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By Gary Brown
After a successful launch last year, the NCAA’s Elite 88 Award that recognizes student-athlete academic achievement at NCAA championships is ready for a second run.
Created to honor student-athletes who reach the national championship in their sport while also achieving the highest academic standard among their peers, the awards acknowledged 88 individuals – one at every NCAA championship – for the first time in 2009-10. The Elite 88 is presented to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade-point average participating at each of the finals sites.
“It’s great when we’re acknowledging what our student-athletes are doing both in athletics competition as well as in the classroom,” said Damon Arnold, the director of academic services for athletics at Grand Valley State University. “The Elite 88 is just another way the NCAA is letting its constituents know that we believe in the whole student.”
Two Grand Valley State student-athletes, soccer player Natalja Stanski and football player Alex Gilde, earned the Elite 88 Award during championships last fall. Stanski was honored at the Division II Women’s Soccer Championship, while Gilde earned his Elite 88 at the Division II Football Championship.
Gilde was a senior academically but had one year of athletics eligibility remaining, which he gave up to enter the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.
“Yes, our football winner last year actually passed on his final year of athletics eligibility to enter medical school,” Arnold said. “Having two winners last year let the whole Grand Valley community see that we have student-athletes who are here first and foremost to get a degree.”
The Elite 88 resonated enough with the Missouri Valley Conference to prompt the league to establish its own award.
Modeled after the NCAA award, the MVC’s “Elite 18” (so named because the league sponsors 18 championships) will honor academic achievement this year at the conference level.
“We have embraced the principle of honoring our top academic student-athlete, whether it be at the national level through the NCAA Elite 88 Award or at the conference level with something like the Missouri Valley now has,” said Patty Viverito, senior associate commissioner of the Missouri Valley Conference.
Each institution with at least one student-athlete qualifier for the finals site of any NCAA championship is eligible to submit an Elite 88 nomination. The web page is located at NCAA.org/Media and Events/Awards/Elite 88 Award. To access the website, users must first log in to ncaa.org. The criteria for award eligibility are included on the nomination form. The link to the website is located at Elite 88 Submission Forms.
There is one change this year for submitting nominations. The excel spreadsheet calculation form is to be completed electronically only by any institution that issues grades above a 4.0 or is not on a 4.0 grading scale. This will ensure that every student-athlete will be treated equitably and have the same opportunity to win the award.
The first Elite 88 Awards for this year will be given at the Division III Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Championships to be conducted on Saturday, November 20.
“The Elite 88 program has succeeded in celebrating student-athletes who perform at the highest levels, both academically and athletically,” said NCAA Senior Vice President of Championships Joni Comstock. “These exceptional young men and women come from diverse backgrounds and a broad range of our institutions and academic majors. But they all have one thing in common: a commitment to excellence in the classroom and in competition.”
For a recap of all the 2009-10 Elite 88 winners, see the story in Champion magazine.