- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 16, 2002

While his Michigan State teammates sulked in the wake of a first-round NCAA tournament loss to N.C. State yesterday at the MCI Center, Spartans center Jason Andreas was seeing stars.

Almost literally.

A business administration major, Andreas capped off his disappointing afternoon by hustling back to the team's hotel, where he took a proctored astronomy exam.

"You've got to get your work done on the road," he said with a shrug. "It's one of the hardest parts of being a student athlete."

Is it ever. For most basketball fans, March Madness conjures images of miracle upsets, buzzer-beating 3-pointers and frothing TV analyst Dick Vitale. For the athletes involved, however, there is a flip side to the equation namely, books, papers, tests and projects.

Not to mention actual, well, equations.

"You bring your books with you, read on the bus, in hotels," said Hampton guard Marcelle Williams, a business management major. "You try to find a way to get things done. It's hard. I've got two papers coming up."

And yet this classwork may not necessarily help toward graduation. The most recent NCAA report indicates that just 40 percent of freshmen male players who entered Division I institutions during the 1994-95 school year earned a degree within six years.

Among the players at this weekend's NCAA East sub-regional at MCI, Williams has plenty of company. Alhough schoolwork doesn't garner multibillion-dollar network-rights fees let alone a place in the company office pool it's as much a part of the tournament experience as long flights and late-night tipoffs.

Michigan State's Adam Ballinger, an advertising major, is working on a group project. N.C. State's Josh Powell has to hand in an English paper next week.

And Maryland forward Tahj Holden plans to take a communications test first thing Monday morning never mind that the Terrapins haven't been on campus since Wednesday and won't return until tomorrow evening.

"It's difficult because I've only been to the class half the time," Holden said, citing road games and the ACC tournament. "I have to study Sunday night, Monday morning, and then take the test."

The time crunch facing Holden is typical of March, where travel and postseason play equal missed classes and deep cuts into already limited study time. Maryland guard Drew Nicholas, a government major, has a test on Monday and a paper due Tuesday.

Should the Terps win their second-round game tomorrow, he'll also have a flight early next week to Syracuse, N.Y., for the East Region's second round. And if Maryland then advances to the Final Four in Atlanta, which it is favored to do, he'll repeat the process.

"Most of the time, you end up leaving on a Wednesday, then you get back on Sunday and leave Wednesday again," Nicholas said. "There's not a lot of time for school."

Nicholas speaks from firsthand experience. Last season, the Terps spent two weeks away from College Park, going directly from a sub-regional in Boise, Idaho, to the West Region in Anaheim, Calif. After a two-day stop at home, they jetted off to Minneapolis for the Final Four.

Factor in the ACC tournament, and that is almost an entire month of class and school time vanished into the ether.

"Luckily, the week we went from Boise to California was our spring break, so we didn't miss much," Nicholas said. "But when we came back from the Final Four, I had a pile of stuff to do, all crammed into about six weeks."

For some, the cramming process begins in late February, when players set up academic schedules, ask their classmates to take extra notes and most importantly make arrangements with their professors.

The last task isn't always easy. According to Andreas, there are three varieties of professors: Those who help athletes as much as they can, those who generally are willing to move deadlines and test dates, and those who refuse to give jocks any kind of special treatment.

Needless to say, type No.1 is preferred.

"As long as you're responsible, they want you to miss school," Andreas said, noting that the more a team wins, the more school it misses. "They know you're out there representing the university."

On the road, players study whenever and wherever the opportunity arises. During N.C. State's five-hour bus ride from Raleigh to Washington this week, Wolfpack guard Scooter Sherrill spied a number of his teammates reading textbooks.

Earlier this season, Holden even wrote a paper en route from a Maryland victory at Virginia.

"The bus was bumpy, it was late at night, the keyboard was so tiny and my hands are so big," he said with a laugh. "Plus, we were watching a movie at the same time, 'American Pie 2.' It's a good thing I'd seen it more than once."

Though no one has suggested eliminating postseason play, some coaches have spoken out against academic March Madness. Last week, Georgetown coach Craig Esherick declined a bid to the National Invitation Tournament, expressing concern over travel and missed class time. Arizona's Lute Olson and Stanford's Mike Montgomery have criticized the PAC-10 tournament for similar reasons.

Holden said a hectic school schedule simply comes with the territory.

"Sometimes it's not fair, but this is something we chose," he said. "Basketball is our life. We have fun doing it. I don't think any of us would trade it to be a normal student."

Andreas, a redshirt sophomore, can relate. When Michigan State defeated Florida to win the national title two seasons ago, the freshman spent the night before the championship game in his hotel room, putting the finishing touches on a 15-page paper.

"We're about to play in the biggest game in college basketball, and here I am sitting in my room, typing on a computer," Andreas said with a laugh. "It was hard to concentrate, and when I got home, I revised it. I probably spelled half the words wrong. I probably put in Florida and some of their players."

The extra effort, he added, was well worth it.

"I got a 4.0 on the paper," Andreas said. "And we won the national championship. So I got the double on that one."


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