BERKELEY – Not everyone on the Cal sideline during spring football practice is carrying a play card or setting up equipment.
Some are able to explain the finer points of macroeconomic theory.
That is a result of the Bears’ Faculty Fellows program, where members of the Cal faculty visit practice throughout the spring. The idea is to bring the football program and the faculty together and alleviate any preexisting stereotypes about football and student-athletes at Cal.
“I think meeting and getting to know student-athletes and getting to know the various systems for the different teams helps you understand all that’s involved in being a student-athlete,” said Martha Olney, an adjunct professor in Cal’s Department of Economics. “One of the things that always impresses me about the student-athletes is how incredibly good they have to be at time management. In order to be able to complete the various tasks takes a lot of skill at time management. That always impresses me a lot.”
At any given practice, a small group of faculty members may be on hand to observe all of the different activities that take place at Kabam Field at California Memorial Stadium and the Simpson Center. Professors meet with different coaches and staff members, attend position meetings and more.
“The thing that we wanted to do was make it as realistic an experience as we could, in terms of making it in-depth so the faculty members could see all the different people that touch the lives of the student-athlete – everything they go through on a day-to-day basis, all the different pulls on their time and all the responsibilities they have,” Cal head coach Sonny Dykes said. “We all want the same thing. We all want kids to graduate, come to Cal and leave better than they were before.”
Olney said one of the reasons there are stereotypes about student-athletes is because much of the time faculty members weren’t athletes themselves. Getting the chance to see the players up close and personal gives the faculty a chance to see them negotiate their many responsibilities, on and off the field.
“One thing that we really want to show them in this experience is just the athletic rigor, what the guys go through in terms of dealing with injury, whether it deals with their time and the schedule, how much they work out – just all that takes place with this whole athletic operation,” said Cal development advisor Tarik Glenn, a former Cal offensive tackle who went on to a Pro Bowl career and won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts. “The whole purpose of Faculty Fellows is just to give them a glimpse of not only what’s happening athletically but really a picture of what the support looks like around these guys – why that support is necessary and how the support is actually preparing them to do well in classes.”
On a recent day of spring practice, Olney, Haas School of Business professor Stephen Etter and academic coach Tia Madkins visited the Bears. They met with members of the program’s athletic training staff as well as strength and conditioning coach Damon Harrington, sat in on some positional meetings and made their way out to the field for practice. They also took in part of practice from the Stadium Club.
“Part of what you are trying to do is break down stereotypes, which is important,” Olney said. “Faculty are people who were not athletes by and large, when we were in school. We were the nerds. We probably come to our jobs with a lot of stereotypes about athletes because that’s just not who we were. Breaking down stereotypes is always about familiarity. So I think that any way in which faculty can become a little more familiar with what is a very foreign world to them is important.”
Faculty Fellows also provides professors the opportunity to ask a lot of questions, about football and the inner workings of the program.
“The questions, the different things that the professors are seeing and experiencing during faculty fellows – I think it’s huge and it kind of cuts to the chase and gets to the core of who these student-athletes are as people,” Glenn said.
Faculty Fellows is one of many ways that Dykes has placed an emphasis on academics since he became Cal’s head coach. Not only does the program serve a purpose for both faculty and those involved with football, it affords Dykes another opportunity to remind his student-athletes about the academic culture of the program.
“Anytime you can reinforce what you say, it’s a positive thing,” Dykes said. “It’s one thing to sit around and talk about academics all the time; it’s another thing to bring professors into meetings and show them that they are an invaluable resource for us to get where we want to go.”