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Equal opportunists? University's walk-on treatment varies

The life of Division I walk-on athletes certainly isn't the most glorious. Walk-ons, unlike scholarship players, are not an investment. The university is not paying for them to go to school, so there is little riding on the success or failure of a player when thousands of dollars are not at stake.

Whether or not this is fair, given that many walk-ons work just as hard or harder to get noticed, is up for debate. However, at FAU, the outlook on the life of athletes who pay their own way can vary widely.

"It's almost night and day," said former FAU safety Kris Bartels, who walked on to the football team out of Chaminade-Madonna High School in Hollywood. "If you go [to FAU] expecting to receive benefits, you're going to be disappointed."

Benefits, in this case, refer to the rock star treatment that usually comes having your way paid through college to perform in athletics. With that territory usually comes new equipment when requested and available, as well as tutoring and academic advising, just to name a few. Walk-ons aren't always so lucky.

Bartels is the epitome of a walk-on success story. As a backup to current NFL Pro Bowl linebacker Jon Beason of the Carolina Panthers in high school, he didn't see much playing time at Chaminade before coming to FAU.

"In high school, I didn't have an opportunity to get any game film," Bartels said.

For that reason, Bartels had a lesser chance if he wanted to continue playing football. A player without much experience at the high school level garners little expectations at the Division I level.

The walk-on status sometimes results in diminished respect, as well.

"There were times I may have asked for a pair of shorts, and maybe I had a response with an attitude," Bartels said. "But if a starter had asked, it might be a little different. You're kind of the do-boy."

It appears the "do-boy" role is standard for a walk-on in Division I athletics.

"I had to hit the books a bit harder and buy my gear at times," said Nick Pisasik, a former walk-on at the University of South Florida. "Hey, I made the team, so it was all worth it."

Bartels probably sees that extra effort as worthwhile, too. He exceeded expectations to earn a scholarship during his redshirt sophomore season before eventually receiving the team's defensive most valuable player award in his senior season in 2006.

Perhaps not being considered a valuable an asset to the team can help motivate walk-ons, and, realizing this, they rarely complain about their experiences.

"I would definitely say as a walk-on, there is some type of chip on your shoulder. For me, it was beneficial," Bartels said.

For others who came into FAU with higher expectations, the chip on the shoulder was not as large.

Former FAU defensive end Michael Hancock, a walk-on, experienced things differently than Bartels.

Hancock fell under a special category of walk-ons upon his arrival to FAU, coming to Boca Raton as a preferred walk-on.

"A preferred walk-on is the same thing as a scholarship player without the scholarship. I never had to go through a tryout," Hancock explained.

Unlike Bartels, Hancock didn't see much of a difference between himself and the players on scholarship at the time.

"I would say the difference is playing time. I don't feel like there is much of a difference other than that. The coaches treated me the same," Hancock said.

Perhaps his preferred walk-on label put him higher on the walk-on hierarchy. Hancock acknowledged that could be the case.

"I guess it depends where you are on the walk-on totem pole. The guys who just come [to try out] and don't go to camp might get a little less," Hancock said. "They might not get the fresh gloves or the nice cleats."

Hancock is a success story, and plays for the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League.

Perhaps the contrast between the experiences of Bartels and Hancock, coupled with successful careers, indicated that FAU presents an equal opportunity.

The treatment of walk-on athletes certainly isn't the same across the board, but the differences didn't seem to affect the performance on the field of either of the two.

It didn't affect them in the classroom either, as the fairest of treatment came in the area of academics.

"Everybody got the advising, the tutors, the labs and academic benefits," Hancock said.



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Equal opportunists? University's walk-on treatment varies