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Brains and Brawn

Academic All-Americans make the grade while breaking a sweat.

These dismal numbers come in spite of the NCAA minimum standards for student-athlete eligibility. They are, to be charitable, laughably low. Students are given six years to graduate from a four-year program. They must also maintain a C-minus average in six credit hours related to their major.

Never mind that many jocks are given answers to tests, are coddled by cowed professors and are allowed to major in such rigorous disciplines as Principles of Football Theory. Even such curb-high expectations can seem too much. Late last year, Clyde Surrell, a star safety for the CU Buffs football squad, was disallowed from playing in the Alamo Bowl because he couldn't hack the classroom stuff.

Earlier this month, Colorado State University announced that veteran linebacker Adam Wade had fallen so far behind in his credit hours that, even if he were to ace summer school, his transcript would come up short. "He didn't do what he had to do academically," coach Sonny Lubick noted dryly.

It's understood that extraordinary men can -- or could -- win at both sports and academics. Former Senator Bill Bradley was a Rhodes Scholar before he starred for the New York Knicks. Colorado's own Byron "Whizzer" White won All-American honors in football at CU and later, an appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. But for everyone else the implication is clear: College students can be great athletes, or they can be great scholars. They just can't be both.

Well, why not?

"It really wasn't all that hard," admits Preissing. "I just had to learn how to manage my time." While finishing his thesis, he took a laptop on the road with him, spending time before and after hockey games writing chapters and doing analysis. He also worked hard over spring break during his senior year to finish the paper.

"I suppose it was challenging," adds Dayton, who between October and February attended eight swimming practices a week, not including meets. "Between swimming and school and the military, I had to do a lot of planning ahead. But I've always believed you can learn to do well at anything."

Indeed, it was the opportunity -- not the burden -- that led Dayton to choose the Air Force Academy over a full-ride athletic scholarship to the University of Tennessee. "Getting to fly, a great education and the opportunity to serve my country -- it just all clicked for me my senior year in high school," he says.

Same with Preissing. When he applied to colleges, "I knew hockey would be a factor," says Preissing. After all, he had already played a year as a pro. But while both of the Minnesota native's parents supported his hockey, they were teachers, too. For Preissing, going to college meant the chance to play hockey. Yet the choice meant actually going to classes, as well.

In addition to CC, Preissing applied to the NCAA Division I hockey powerhouses: Minnesota, Denver, North Dakota. When he was accepted at Colorado, he didn't commit right away. "But I knew," he says. "Hockey was a factor. But I also wanted a good school; I didn't want to sacrifice my education just to play." According to the NCAA's most recent stats, 100 percent of CC's student athletes graduated.

Preissing chose economics as a major because he knew that, no matter how big a man he was on the rink, someday the applause would stop. "I wanted to study business, because that's what I figured I'd be doing eventually in life." Post-athletic realities are the reason that both he and Dayton say they intend to continue their studies in graduate school.

Getting signed by a professional hockey team last month was thrilling. "It's better than having a real job," Preissing points out. "But if I'm going to do anything in life, I'll need the extra course work."

Maybe so. But he's already miles ahead of most college athletes.

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