March 7, 2012
Eric Rouse, Illinois
My personal experience with the Big Ten began long before I signed my letter of intent to the University of Illinois in 1975. My father, who was a Black College All-American Football player from Ohio, always talked about Ohio State and the opportunity he missed because he was drafted into World War II. We would watch many Big Ten contest together when televised.
When my college recruitment began, I knew I would attend a Big Ten school for several reasons: nationally recognized superior academic programs, proximity to Chicago, diversity, and a strong media presence. I chose Illinois because it was the right academic, athletic and social fit for me. My immediate goal was to be an educator and coach like my parents, aunts and uncles. I wanted to make a difference as an adult. Illinois provided that opportunity.
My existence at Illinois was a challenge from the start, and that memory is why I am so committed to the Advisory Commission. As an above-average high school student from a college prep school with exceptional test scores, the first semester class selections provided me were remedial. I believed the athletic department was only interested in my athletic ability and eligibility. My academic success was not considered. I was committed to graduating in four years with all the necessary credentials to be a certified teacher in Illinois. I decided to forego the athletic department for advisement and took control of my academic career within the College of ALS. I achieved my goal and graduated May 1979 within the four years. I pledged that if given the opportunity, I would work to ensure that the academic goals of black athletes would never get sidetracked.
Although there were many other challenges presented being a minority athlete on a Big Ten campus, I was able to successfully integrate the relationships and skills developed at University of Illinois to build a rewarding career. My experience at University of Illinois (negative and positive), coupled with my family values, have given me an invaluable platform for successful relationships privately and professionally.
The Advisory Commission is a forum to ensure that black athletes are given fair consideration academically and socially. Our mission to improve all areas of concern facing African-American student-athletes in academics and quality of life is a noble and reachable goal. Our current commission's mantra that "any positive change or improvement for the black male athlete will lead to an improved experience for all athletes" is the core reason why I am passionate about working with young student-athletes at the University of Illinois.
Since its formation in 1972, the commission has driven change for many student-athletes and impacted the conference positively through our programs: fifth-year student aid, financial aid rights for female athletes, improvements in academic standards and services, medical needs assessments (diabetes, sickle cell trait, hypertension, mental health, etc.), improved law enforcement communications, minority coach search, and diversity internship opportunities in Athletic Administration including the Big Ten sponsored C.D. Henry internship. These internships will help create a diverse administrative and leadership presence in the Big Ten and NCAA. Researchers have shown that, relative to their homogeneous counterparts, diverse groups and organizations convey a greater sense of inclusivity (Doherty & Chelladurai, 1999), greater creativity (Doherty & Chelladurai, 1999) and better decision making (Cunningham, 2008; Phillips, et al., 2004 ). The overall academic and social experience of African-American athletes is what sets the Big Ten apart from the other conferences. The Advisory Commission is still committed to the mission and I am committed to the process. There is still work to be done.