Leaving a PG year before graduating is almost always a bad decision. Not only do student-athletes lose educational benefits, they also call into question personal characteristics like integrity and dedication when they fail to live up to their commitments. Ironically, those that leave early are usually the ones who need to stay the most.
Education is about life preparation. Prep school, especially a PG year, and even more than high school, is all about life preparation. It’s not just what is learned in the classroom, it’s about maturity, responsibility, decision making and character. It’s about teaching the student-athlete what to do in college when there are fewer rules and more choices. It’s about how the student will react in certain situations. What will he or she do when no one’s watching? Bad decisions such as leaving a PG year before graduating pave the way for bad decisions in college.
Here is just one glaring example of a poor choice by a student and family, both of whom should know better.
Derrick had no scholarship offers after his senior year of high school. An average student, his grades were not keeping him from receiving a scholarship, but he needed to learn what it takes to make his grades and test scores reflect his natural intelligence. He opted for a post-graduate year at a school with an excellent track-record in his sport and a level of education that matched it. Three weeks short of his prep school graduation, and just days after receiving a good, mid-level D1 offer, Derrick left his prep school and went home, claiming he wanted to spend more time with his family before starting college summer school the following month.
His prep school coach, a former D1 standout and excellent student at one of the academically top rated D1 schools in the country, talked to Derrick at length about the decision. He accurately pointed out the flaws in his decision making and urged him to reconsider. So did the Director at the school. What came out in the conversations was not an issue of time with family at all. As it turns out, a two week family trip to Europe was already planned for the day after graduation, so there would be plenty of time with family. What came out in the conversation, the real issue, was that Derrick had been slacking off in his classes and would have to work hard to catch up. In addition, he was going to have to take end of the year exams. Despite knowing this before he agreed to do a PG year, he now claimed that was going to be too much work, especially since he had already done it last year as a high school senior.
Teenagers make questionable decisions. Parents are supposed to know better. Any parent knows parenting isn’t easy, but it’s part of the job description. Derrick’s parents supported his decision. They invoked the all to common refrain “he’s 18, we can’t make him do it” and offered no resistance. His prep school coach explained to Derrick’s parents how much more difficult college will be given the increased demands of sport and classes, and how they were setting a bad precedent by supporting Derrick’s decision to not live up to his current responsibilities. Nothing changed. Parents and child missed a valuable opportunity to increase their chances of future success.
Another adult in the support system who failed Derrick was the post-graduate director at the prep school. Contrary to the coach and school Director, he offered virtually no resistance to the decision, begging the question of what exactly he is responsible for in his position.
Derrick’s future college coach, more than anyone, had the power to change the situation if he wanted to. One simple sentence telling Derrick to finish prep school and that would have been the end of it. A future college coach’s word is gospel to a brand new recruit, and Derrick would have done whatever his college coach told him to. Instead, the coach did what’s all too common. He took the path of least resistance by not challenging the family. Like many in today’s litigious society, he chose to avoid confrontation and the possibility of offending anyone. Ironically, he cost himself, his athletic program and the college in the process. Even though Derrick had accepted the scholarship offer, the university admissions department had yet do admit him. Leaving prep school early was not going to help that. In addition, Derrick’s degree from a prestigious prep school would have reflected very well on the college athletic program and the kind of kids the coach is recruiting. This college generally gets few, if any, students from schools of that caliber, the athletic program almost none. More importantly, Derrick likely might have received some college credits from his PG year. With the demands on time at the college level, along with the increased difficulty of the courses, many athletes drop courses during the season or take a lighter load and less challenging classes to begin with. Having credit for some courses before he arrived on campus would be a significant benefit. It also might have allowed him to take graduate courses as a senior, which would again reflect well on the sports program. Finally, college is an academic institution first. The idea of a college coach signing off on this type of decision is at best ironic, at worst unacceptable. Both the kid and college would have benefitted if he’d stayed just three more weeks at prep school.
Some would rationalize decisions like Derrick’s by saying the student will make the right decisions when it comes time in college. History shows that’s unlikely. As in sports, the sooner a child learns life’s fundamentals and forms good habits, the better the chances of future success.
Others would say the prep school coach and the school Director are biased, that their reasons for not wanting the student to leave school are motivated by self-interest. While there’s certainly some truth to that, it’s dwarfed by the objective facts as stated above. These are people in educational leadership positions whose job it is to provide the best guidance they can to teenagers and parents. They got it right.
Not only do athletes cheat themselves emotionally and educationally when they fail to finish a PG year, they exhibit a lack of work ethic, commitment and perseverance that should be concerning to college coaches. They’re going to get the sport benefit either way. They might as well get the non-athletic benefits while they’re there. By leaving school early, not only did Derrick forfeit a degree from a prestigious prep school that would have followed him for life, he and his parents missed a great chance to improve his chances of success in college and in life.