Professors Earn Limelight
Wantland Stadium’s gate D is one of the main entrances into the football stadium. The 2017 Broncho Football season is set to begin Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017. (Cara Johnson).
With the start of the University of Central Oklahoma’s fall 2017 football season, the UCO Athletics Department is providing students with the opportunity to see their favorite professors recognized as Professor of the Game during each of the team’s five home games.
Beginning with the college of Liberal Arts, students are provided with the opportunity to vote for their favorite professor from one of the university’s five colleges in a weeklong email survey held prior to each home game. The professor with the most votes will then be recognized during a time out as a way to show appreciation for the support professors provide student athletes, according to UCO football coach Nick Bobeck.
“We take a great deal of pride in how our student-athletes perform in the classroom. Recognizing a Professor of the Game allows us to show our gratitude to those outside of our program that are investing in these young men. We ask their professors for assistance in tracking the progress of our student athletes and they are more than happy to help us,” Bobeck said.
Voting has already begun for who will be recognized from the College of Liberal Arts during the Bronchos first home game of the season versus Missouri’s Lindenwood University Aug. 31. With both students and faculty excited for the season, Dean of Liberal Arts Catherine Webster said the practice is one that makes her proud to be a Broncho.
“The enthusiasm generated by the students around the faculty recipients is authentic and robust. It’s terrific that each of the colleges gets its chance over the course of the season, too, but I will admit that I’m selfishly pleased that Liberal Arts is up first,” said Liberal Arts Dean Catherine Webster.
While academics and sports are often seen at odds with one another from the outside, college athletes are still required to maintain a specific GPA to retain their spot on their respective teams. Ceremonies such as Professor of the Game not only allow the opportunity to recognize professors for their role in supporting student athletes, but also the role of academics in college sports, according to Chris Brannick, director of sports media relations at UCO.
“In athletics, academics come first. The goal for all of us is to graduate every one of our student athletes. So, we think it’s important to honor the professors who teach these young men and women and play a very important role in getting these students to graduation,” said Brannick.
The concept for the Professor of the Game tradition originated three years ago with Coach Edgar Miraku’s women’s volleyball team as an initiative to improve connections between student athletics and the university’s academic departments.
While the women’s softball team ranks 18th nationally, the team has also maintained a 3.5 or higher GPA for the last five years. Allowing professors the opportunity to see that the athletes work hard both on the court and in the classroom was a major goal, according to Miraku.
“Sometimes athletics general, depending on the mindset and background of the individual, tends to come across the wrong way. That also varies from campus to campus and sport to sport, but one way we thought to help bridge that gap was to have professors sit in on everyone of our home matches,” Miraku said.
With fifteen home games, this allowed for each member of the volleyball team to honor a professor during a match. It also allowed professors an opportunity to see how much effort the athletes put into both athletics and academics, with professors arriving before the matches to see the warm-ups and preparations.
“It’s not just the match, the hour and a half or two and a half hours. They’ll show up before the warm-up, hear every talk and speech the coaches give. They’ll be on the bench during warm-up and really go through the whole process so it’s not just a come in, watch the game, and leave type thing,” Miraku said.
The initiative proved to be a success, with last year’s season featuring a professor for every home game and even more who wanted to participate but were unable to be accommodated due to the limited number of home games.
With the success of the practice with Miraku’s team, other teams have begun to take interest in Professor of the Game as well. The recognition of professors as well as the academic struggles and success of athletes is an important part of UCO athletics, according to Brannick.
“I believe it fits within UCO Athletics programming and mission because that is the same as the university’s. The Central Six is just as important to us as it is to any college or any other department on campus,” Brannick said.