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National Student Athlete Day 2021

Today, National Student-Athlete Day, offers the opportunity to celebrate the resiliency of those students participating in college sports during a year of upheaval.

The past 12 months have been challenging for all those involved in NCAA athletics. But they were particularly difficult for student-athletes who were unable to compete in the 2020 NCAA winter and spring championships that were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fall sport athletes also saw their championships canceled in Divisions II and III and moved to the spring in Division I.

The 2020-21 academic year has been filled with testing for the virus so NCAA student-athletes can compete in healthy environments. It is far from the standard routine, but NCAA student-athletes have endured to have the chance to play and finally compete again for national championships in their respective sports.

Student-athletes help others

If the last year has taught us anything, it is the importance of those who serve on the front lines of a public health crisis. Student-athletes have gone on to become committed nurses for a long time, but their roles are more critical than ever.

This profile tells the story of four current and former student-athletes who know all too well the devotion it takes to excel in nursing and how competing as a student-athlete prepares them for the job.

Some nursing student-athletes have even administered COVID-19 vaccines.

“It was so rewarding, especially hearing how grateful people were to be receiving the vaccine,” said Alicia Krivanek, a nursing major who runs cross country at Pacific Lutheran.

Student-athletes use their voice

In the fall of 2020, the NCAA research department conducted the NCAA Student-Athlete Activism and Racial Justice Engagement Study. It was spurred by the activities and protests centering on social justice issues in the late spring and summer of last year.

Nearly 90% of student-athletes indicated that in the six months preceding the survey, they had had conversations focused on race or racial justice with family or friends. About 80% indicated they had tried to learn more about race and racial justice on their own.

The Association-wide survey, which took place Oct. 6-Nov. 2, had responses from nearly 25,000 student-athletes. It was designed by NCAA research in collaboration with the NCAA Sport Science Institute and the NCAA Division I, II and III Student-Athlete Advisory Committees.

Last year, the Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee also proposed legislation to provide a day each year dedicated to increasing opportunities for Division I athletes to participate in civic engagement, including activities such as voting or community service.

In September, the Division I Council approved a measure saying that Division I student-athletes will not practice or compete, among other countable athletically related activities, on the first Tuesday after Nov. 1 every year, starting with the 2020 Election Day.

It marked the first legislative proposal Division I SAAC had proposed since Division I governance was restructured in 2014 to give student-athletes a vote at every level of decision-making. Two Division I SAAC members, Caroline Lee and Justice Littrell, are voting members on the Council.

Student-athlete participation

While the pandemic cut the academic year 2019-20 short, an all-time high 503,623 student-athletes were enrolled across all three divisions to participate in sports in which the NCAA conducts national championships.

The number of female student-athletes increased by 2,716 from the 2018-19 academic year, and the men’s numbers grew by 1,690 over that same span.

Student-athlete education

Since the ultimate goal of the college experience is graduation, the NCAA has devoted attention to researching student-athlete graduation rates for more than two decades.

The latest Division I Graduation Success Rate data, released by the NCAA in November, showed 9 in 10 student-athletes who started college in 2013 earned degrees. That represents the highest rate ever and an increase of 1 percentage point over the rate for students who entered school in 2012.

A 4 percentage point increase in men’s basketball players earning a degree boosted the rate, including a 6 percentage point jump in the last year for Black men’s basketball student-athletes.