07/18/2014 04:34 pm ET Updated Sep 17, 2014

Academics vs. Athletics: It's Not a Choice

David was a basketball star. He led his team with a 58.0 three-point percentage during conference contests and averaged 3.0 assists during league games. He was also a business major with a cumulative 3.8 GPA who made the Academic All-Conference Team. Now he's pursuing his MBA.

Was David ever going pro? No. Were the skills he learned on the court just as valuable to his life as those he learned in his academic pursuits? Absolutely.

In the intensity of the game, successful student-athletes understand how to rally the team, channel adrenaline and rebound from disappointment. They understand the importance of paying attention to their instincts and using their experience to anticipate outcomes so they're in the right place at the right time -- the kinds of skills we also attribute to successful professionals.

In fact, one of our business professors at Stetson University says he welcomes athletes in his classroom because of the self-discipline they bring.

Why then -- if academics and athletics are so complementary -- do we feel a need to put them in opposition to each other? Why must we -- as a society and as institutions of higher education -- complicate matters to the point we lose sight of our students and the true value of participating in sports? It's a question I've often pondered as president of an NCAA Division I university, and one who has recently chaired the president's council of our athletic conference.

Is a soccer team really that different from the mock trial team?

Or a concert choir, theater troupe or even an intensive collaborative research project? All participants must invest countless hours together to be successful, and their success reflects well on the team as well as the school.

College is about exploring a variety of interests, getting involved and zeroing in on our greatest passions. If we want a society of well-rounded citizens who are involved in their work and communities, it starts while they are students actively engaged in their academic work AND beyond.

Coming from various backgrounds, student-athletes must see their way through any differences and work together as a team. They must carve out the time and put in the work to achieve the desired results. And because they recognize the value of fans in the stands, they are usually at the ready when it comes to volunteering or showing up to support other organizations -- on campus or in life.

The lessons learned through sports also help student-athletes develop habits that will strengthen their work-life balance in adulthood -- and perhaps as they lead companies that give employees time off for paternity leave, support working mothers or encourage service to their communities.

Athletics has a place in our students' lives for the lifelong value it can bring. It should not be overinflated on a college campus any more than it should be sidelined. Universities don't do students any favors when we only look at them as athletes. Neither do we do our students any favors when we fail to support their non-academic interests.

A friend of mine has a daughter who plays two high school sports and worked hard to maintain an A average in an International Baccalaureate program heading into her sophomore year. She is also heavily involved in music, which she will likely pursue as a career. Athletics taught her early on about managing her time and well-being, standing up for what's right, the importance of action, and doing her part to get her team to the goal.

She balances her interests with the support of her teachers, coaches and family. With the same support, maybe she will continue playing at the intercollegiate level. Why not? While music feeds her spirit, and academics are core to her future, it is her participation in athletics that keeps her grounded and connected.