The following story originally appeared in the spring 2014 issue of the William & Mary Alumni Magazine. - Ed.
A lot of what goes on to make athletes successful takes place off the field.
Enter Jason Simms.
Simms, William & Mary’s assistant athletic director for academic services, has helped student-athletes behind the scenes with everything from setting class schedules and mandatory study hours to tutoring and providing an extended orientation program to ensure Tribe athletes achieve success where it counts the most — in the classroom.
In the seven years Simms has worked at the College, Tribe players he has counseled have gone on to pursue advanced degrees in medicine, business and law.
“That’s the most gratifying part of my job,” he said. “I really get to see young men and women grow and mature from scared freshmen.”
His position is critical for the Tribe athletic program. Simms has a lot to do with helping students balance academics and athletics. He credits the support of private donors for empowering his office to best assist hundreds of student-athletes so that they shine academically.
“Because of private donations to the College, we have been able to offer more opportunities for students to take classes over the summer in order to lighten their load and prevent academic distress,” he said.
Regular academic scholarships for athletes cover only fall and spring semesters. Private donations help with summer school, as well as stipends and tuition for graduate assistants in Simms’ office.
William & Mary has been lauded by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) for the academic standards of its teams in an era when teams and athletes are under scrutiny by the NCAA. In July, six Tribe teams — the most among full members of the Colonial Athletic Association — were recipients of the NCAA’s Public Recognition award.
“I’m a one-man operation for 500 athletes,” Simms said, noting that other universities with a similar number of athletes have three or four advisers on the payroll. “We still offer the same services the big schools offer, but we do it with less.”
To help freshmen athletes adjust, orientation is a semester-long program with a focus on support services. Weekly workshops are required.
Simms was drawn to education because both his parents worked as teachers in Loudoun County, Va. He was a standout in basketball and baseball in college and initially wanted to be a high school counselor and coach. But Simms developed a passion for higher education and worked at Maryland’s Salisbury University in admissions and athletics.
In 2000, the NCAA increased pressure on athletic departments to improve graduation rates for student-athletes, especially African-American males. “I thought my background matched up well with this push,” Simms said. He joined the National Association of Academic Advisors for Athletics and volunteered as an academic support coach.
“The College of William & Mary attracted me because of the academic commitment that I know the athletes would have to have at a place like this,” he said. “They are not only trying to play at the highest level, but I know the kids who end up coming here are committed and prepared.”
While many student-athletes are naturally overachievers and want to challenge themselves academically, “that doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot of anxiety in wanting to do well,” he said.
“The No. 1 thing I want to do in that first semester is to build their confidence. We want to set them up for success and not burn any dreams.”