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Two student-athletes back in the game

February 8, 2007

During the past two weeks, some prominent faces have been missing from the ice and hardwood for the Falcons; as of Monday that was no longer the case.

The hockey team lost the services of junior defenseman Jim Jensen for six games and the basketball team was without junior Courtney Davis for four games.

Athletic Director Rick Bowen was notified Monday that both the athletes have now regained their academic eligibility.

At about 5:30 p.m., Jensen was called to the rink where Head Coach Steve Freeman told him the news. Jensen said he was one of the last people to know about his recent reinstatement.

“There are no negative feelings, except toward myself,” Jensen said. “I’m very appreciative of the school.”

During Jensen’s absence, the Falcons amassed a 3-2-1 record.

“I knew that it was my mistake,” Jensen said. “It was a lesson learned, a valuable lesson.”

Jensen played with the Falcons on Jan. 13 in Winona, Minn., against St. Mary’s University.

The last game that Davis played was Jan. 20 at UW-Stevens Point.

The UW-River Falls athletic department and registrar’s office could not give any specific details regarding individual academics due to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which protects every student’s right to have their academic records remain private.

“There’s all kinds of things that affect the eligibility of our student athletes,” Registrar Dan Vande Yacht said.

Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) Commissioner Gary F. Karner also said that he could not comment on any academic matters.

WIAC rules are more stringent than those maintained in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and even some institutional rules.

One such rule states that student-athletes must maintain a 2.0 cumulative GPA during each semester of participation, two full-time terms or 24 semester hours. Another includes earning a minimum of nine credit hours during their first full year at an institution prior to the second regular term of attendance in order to be eligible to compete during their second term.

“They didn’t do anything wrong,” Bowen said. “They just had a bad semester.”

Bowen was notified of Davis’ reinstatement by the registrar’s office and of Jensen’s from Brad Caskey, the associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

“We came to a resolution that seemed fair for everyone involved,” Caskey said. “There was no preferential treatment given because the student was an athlete. A procedure was followed and everyone was satisfied with how it ended.”

Jensen spent much of his J-term going through the appeal process and taking it all the way to the highest level. He started with his professor and finished with Caskey.

“I’m so happy and so proud to be a student at River Falls,” Jensen said. “The school didn’t turn me away. Everyone was so helpful in making my appeal. The compromise we made was just so just.”

Jensen also received as much help as he could from Freeman, but Freeman had to be careful not to overstep his boundaries. Freeman and his wife helped by writing reference letters for Jensen. 

The reinstatement process is left solely up to the individual student-athlete.

“The athletic department does not get involved in that,” Bowen said. “There’s no rule about it; it’s just bad business.” 

Everyone in the athletic department stressed a hands-off approach when a student-athlete attempts to regain their eligibility or dispute a grade.

“This is one of those interesting things that is not uncommon, and completely done by the athletes themselves,” Bowen said.

Jensen said that watching the games from the sidelines wasn’t easy for him.

“It was so hard to go to the games and dress up in the suit,” Jensen said. “You just try to blend in. Everyone tries to ask you what happened.”

Besides the difficulty of not being able to play, Jensen also has to deal with other repercussions, including pushing back his graduation date and delaying his financial aid.

Davis is second in two major categories for the Falcons this season, averaging 14 points per game, and 5.2 rebounds per contest.

“It’s tough when you’re talking about a guy that’s in your rotation and doing well for you,” Berkhof said of losing Davis for a four-game stretch. “We’ve had some guys step up and have done well.”

Freshman basketball player Maurice Baker was also named ineligible around the same time that Davis was, he decided not to play for the rest of the season and focus his energies on academics, Head Coach Jeff Berkhof said.

Baker didn’t get much playing time this season, logging 26 minutes in eight games played out of a possible 18.

Berkhof didn’t think the loss of Baker and Davis had affected the team’s play on the court despite their 1-3 record without the two players. Of the three losses, one was an 84-78 overtime contest at UW-Stout and another was a 65-64 defeat at UW-Platteville.

Even though Berkhof has a lot of confidence in his team, he’s said he’s excited for Davis’ return.

“Obviously bringing him back in the rotation will help,” he said.

Davis returned to action on Wednesday coming off the bench to score 12 points in the Falcons 68-66 victory over UW-Eau-Claire.

There are regular grade checks of athletes conducted by all UWRF coaches, Bowen said. Coaches also keep in close contact with professors when necessary.

“There are a lot of caring instructors on campus,” Berkhof said. “They let us know when our guys aren’t going to class.”

Bowen was the men’s head basketball coach for 20 years and knows that these issues sometimes arise.

“If you’re going to take a chance on any type of student you have to offer support to those students,” he said. “I think we do a better job than most.”

Bowen made a point to emphasize the student in student-athlete.

“Our athletes are here to go to school,” Bowen said. “Playing sports is just the icing on the cake.”

Bowen thinks that some higher-level programs may not hold the same set of values.

“We’re not in the business of giving away degrees,” Bowen said. “That’s one of the big problems I have with athletics at the division-one level.”

To help athletes that may be having difficulties with their studies, some teams work closely with the UWRF Academic Success Center

“I know that Jeff Berkhof and Steve Freeman monitor their athletes,” Bowen said. “I know these kids were going to the study symposium.”

The study symposium is offered through the Academic Success Center and is run by Academic Advisor Justin Hauer.

Baker and Davis have been regular attendees to the symposium and use the Academic Success Center’s resources.

“Both those guys were real sincere in their intent not just to play ball, but earn degrees,” Hauer said.

The symposium is twice a week and offers all students an opportunity to focus on their studies.

Davis was present at the very first study symposium offered this semester, Hauer said.

Jensen is thankful that he had so much support throughout this entire process. Without his teammates and coaching staff he said he would not have been able to make it through this difficult experience.

“If something happens, don’t give up,” Jensen said. “There is help out there.”

Neither Davis nor Baker could be reached for comment.