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2006: AOL.com – Pro Athletes Use Online Learning to Score Their Degrees

June 23, 2008

December 2006 — What do an NBA forward, minor league baseball players
and an MLS soccer player have in common? They’re all rounding out their
athletic strengths with scholastic prowess – pursuing their college
degrees while maintaining their status in pro sports.

NBA Player’s Off-Court Smarts
Jalen Rose, who just signed as a forward with the Phoenix Suns, may be
known as "The Natural" for his versatile ability to play any position,
but the 6′ 8" athlete knows basketball will not go on forever either.
His game plan? Dribbling the basketball knowledge off-court.

"For the past few seasons I’ve been preparing for a future after
basketball as I plan to move into broadcasting or a front-office
position."

Since Jalen was recruited from the University of Michigan during his
junior year, he always knew earning that coveted degree was in the
playbook.

"I wanted to be a college graduate," he says. "I promised my mother and
grandmother I would finish my degree." By pursuing online classes for
five years and earning a bachelor’s degree in management studies from
the University of Maryland University College (UMUC), he made
sacrifices during the summer to complete his work and make that goal a
reality.

Another inspiration was to be a role model to children. Each year
through the Jalen Rose Foundation, he presents five Michigan-area
public school students with $10,000 scholarships.

"I wanted to be able to practice what I preached…the hardest part was
showing the discipline and making the time to complete the courses. But
education is something I feel is very important to a person’s
individual growth and development," Jalen explains.

Kicking It Up an Academic Notch
"As difficult as juggling school and professional sports may sound,
it’s not that bad," says Ryan Cochrane, a defender for the Houston
Dynamo, the Major League Soccer team currently vying for the title of
Western Conference champion. After getting drafted three years ago
during his junior year at Santa Clara University (Santa Clara, Calif.),
Ryan thought he’d have to put his marketing degree on a time-out while
he made his pro-soccer dreams come true.

The Oregon native is a student once again, this time in Regis
University’s online classes that balance out well with his on-field
career. "It’s all about finding balance and fitting studying into your
daily routine," explains the 23-year-old, who incorporates homework
assignments into his daily two-hour training sessions and Saturday
games.

And, since pre-season begins in February and ends in mid-November for
championship teams, the fit is almost seamless, he says. The eight-week
class sessions provide Ryan with the flexibility to manage the academic
workload depending if it’?s in the midst of the rigorous season or
heading into some off-season downtime.

After he eventually hangs up his cleats, Ryan’s goal is to work in
sports marketing. "Soccer will not go on forever," he realizes. "Having
a degree is vital, whether you?re online or physically in class."? He
hopes to complete his degree within the next 18 months.

Baseball Players in Learning Limbo?
Richard Astro, Ph.D. and academic advisor of the New York Mets, agrees
that pro athletes with a solid "plan B" have an advantage when their
playing days are over. Having worked the past 25 years in higher
education, Astro advocates athletes’ completion of at least a
bachelor’s degree.

"The nature of baseball is the draft, which typically occurs during the
junior year of college," he explains. While the result could be a
sterling baseball contract, the educational impact often leaves a
ballplayer’?s degree in learning limbo.

That’s why this past year, the Mets organization commissioned Astro to
incorporate an online learning component for players through Drexel
University. The ultimate goal? To give athletes the opportunity to
continue and/or advance their education via online curriculum that’s
relevant, whether it’s courses in sports technology, the economics of
sports, or minorities and sports.

For Kingsport Mets catcher, Josh Thole, online classes provide the
opportunity for the rookie player to work out his mind in addition to
his body. The 20-year-old typically works out one and a half hours each
day at the gym, including the batting cage and throwing practice, but
still manages to study for his general business degree.

"Online learning is a great situation, especially now in the
off-season," explains Josh, who was drafted by the Mets right out of
high school. "I’m enjoying the literature of baseball and sociology of
baseball."

Another important aspect of Drexel’s program is its community-service
learning component, which, says Astro, makes players’ eClassroom
experiences even more vibrant.

Josh’s volunteering exposes him to children via Boys and Girls Clubs
and Junior Achievement experiences, he says, are mutually
inspirational. "It’s helpful to be with the kids and inspire them. We
went into schools and taught them things like government, law, and
morals."

Although Josh is just starting his pro career, he understands that
making it to the big leagues isn’t always in the cards. "In baseball,
anything can happen."

That’s also how Ricky Bell, third baseman for the Triple A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, sees it.

"Baseball doesn’t last forever," says the minor leaguer who uses flight
time for away games to complete the reading assignments required for
his bachelor’s degree. "I knew college would be time consuming, but I
had to set aside time to enjoy it." The eight-week intervals of Regis’
online program are a bonus, he says, as each course lends itself well
to demands of the season.

Ricky has always aspired to one day return to college, even when the
Los Angeles Dodgers drafted him in 1997. Inspired by his wife (who
earned an online bachelor?s degree from Xavier University), Bell has
been enrolled at Regis since last October. By studying general courses
such as philosophy, psychology, microeconomics, he explains a
professional career in sports parlays well from the field into the
virtual classroom.

"I’m well-prepared from the discipline aspect through professional
baseball," Ricky explains. "It’s helped me manage my time and set aside
time to go to work."

Bell aspires to become a financial planner after his baseball career is
over, and wishes he’d set his sights on scoring academic points toward
his future field sooner. "I put everything I had into the big leagues,
but at this point, I wish I would’ve started my degree earlier." As
Astro echoes, it’s never too early for athletes (or anyone) to pursue
their education by contemplating the next career game plan. "Think
about what you want to do and what will give you both personal and
professional satisfaction," he explains.

Now that’s a win-win situation.

by Vicki Salemi
Vicki Salemi, a frequent contributor to ClassesUSA.com, Online Degrees
Magazine, and The CollegeBound Network, writes regularly about
education and career issues. She is also the author of "The ABC’s of
College Life."