By Sarah Burstein, Staff Writer

The campus of UNC Chapel Hill, where a recent scandal has raised questions over how we should treat student athletes./PHOTO VIA Flickr user Emerald at Strive

The campus of UNC Chapel Hill, where a recent scandal has raised questions over how we should treat student athletes./PHOTO VIA Flickr user Emerald at Strive

There’s a common rivalry when it comes to education: the scholar versus the athlete. Often, it seems that as a student, you can only be one or the other, and crossing sides or combining the two is sometimes seen as an impossible feat.

It’s no secret that athletes have often received special treatment or favors, allowing them to graduate high school and attend prestigious universities that, without their athleticism, would seem way too rigorous. It was a running joke in my high school that with certain universities, you could physically see certain student athletes’ outlying “dots” on the graphs that showed average accepted GPAs from our high school, because their GPA was so far off from the higher average.

Students are therefore often frustrated when their academics can’t get them into their dream university while other less academically inclined students achieve such coveted acceptances, aided by their athletic prowess.

As a strictly academic student, you might dream that after that athlete from your high school got into your dream college, he or she wouldn’t be able to handle the academics and drop out, but according to a recent report commissioned by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, this isn’t always the case.

For 18 years, UNC school advisers have encouraged athletes to take certain classes in the African/Afro-American studies department that would not require them to attend lectures, but instead write papers that would be graded by the head of the department instead of an actual professor. The classes no longer exist, and UNC is still working to find those who are “accountable.”

The revelation from UNC brings to life the question of how easy we should be on student athletes, or if we should be easier on them at all. On one hand, you could argue that athletes are students first, and deserve the same treatment as non-athletes.

On the other hand, student-athletes, especially at Division I schools such as UNC, have an incredibly difficult schedule. In a New York Times article from 2008, scholar athletes revealed how their lives circulated around their sport, followed by academics and sleeping, leaving barely any remnants of time for a social life. They also aren’t provided with everything they need, and sometimes need to fundraise for basic equipment. Do they deserve a little bit of leeway when it comes to academics?

I never was an athlete in high school, and while I was undeniably frustrated when athletes in my graduating class were accepted into upper-tiered colleges, I had friends who were student athletes, and the pressure they were under to both perform well in school and on the field was immense. Since athletics sometimes offers the most coverage or attention to a university, maybe we shouldn’t be so opposed to giving players the occasional break.

Please, don’t ask me what this break should be because it makes my brain hurt. What I can say is that UNC crossed a line when it offered fluff classes to its athletes. Defining what that line exactly is, however, is a job for university officials and the NCAA.