher.
  • The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) named nine Knights as NAIA Scholar Athletes, and 69 Knights to the All-Academic team – a truly impressive record.

Thank you to all our student athletes for showing us the rewards for hard work, dedication, and tireless practice. I hope to see my fellow Knights supporting our teams as we continue through this academic year.

You are champions, all – go Knights!