Jason Marer

A student-athlete is often used to describe the balance of a full-time student and a full-time athlete.

As a participant in an organized competitive sport sponsored by an educational institution, these students are under extreme pressure to succeed in their sport as well as in the classroom.

Managing time between sport and academia can sometimes be problematic. Student-athletes normally spend hours away from school to engage in athletic events.

For the Ball State University men's golf team, however, it usually means two or three days per week traveling across the country away from campus.

"There are several components of being a student-athlete and one is academics," coach Mike Fleck said. "My expectation is that they are successful, because it's not all about playing golf. My role is to help these young men make progress not only on the golf course, but in the classroom and within the community."

This much time away from campus, however, creates stress for Fleck's players.

"It is all just a lot of hard work and time management," senior Ross Cosat said. "We just have to make sure we stay on top of our stuff and get it turned in on time. The professors are really lenient with us and allow us to make up tests. When we come back from tournaments, we always feel behind, but you just have to plan ahead and make sure you stay on top of things."

Maintaining the balance between academics and athletics is significant to Fleck. As coach, his duties go far beyond the accomplishments on the green.

"I play a significant role just as much as any professor my players have," Fleck said. "If you are doing well in the classroom, chances are you are going to be productive on the golf course. I stress the importance to succeed in the classroom. Being a Ball State athlete means earning a degree and succeeding in life."

Despite the pressure, the 2008-09 team was recently named a Golf Coaches Association of America All-Academic Team for achieving a team grade-point average of 3.0 or better. To be eligible for the honor, a university must submit the grade points earned and hours attempted for each player on its official squad list for the academic year.

The Cardinals achieved a 3.223 GPA on Ball State's 4.0 scale.

"It's meaningful that our guys know the importance of being student-athletes," Fleck said. "We travel quite a bit, but it all starts with preparation. It's not easy, because we still have third- and fourth-year students who still feel the pressure from missing class. These guys have a lot on their plate. I take a lot of pride that these guys succeed in the classroom."

Although the players have established success in the classroom, it is by no means an easy task. In a normal week of competition, the golf team may travel to the tournament location Sunday morning and return Tuesday afternoon. Not only do the players miss two days of class, but it is also time away from studying and completing homework.

"We can't really get much of anything done," Cosat said. "Most of our focus is spent on the tournament. The amount of time to do homework is hard to balance because we can't stay up late because we have to be prepared to play the next day."

Junior Eric Steger says it's a daily struggle to keep up with his classes. Even with hard work, Steger says it takes a certain type of person to balance the pressure his teammates face.

"Most students get to sleep in, but I am up early every day and have class until two, then play golf until six, then do homework, and then finally go to bed," Steger said. "It definitely takes a toll on my social life. There is always something to catch up on."

Between Oct. 5 and Oct. 20, the golf team played in three tournaments in Kentucky and Ohio. In the twelve days class was in session, each player that traveled missed six days of class.

"You have to work much harder, and when you start missing six classes in three weeks it gets really tough," Steger said. "It's apparent how your grades can suffer when you miss that much class."

Fleck said when he recruits players to Ball State, he says he looks for two characteristics and qualities: passion and low-maintenance. He wants players who are willing to work, but also students who are responsible and accountable.

"I want my players to be passionate not just in golf but also in school," Fleck said. "I want kids that are going to be committed and put an emphasis on education. A student-athlete is a well-rounded individual. There is no doubt these guys get stressed out. It is due to the environment they are in. Golf is such a mental sport, but if you have the right frame of mind, it will carry over to different aspects of life, such as academics."

As collegiate athletes, the idea of playing professional sports crosses the minds of players, even in golf. The ambition to compete at the next level, however, does not deter the players from acquiring a degree.

"I would say 50 percent of my teammates may have a chance of going pro, but we know the importance of having a back-up plan with education," Cosat said. "Regardless if we have aspirations of playing professional golf you still have to get good grades and a degree."

With one more tournament to go until the fall season officially ends for the Cardinals, players like Steger have mixed emotions. On Sunday, the team will be traveling to Fort Myers, Fla., but the idea of missing more class is a bittersweet notion.

"I don't want golf to be over, but I want to get caught up in my classes," Steger said. "It's hard to find the seat on the couch at the end of day because there is always so much to do. I definitely don't have trouble sleeping at night. It's difficult and I need a break, but I wouldn't change playing golf for anything."