BYU Student Athletes Prefer Open-Enrollment Majors

David MortimerContributor IIJanuary 19, 2010

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 05:  (L-R) Romney Fuga #98, Vic So'oto #37 and Manase Tonga #11 of the Brigham Young Cougars celebrate a 14-13 win against the Oklahoma Sooners at Cowboys Stadium on September 5, 2009 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Selecting a major is a necessary part of college life. For student-athletes, however, the decision can be much more pressure-packed.


With a number of NCAA eligibility standards hanging over their heads, choosing a major may be affected by a number of different factors.


According to data provided by Brigham Young University’s Student Athlete Academic Center (SAAC), one significant factor in major choice among BYU student-athletes may be the openness of a particular major.


The data shows 54 percent of BYU’s 618 student-athletes are in majors with open enrollment. Only 25 percent are in limited-enrollment majors, and 21 percent have yet to declare.


So how do Cougars pick their major? The SAAC can play a significant role.


The SAAC, located on the third floor of the Student Athlete Building, is available to all student-athletes. Five academic advisors, a sports psychologist, and a sizable student staff work with players to register for classes, select a major, and monitor eligibility.


“The main focus of the Student Athlete Academic Center is to help student-athletes graduate on time,” says the SAAC’s page on


Graduating on time and maintaining eligibility both require the selection of a major. NCAA bylaws, available on , state student-athletes must select a major “by the beginning of the third year or fifth semester of enrollment." As such, the 126 Cougars who have not declared are all freshmen and sophomores.


As director of the SAAC since August 2002, E.J. Caffaro has the task of fulfilling the SAAC’s purposes. This is especially true for football and men’s basketball players, for whom Caffaro is an advisor.


Caffaro estimates that 70 to 80 percent of incoming student-athletes don’t select a major before beginning school. Even when a Cougar makes up his or her mind, the major they want most may not be feasible. Scheduling conflicts or inability to sacrifice practice time for specific pre-requisite classes often eliminate limited-enrollment majors as an option.


“Because BYU has a large number of limited enrollment programs, many students have to go to a second or third choice,” Caffaro said.


Of the 150 Cougars in limited-enrollment programs, 78 are in pre-major programs with no guarantee of admission, and may need to change plans eventually.


Brandon Bradley, defensive back for BYU football, is now one of five Cougars majoring in global studies, part of the geography department, but it wasn’t his first choice.


“I originally wanted to major in international development, but they only have it as a minor,” Bradley said. “Geography complemented the majors I wanted a lot better than most of the other majors. I’m a big fan of learning about other countries…so that’s the route I decided to take.”


While the number of Cougars in limited-enrollment programs is relatively small, those who do get in generally perform well, such as linebacker Matt Bauman.


Bauman recently received national recognition for his academic success. The National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame selected Bauman as one of 16 members of its National Scholar-Athlete Class of 2009.


With a 3.91 GPA, Bauman joined such household names as Texas quarterback Colt McCoy and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow on the list.


ESPN The Magazine also named Bauman an Academic All-American alongside defensive back Scott Johnson.


Bauman did not pick his major right away, but eventually made it into the Marriott School of Management and is majoring in finance.


“I like numbers,” Bauman said. “I like quantitative types of thinking. I like business as well and so it is kind of a natural fit. I think finance is a good foundation for overall general business. I want to build the foundation for my career.”


Eight other Cougars are majoring in finance, including two of Bauman’s teammates: defensive lineman Brett Denney and tight end Andrew George.


Among BYU’s colleges and schools with open enrollment majors, the College of Life Sciences boasts the most student-athletes with 155, roughly a quarter of all Cougars. Exercise Science is the college's most popular major, with 64 student-athletes on their way to that specific degree.


Many schools offer majors in interdisciplinary studies for students who either can’t find a major they enjoy or want an easy path to graduation. BYU does not offer such a major, though Caffaro said he has inquired about creating such a program in the past.


“The administration’s attitude is that whoever has that diploma in their hands from BYU, it had better mean something,” Caffaro said.


If BYU did create a major in interdisciplinary studies, how many athletes would enter it?


“Not more than five to 10 percent,” Caffaro said, adding that the importance of meaningful education is a core value instilled in many BYU athletes throughout their lives.