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The Greatest Achievement

UK President Dr. Eli Capilouto congratulates UK head football coach Mark Stoops after the recent Citrus Bowl victory  (Photo Dr. Michael Huang).

(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – With all the recent emphasis on NIL (name, image, and likeness) deals, the perceived worth of a college scholarship has taken a drastic hit. No longer is free tuition, books, room and board, private tutoring, first class travel, deluxe hotel accommodations, state-of-the-art medical care, legal services, and a college platform enough of a reward to play a sport you love. Now it’s all about the extra money you can rake in through endorsements, sponsorships, and the like.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with a little side hustle. After all, this is America! Make as much as you can, as fast as you can, and as easily as you can. What everyone now tends to gloss over, however, is that for the large majority of student-athletes, their college degree will undoubtedly end up being their most valuable life asset.

For guys like Will Levis and Oscar Tshiebwe, high GPAs, Dean’s lists, and academic All-American honors are simply icing on the cake. For all the other average Joes and Janes who will never see a professional paycheck, how they leverage their college scholarships will ultimately make or break them when they eventually enter the workforce.

Scholarships may have been devalued, but do academics still matter? Unfortunately, maybe not. Because if I ask a student-athlete a question about how their studies are going, those within hearing distance invariably roll their eyes and yawn. Talking about grades and future plans pale in comparison to touchdowns and three-point shots. If it doesn’t garner listeners or generate clicks, why even bother? Who gives a flying flip?

I do! That’s why I’m writing this piece—to bring attention to an accomplishment that in my mind outshines winning the SEC East in football or winning a ninth national championship in basketball.

For this just-completed spring semester, UK scholarship student-athletes combined to achieve an impressive GPA of 3.284. Individually, 430 Wildcats achieved a GPA of 3.0 or higher, with 121 of those brainiacs hitting the 4.0 mark.

This means that for 20 straight semesters, University of Kentucky Athletics has surpassed its goal of a 3.0 composite GPA. Think hard about that. An entire decade of sterling academic performance is nothing to scoff at. The fact that it’s combined with a No. 8 ranking in the Director’s Cup all-sports standings makes the feat even more praiseworthy.

Kudos to Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart and President Dr. Eli Capilouto for keeping their priorities well placed. It’s one thing to keep the University at the forefront of league competition. It’s just as important, however, to not ever lose sight of what best benefits ALL student-athletes.

“In many ways, the last two years have brought challenges to college athletics that have never been seen,” Barnhart stated in a released statement. “The many issues we face have not deterred us from our core mission, to educate young people and to earn victories in the arenas of competition.”

In this day and age, a college education still matters. It certainly has monetary worth. Four years at an institution of higher learning can easily surpass a quarter of a million dollars. Sadly, our current sports mindset has buried it in the rubble of slick NIL deals and play-for-pay scams.

It’s a good thing that the man at the top of the UK food chain still wants to have his cake and eat it too.

“At the University of Kentucky, we care deeply about success on courts and playing fields across our campus, our Commonwealth and the country,” President Capilouto added. “But we care even more about the success our students are prepared for when they leave our community. These numbers and markers of progress and achievement compellingly reflect that commitment.”

I realize I’m either blowing hot air or preaching to the choir. If you’ve made it this far into the column, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Either you or your parents gave up a pound of flesh in exchange for the sheepskin. It just means more when you had to pay for it yourself. My UK degree opened up numerous doors of opportunity that I would not have had without it. Here’s hoping the value of future scholarships won’t be dismissively tossed aside.

Congratulations to all the student-athletes who have excelled on the academic stage. Your stories are not only compelling to me, but rather…they’re just beginning.

Dr. John Huang is a UK columnist for Nolan Group Media and editor-in-chief of JustTheCats.com. He also covers the NFL and MLB for Sports View America. You can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs. If you’re in search of some practical life lessons, be sure to check out his new book, KENTUCKY PASSION. https://www.amazon.com/Kentucky-Passion-Wildcat-Wisdom-Inspiration/dp/1684351669

Dr. John Huang
Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist and military veteran. As a lifelong Wildcat fan, a fledgling author, and an occasional guest host of Just the Cats Radio, he's now living out his dream as a UK Sports columnist. Dr. Huang also covers professional sports on a regional level. You can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs or contact him @KYHuangs@gmail.com. If you enjoy his writing, you can also read more at www.huangswhinings.com.
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