After six successful years, Assoc. Prof. Paul Spagnoli (History), front, will give up his position as faculty representative to athletics to Carroll School of Management Associate Dean Robert Taggart. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
Keeping the Score on Student Athletes
Paul Spagnoli has played key role in BC Athletics' academic success
By Reid Oslin
For the past six years, Boston College Faculty Athletic Representative Assoc. Prof. Paul Spagnoli (History) has had a front row seat for some of the Eagles' greatest triumphs - both on and off the field.
"It has probably been the best period in Boston College athletic history," said Spagnoli, who will turn the faculty representative's duties over to Carroll School of Management Associate Dean Robert A. Taggart at the end of the academic year. "We have had some remarkable successes on the field, and also a really good record in the classroom as well."
Spagnoli easily recounts the athletic high points of his tenure: a national championship in men's ice hockey; Big East Conference titles in men's and women's basketball; six consecutive football bowl games; and a host of other league and regional titles and individual player honors.
"But we also had a Rhodes Scholar, Paul Taylor, who was a member of the BC fencing team," he added. "Paul was one of a half dozen NCAA post-graduate scholarship winners during my tenure. We have won the National College Football Coaches Association award for the highest football graduation rate and we have maintained consistently high graduation rates all through this period."
As faculty representative to athletics, one of Spagnoli's principal tasks is to sign off on NCAA eligibility forms for every BC student-athlete. He reviews teams' competition schedules each semester to ensure that they offer enough flexibility for student-athletes to effectively pursue their academic programs, and writes an annual report on schedules for the athletic director, academic vice president and Office of Learning Resources for Student-Athletes.
"It's a good way of getting some communication back and forth between the athletic community and the academic community. Athletics obviously is trying to schedule their competitions in ways that are best suited to the athletic program, and this is a useful way of reminding them that academic interests are also at stake here. I think both sides have become more sensitive to the interests of the other."
Director of Learning Resources for Student Athletes Ferna Phillips says Spagnoli was deeply committed to his job as faculty representative. "He has definitely been an advocate for the student-athletes. Paul always tried to understand the students' concerns as well as being understanding and empathetic to his faculty colleagues. [Being faculty representative] can sometimes be a daunting task, but he would always go the extra mile - sometimes two - to be at practices and competition. He would go to a volleyball match or fencing contest the same way he would go to a football game. He would be present and people would notice that. The students were always very thankful for him doing that.
"Paul was helpful to us, too," she said. "He always advocated for Learning Resources. We worked collaboratively on a lot of things to attempt to make everybody happy."
Spagnoli views his role as faculty rep as a buffer between the University's athletic and academic camps. "Certainly there is the potential for tension," he said. "Faculty members want the students to be in class and sometimes we resent it when students have to go away to participate in contests or national tournaments. They can be away a week at a time.
"The pressure is on the kids. It is very time-consuming to participate in intercollegiate athletics. The faculty obviously wants academics to be a priority. I think we do a pretty good job of combining the two. Our graduation rates alone are evidence of that.
"One of the things that I discovered when I got this job is that a significant portion of our student-athletes actually have very good grades," he said. "I think there are about 125 kids with cumulative GPAs of 3.5 or better. That's really something."
Spagnoli credits the academic success to a variety of sources. "Despite the fact that the school has gotten so competitive, the athletes that we take tend to be pretty good students," he said. "That signals that our coaches are recruiting kids who will fit in well at BC. Admissions is doing a good job in deciding which of the kids that the coaches would like to recruit would actually be able to make it at BC. And the Office of Learning Resources for Student-Athletes is doing an excellent job of assisting [the student-athletes.]
"In other words, a lot of people are doing a very good job here."
Spagnoli says he thinks the Eagles' move to the Atlantic Coast Conference, which becomes official on July 1, will yield extraordinary benefits, particularly from an academic point of view. "The ACC works very differently from the Big East. There's much more faculty involvement. Institutional votes on things like new TV contracts are cast by the faculty athletic reps. Obviously that position is worked out in consultation with the president and athletic director, but nevertheless, it is a faculty member who actually casts the vote.
"In the Big East," Spagnoli said, "faculties don't learn any of these things until we read it in the newspaper.
"It's been very interesting getting to know some of the ACC folks," he said. "For the last year, they have been including us in meetings, seeing the way they run the conference. I think this is gong to have an effect on the way the Big East is organized. Some of the people I have worked with over the past five or six years in the Big East have become very aware of the way in which the ACC works."
Spagnoli, an admitted lifelong sports fan, says he will miss the direct association with the world of athletics. "It's going to be interesting to see what I do with my life next year, because this has taken an immense amount of time," he laughs. "I'll certainly miss a lot of it. It's been fun working with my colleagues on the Athletic Advisory Board, and with my counterparts at other Big East institutions and now the ACC institutions. It's been great to know some of the student-athletes, too. They are really terrific people."