Oregon football players say leading the double life of a student-athlete isn’t easy.
But it’s not mission impossible.
The subject was brought to the forefront last week thanks to one of the Ducks’ most high-profile Pac-12 peers, UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, who said major college football and academics don’t mesh.
“Look, football and school don’t go together,” Rosen said in an interview with Bleacher Report. “They just don’t. Trying to do both is like trying to do two full-time jobs.”
Several of the Ducks have taken care of business at the Jaqua Academic Center before the 2017 season kicks off at Autzen Stadium.
Twelve Oregon players have already earned undergraduate degrees and have started classes in pursuit of a second diploma.
The only other FBS programs with more graduates on active rosters are Northwestern (18), Coastal Carolina (14), Cincinnati (13) and Toledo (13).
Two former Ducks, wide receivers Darren Carrington (dismissed by Willie Taggart, now at Utah) and Jalen Brown (transferred to Northwestern), also received undergraduate degrees from UO.
“I would say there is more pressure on us than the average student in general,” said running back Kani Benoit, who earned a degree in political science. “A lot of my friends that are not student-athletes, they get to wake up at 10 or 12 in the afternoon and start their day. And then they’ve got the whole day to study.
“We have film and then practice and then we have weights and then we have to squeeze in that time for school. So I think it’s harder on student-athletes than easier.”
A recent report by the University of Pennsylvania Center for the Study of Race & Equality in Education supports Benoit’s premise, especially for male black student-athletes.
According to data collected from the 2014-15 academic year at schools with Power Five programs, black men were 2.5 percent of undergraduate students but 56.3 percent of football teams and 60.8 percent of men’s basketball teams.
The report found that 53.6 percent of black male student-athletes graduated within six years, compared to 68.5 percent of student-athletes overall, 58.4 percent of black undergraduate men overall and 75.4 percent of undergraduate students overall.
Only 1.1 percent of undergraduates at UO were black males, while black male student-athletes made up 53.3 percent of the basketball and football teams. The graduation rate for black male student-athletes was 49 percent compared to 60 percent for all student-athletes and 67 percent for all UO students.
Seven of the 12 graduates on the 2017 Ducks are black.
“It wasn’t difficult at all,” defensive lineman Elijah George said of finishing his undergraduate degree in family and human services. “The support system we have at the Jaqua made it possible. They broke down the schedule and showed me what I needed to do, and the coaches are good with working through my schedule.”
During recent football seasons, veteran players said a typical day included breakfast at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex at 7 a.m., practice from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., classes between noon and 5:30 p.m., football film study and academic study in the evening.
According to NCAA rules, student-athletes may not exceed 20 hours per week (four hours per day) in “countable” athletic-related hours (practices, meetings, weight training). Compliance meetings, study hall, traveling for games, treatment and voluntary meetings and training don’t count toward the total.
“You’ve just got to learn to manage your time and learn how to prioritize and set time away for school,” said cornerback Ty Griffin, who has graduated in general social science. “It’s not too bad if you really focus and do what you’re supposed to.”
According to a 2015 study of 409 Pac-12 athletes by market researchers Penn Schoen Berland, the average conference athlete spent 50 hours a week on athletics.
Many of Oregon’s players take advantage of summer classes while remaining on campus to work out together.
“That’s a big thing for me. A lot of guys like to slack off in the summer, but I look at it as an opportunity to get ahead kind of, because classes are a lot shorter,” Griffin said. “It might be harder for some people because it’s piled up, but I like to get taught quick so I can remember it, instead of extending it through a whole semester.”
Oregon’s football recruits usually arrive on campus with the goal of being hired for a job in the NFL. Players are eligible to be drafted three years after graduating from high school.
Of the 95 underclassmen who declared for the 2017 draft without finishing their college degree, 28 were not selected. Two of the eight underclassmen with a degree and remaining NCAA eligibility who also entered the draft were not selected.
Several prominent Ducks — including Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota and Pac-12 defensive player of the year DeForest Buckner — chose to stay in school for four years and earned undergraduate degrees from UO before being selected in the first round of the NFL draft.
The 2017 draft was the first since 1985 in which no Oregon players were taken.
Running back Royce Freeman and safety Tyree Robinson both decided to return to campus to improve their draft stock after last year’s 4-8 finish. Both have also finished their degrees entering their senior seasons.
“It’s surreal now coming out here on the field and not really having to worry about class,” Robinson said of marching during UO’s June commencement after finishing his sociology degree. “I can just focus on football like my real job. Hopefully it prepares me for the next level.
“I just love it — a lot of time by myself to take care of my body. Hopefully it pays off.”
Tyrell Crosby said he needs to finish four classes during the fall term to finish his degree in planning, public policy and management. The left tackle is also trying to work his way back onto the draft boards of NFL teams after missing nine games last season with a foot injury.
“During the season it’s pretty difficult, especially for me because my last four classes are some of the hardest classes I’ve taken so far,” Crosby said. “It really comes down to just time management and preparing yourself a schedule that lets you do everything. …
“You can do a lot of different things with that degree. After football I want to try to open up a non-profit if I can, and also do a lot of like city management.”
Rosen suggested that universities are more interested keeping players eligible than helping them graduate.
“There’s so much money being made in this sport,” Rosen said. “It’s a crime to not do everything you can to help the people who are making it for those who are spending it.”
Among Pac-12 schools, Stanford had the highest graduation rates for black male student-athletes (89 percent) and all student-athletes (95 percent), according to the University of Pennsylvania Center data.
UCLA was second in the conference with a 61 percent graduation rate for black male student-athletes and 73 percent of all student-athletes. California only graduated 34 percent of black student-athletes compared to 68 percent of all student-athletes.
“He goes to UCLA, so I mean the academics there are a lot harder than they are here probably,” sophomore linebacker Troy Dye, Oregon’s leading tackler in 2016, said of Rosen. “But academics are academics. I kind of agree with him, they don’t really mesh, but we’re student-athletes at the end of the day.
“Student comes first. We understood what we were getting into when we signed our letter of intent. We came to the university that we chose. It doesn’t mesh well, but you have to get it done.”
The other players who have already worn a cap and gown in addition to their football helmet at Oregon are quarterback Taylor Alie, offensive lineman Doug Brenner, long snapper Tanner Carew, tight end Ivan Faulhaber, wide receiver Charles Nelson, defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux and safety Juwaan Williams.
“We’ve got a lot of academic All-Americans out there and some pretty good football players, too,” Taggart said when asked about Rosen’s comments. “If you want to play big-time college football and get a big-time education, then it’s on the individual to get it done. And there are a lot of individuals who have proved they can do them both.”