Well, according to our sources, the solution is simple: either find a way to game the system, or cheat your ass off.
For instance, there's what our football source (and many other student-athletes) did: something called "clustering," where students will intentionally take easier majors and pick out electives with the lightest workloads ... then make sure teammates all take the same classes. Then, "[we] find ways to divide the workload between us." Hey, at least they're learning teamwork.
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You can't pass Politicizing Beyonce without help from your Kellys and Michelles.
They can do this because, as he explains, "the NCAA only judges academics by GPAs and graduation rates." This doesn't make student-athlete life easy by any means -- the work still has to be done, after all, while balancing a sports schedule rivaling the length of a work week -- but it does make it far more manageable. And hey, if they learn a little something along the way about vampires, the history of boredom, or why Kanye West won't shut up, all the better.
But even then, you might find yourself cheating to get by. Among student-athletes, this happens a lot. Most famously, at the University Of North Carolina, officials spent 20 years enrolling barely literate jocks in easy "papered" classes, where work was either brutally easy, done by other people, or just nonexistent. Then there's the anonymous ex-coach who helped thousands of athletes pass online exams by straight-up giving them the answers, in the (vain) hope that some current coach would thank him for the warm bodies by offering him a job.
A field full of kids who could only answer one question correctly:
where they must go after winning the Super Bowl.
When these people get caught, there is plenty of finger-wagging about these corrupt individuals putting athletics over the education of young people. But both of our sources, while certainly not proud of it, have absolutely screwed with the system to keep their grades up -- they're in a system that rewards it. Our track runner recalls his freshman year, where one teacher doled out daily mandatory quizzes: "Inevitably, I missed a couple for competition. Usually, professors are understanding and let you take it earlier, but this one insisted that the quizzes could only be done in class. Towards the end of class, I realized that I might end up with a bad grade." And with that, came the cheating: "I went to a teammate that had taken the class the year before and ... [got] a copy of the final from him and used it as my study guide, since it doesn't change from year to year. I did extremely well on the final."