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Tech could help college athletes stay connected

Former St. John’s basketball coach Mike Jarvis has teamed up with VBrick Systems on a product aimed at helping athletes improve their academic performance.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Former St. John’s basketball coach Mike Jarvis has seen college athletes struggle to balance class work with a team’s schedule.

Now he’s offering a virtual solution to help those players succeed.

Jarvis has teamed up with VBrick Systems on a product aimed at helping athletes improve their academic performance by attending classes through a digital video system that can be played on computers, cell phones or iPods. A presentation on it is expected at this week’s Intercollegiate Athletic Forum in New York City.

“The first solution is improving attendance. You and I know that if you’re not there, it’s hard to do your job well,” Jarvis told The Associated Press. “The other part is retention...This gives youngsters the opportunity to repeat classes over and over.”

Company founder Rich Mavrogeanes said the system, which requires a brick-sized appliance in the classroom and a password to view over the Internet, could cost universities between $50,000 and $1 million depending on how extensively the school uses the system. Students could view the classes on demand.

Jarvis, who won more than 360 college basketball games at Boston University, George Washington and St. John’s, believes it will benefit athletes who must travel to games — particularly during the NCAA tournament in March when teams can spend the better part of three weeks on the road.

Players could view classes from airports, hotels and even on bus trips.

NCAA President Myles Brand has made academic reform his top priority since taking over in 2003, pushing for more stringent academic standards and better graduation rates.

Brand recently cited improving graduation rates among student-athletes, higher even than the general student population, as one of the greatest successes in college sports.

Jarvis believes the new product, called the Promise Campaign, could produce better results.
“I remember many times when youngsters would come to me saying ’I’d like to take this class but I can’t because it’s offered at the same time we practice or it’s on an evening when we play a lot of games,”’ Jarvis said. “That handicaps a kid.”

One concern is whether the NCAA would approve the program.

NCAA rules prohibit student-athletes from receiving extra benefits that are not generally available to other students. NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson said officials declined to comment on the proposal before it is made public this week because they did not yet have enough information.

Mavrogeanes said the product would be legal under NCAA rules as long as a school offered it to all its students.

Taking classes outside the classroom — what’s known as distance learning — has been growing in popularity in recent years. At least 2.3 million people took some kind of online course in 2004, according to a survey by The Sloan Consortium, an online education group, and two-thirds of colleges offering “face-to-face” courses also offer online ones.

Jarvis insisted that athletes still be required to attend class on campus when they were not traveling, practicing or injured.