As conferences get larger and more geographically diverse and as college athletics becomes more “big time”, especially at NCAA Division 1 schools, travel has become more problematic when it comes to one of the basics of college life — class attendance.
BY ANDREW CARTER
On the schedule it was only one match, on a late-September Thursday night at Notre Dame.
But for the Duke women’s soccer team the logistics proved complicated, if not familiar, in this age of super-sized college athletics conferences and the challenges that have come with the growth. To make it to Notre Dame by Thursday night, Duke left campus on Wednesday morning.
The team flew commercial, Raleigh to Chicago, and from there rode a bus to Notre Dame. The Blue Devils left with a 3-0 victory, bussed back to Chicago, and then waited for another flight home. By the time they returned on Friday, a single conference match and a school-record ninth consecutive victory had cost them three days of missed classes.
“And that was really problematic,” said Brad Berndt, the Duke senior associate athletic director who is in charge of the department’s academic affairs.
The conflict between college athletics and academics and, in particular, between athletics and class attendance, is as old as college sports themselves. And yet it’s one that has become magnified amid athletic conferences that span entire American coasts, as the ACC does, and sports schedules that have expanded in both time and distance.
The Duke women’s soccer schedule is but one example, amid hundreds among the teams at NCAA Division I schools, of the uncontrolled growth of major college athletics. Twenty years ago, the team played three conference road matches, the farthest at Florida State. This season, the team’s conference schedule included trips to Notre Dame, Louisville, Boston College and Syracuse.
In the ACC such travel has for years become the norm, while the quaint days of geographically-contained eight- or nine-school membership have become more distant. The conference’s expansion from nine schools to 12 became complete in 2005. The addition of Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame (in all sports except football) made the ACC a 15-school league in 2013. When Maryland departed for the Big Ten in 2014, Louisville, nearly 500 miles to the west, became its replacement.
The geographic expansion of the conference, as well as the expanded schedules that have come with the overall growth of college sports, have made it more challenging for athletes to accomplish the most basic of tasks for any college student: show up to class.
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