Mar 042003
Authors: Joshua Pilkington

Graduating in four years, regardless of the major, is not an easy task. There are so many things in a college student’s life that can get in the way, so many extracurricular activities that need attending, jobs that need filling and bars that need paying customers.

So when the three seniors of CSU’s men’s basketball team walk at their graduation ceremonies at the end of the semester, don’t be surprised to hear a roar come up from the audience – for what they have accomplished is truly remarkable.

“In my time as coach with this team, I have never had any problems with those seniors,” said head coach Dale Layer, referring to seniors Andy Birley, Brian Greene and Darian Burke. “They are irreplaceable in a lot of ways. To have them all graduating on time is quite unique. I don’t think there are many programs that can say that.”

No, there are not.

According to the graduation rates report that the NCAA releases annually, Birley, Greene and Burke are part of a small minority. In fact, of the 7,562 student athletes playing on a men’s Division-I basketball team, only 42 percent – or 3,176 – graduated in four years. The team rate of our friends in Boulder sits somewhere in the 26-40 percent range.

So what makes these guys so different?

About a week before fall finals, I asked Birley what it was like to stay focused on major exams while trying to remain focused on basketball at the same time. His response was a bit surprising.

“It’s tough sometimes, but you just have to know how to prioritize and put things in perspective,” said the guard, who has dedicated a good part of his life to playing basketball. “The coaches are good to help us have enough time to study and work on academics; it’s up to the individual to make the most of that time.”

True, it’s easy to say that Greene, Birley and Burke aren’t going to make a living playing basketball professionally, so they would be making a mistake to go about studying any other way. But how many of us put studying off to hit the bars, watch a movie or participate in some other type of non-scholastic activity? I understand the difficulty of having to weigh work with study, but is that any different from practice and games? Probably not.

And Greene, Birley and Burke are not the only athletes at CSU putting the student back in student athlete. The truth is they abound on campus. Several athletes from the women’s and men’s sports alike will graduate this spring, having done so in four years.

But enough praise. My point is this: We may not be an athletic powerhouse like other Division-I schools, we may not contend for national championships on an annual basis, and we may not see many of our alumni participate in their sports at a professional level, but we do have something few others have … academic excellence.

And in a world where too much emphasis is put on athletic achievements anyway, isn’t that the more valuable asset to have?

Josh is a junior journalism major.

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