Ex-Vol Witten to be a grad

Ex-Vol Witten to be a grad

Posted: Wednesday, June 25, 2008 5:11 pm
By: By Beth Rucker, Associated Press Writer

KNOXVILLE (AP) — Jason Witten admits there were a few times he thought about blowing off his commitment to earning an undergraduate degree.
The Dallas Cowboys tight end was about 25 hours shy of graduating when he opted to leave Tennessee early to enter the 2003 NFL draft. Five years later, he’s about to earn a bachelor’s degree in sports management.
“At first I didn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Witten said at an appearance Tuesday at Tennessee. “I could only take a couple of courses at a time. At the same time, I knew what I wanted.”
Dozens of college players declare for the NFL draft with eligibility still remaining and many of those do so without earning their degree.
The early exit of a student-athlete without a degree negatively affects his or her program’s Academic Progress Report rating with the NCAA.
The APR measures eligibility and retention of student athletes for every program at every Division I school. Programs risk losing scholarships and other restrictions if their athletes aren’t in good academic standing or graduating.
But by graduating late, Witten is improving Tennessee’s APR.
“If they left early and come back to graduate, we can get a point back on the back end,” said Fernandez West, associate director of Tennessee’s Thornton Athletics Student Life Center, which was created to help Volunteer athletes with academics.
Witten, 26, began working toward his degree three years ago with the help of the school’s Renewing Academic Commitment program, which provides former student-athletes help with course scheduling, tutoring, advising and other services.
In the past six years, about 20 athletes have returned to receive their degrees through the Renewing Academic Commitment program.
Witten said like most football players, he dreamed of playing in the NFL and jumped at the opportunity after catching 39 passes for 493 yards and five touchdowns and being named All-SEC as a junior in 2002.
Witten never struggled academically: he was an academic All-SEC selection in 2002 as well.
He said the final 25 hours were tough, though, as he completed correspondence courses in the spring semesters after the NFL season was over.
“I can definitely see how guys get sidetracked. You’re busy, there’s a lot of stress, you’ve got to produce day in and day out,” he said. “On top of that, you’re making good money so your priorities get changed.
“Ultimately, it’s got to be something that’s driven within you,” he said.

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