Oct. 19, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
Uniforms for college student-athletes are meant to be just that – uniform. However, the Southeastern Conference is making a small exception for some of its student-athletes, and nine South Carolina Gamecocks are currently among those whose uniform will have a slight variation this year. For those student-athletes who have already earned their degree, but have not exhausted their eligibility, the SEC logo patch on their uniforms will be replaced with a special patch with the word “Graduate” underneath the conference logo.
“It is to recognize the academic accomplishments of the student-athletes who earn their college degree while still maintaining remaining athletic eligibility,” said Herb Vincent, SEC Associate Commissioner for Communications. “The SEC already has in place a patch program in all conference sports that makes the SEC mark prominent on uniforms. The graduate patch, which is simply but effectively a banner that reads ‘Graduate’ beneath the SEC logo, will replace the existing patch when a student-athlete earns his or her degree.”
“We talk about earning a degree as being a ‘championship’ experience at South Carolina,” said Athletics Director Ray Tanner. “It should be celebrated as such. To bring positive attention to students who have already achieved their degree by wearing this patch on their athletic uniform sends a tremendous message.”
The patch was designed by the SEC Office so its appearance is similar for all schools, but it is school-specific in color. Moving forward, it will be worn by any SEC student-athlete upon their first competition following the graduation ceremony at which their degree is awarded, and throughout the remainder of their college eligibility.
“At the heart of everything we do is to set the student-athletes up for success after college,” said Beach Volleyball head coach Moritz Moritz, who currently has three student-athletes eligible to wear the patch. "As coaches, one of the most important things for us is to win, but it’s more than that. I think recognizing the fact that the ‘student’ is actually the more important component of ‘student-athlete’ is very important, and it’s crucial for us.”
I hope when people see this patch, they realize that I really worked hard to get this degree. It wasn’t easy.
“Being a student and an intercollegiate athlete is very time consuming and takes a tremendous amount of dedication, commitment and discipline,” Tanner said. “We want to make wearing this patch to be a recognition that our student-athletes work hard in the classroom and that they take special pride in wearing it.”
The student-athletes with degrees already in hand believe the SEC Graduate patch sends a good message regarding the importance of education.
“It’s awesome,” said football student-athlete Mason Zandi, who has graduated with a degree in political science and pyschology. “Everyone should feel a sense of pride when they graduate from their respective university, especially while doing it within the boundaries of playing sports. It’s a good sense of accomplishment, and it should dispel that stereotype that we’re here just to play sports. In reality, most of us are here to get a degree first.”
“I think it’s cool,” said women’s basketball student-athlete Tiffany Davis, who earned her degree in retail management in May and is already working on a second degree. “It’s an awesome thing to recognize our accomplishments as student-athletes and not just athletes. It is definitely a sense of pride to have that. I had an opportunity that most people don’t get because I still get to play basketball after I’ve graduated.
“I think it can help put an end to any kind of stereotype that we’re more athletes than students. Graduating is a great thing. After basketball, I’m excited to put my degree to work and take on a new journey.”
“It makes me feel old,” laughed football student-athlete Chris Moody, who also received his degree last May. “It’s really an honor to have that and to show your teammates that you can play at a high level and also get your degree while you are here. I hope when people see this patch, they realize that I really worked hard to get this degree. It wasn’t easy.”
Vincent noted that the idea came from another SEC school during last year’s College Football Playoff.
“Alabama had 29 football players who had earned their college degree and recognized them by placing a sticker in the shape of a graduation cap on each of their helmets,” Vincent said. “Jeff Long, athletic director at Arkansas, took note of this recognition and asked one of his associate A.D.’s, Chris Freet, to contact the league office about creating a league-wide effort to recognize graduates. That got the ball rolling.”
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