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Mason’s Athletic Director Speaks To Mason Students

Posted by garymcuesta on April 16, 2011

"Mason Athletics"

There are many misconceptions when it comes to athletics at any level.

There are stereotypes about student athletes that many echo. Athletes are stupid. They are spoiled. They aren’t really students. How could they be typical college students with a free ride? No worry of how to pay for classes, books or food. They have exceptions made for them. They can get out of classes early and sometimes don’t even have to go at all.

If anyone could have dispelled these stereotypes and rumors, it would be Tom O’Connor.

O’Conn0r has been George Mason University’s athletics director for the past 16 years. A native of Union City, New Jersey, O’Connor gradually made his way to George Mason. He was the athletics director at Loyola College from 1976 to 1986, Santa Clara University from 1986 to1992 and St. Bonaventure University from 1992 to 1994. O’Connor was also the head coach of Loyola and Dartmouth’s basketball teams.

When it would have been easy for a director to do “ra ra” speech about how great the athletics department is and how great its athletes are, O’Conner took a very different approach.

“I’m proud to be the athletics director at George Mason University.” says O’Connor. “That is what I say outside of Mason and at Mason.”

O’Connor is proud of all 22 sports teams that Mason has and does not speak harshly of any. If anything, there has never been a more inclusive tone set to a topic that could have turned into a one-sided conversation about one or two teams. But perhaps the most surprising part is what O’Connor feels is the most important aspect of athletic teams at Mason.

“We talk about quality and balancing the college experience, we rarely talk about winning.”

Wait. An athletics department that doesn’t put ninety percent of its energy in creating champions? One that feels it is more important to keep a balance where classes and GPAs should come first? It may seem to be the stuff of a perfect Utopian situation. But it is truly how the Mason Athletics Department operates according to O’Connor. “The front door of athletics should be academic.”

In what could be a world of win, win, win, the mantra is overwhelming have fun, fun, fun. “You have to have fun. In the departments of higher education, we are the toys department.”

O’Connor also instills what many may consider the more important ingredient for any sport at any level. There should always be fair and competitive play with the utmost respect for fellow athletes and coaches. “Our core value is sportsmanship, which can be violated by yelling at an official or testing for a substance for example. We do not accept this at Mason.” This also ties into the ideal situation of having a balance between playing fair at all times both on and off the field. “I rather have you as a coach or an administrator lose a game doing it the right way than win doing it wrong way.”

What does all of this have to do with how student athletes are treated an Mason? More than one might think. As it has been the entire time, the word of the day is “fair”.

“Yes, student athletes do receive certain privileges.” says O’Connor. “Their time-stamp for signing up for classes is a little earlier by maybe a week than non-student athletes. They have to manage their time differently because of practices and games. They need first priority. This also ties into them having to miss or leave classes early. They represent Mason. They have to perform.”

Are student athletes spoiled? Not in the traditional sense. Are student athletes given exceptions when it come to class attendance? Yes. Are these exceptions made out of care for the well being of the athletes? Absolutely. It is important to remember that when you take away the athlete, there is still a student there. One who wants to achieve in the classroom in order to achieve in life after college. They are like any other student.

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