The paid student player

November 22, 1996

Craig Joiner expected to spend this year completing his chemical engineering degree at Heriot-Watt University. Instead he is 200 miles further south, as a part-timer studying at Loughborough.

He wasn't unhappy at Heriot-Watt. But as rugby union turned into a professional game, Joiner, capped 17 times on the wing for Scotland, received a lucrative offer from Leicester, the best-supported and one of the wealthiest clubs in Britain.

The past few months have been frustrating, with an injury ruling him out of Leicester's early games and Scotland's clash with Australia. But even in a period of forced inactivity, he has had a chance to assess the difference that professionalism makes.

He emphasises that matching sport with study always was demanding: "Last year my course was 25 to 26 hours a week. Fitting training and playing around that was never easy".

The academic transition has gone smoothly, and his part-time course demands his presence in lab, workshop or lecture hall for ten to 12 hours. And his pay as a top-flight professional means he is unlikely to appear in any survey of student poverty. But with those benefits come contractual obligations such as daily attendance at training.

When he was chosen for Scotland's tour of New Zealand last summer - Heriot-Watt was flexible about the timing of his examinations. But not going on tour was at least a theoretical option if study demands were too great. Now: "As a player with a contract with the Scottish Rugby Union, I have to tour if selected". This is not a complaint - he will be delighted if three consecutive Scotland tours are followed by selection for the British Lions in South Africa next summer - and there is no doubt that a sports-conscious university like Loughborough would take a flexible attitude. Other players may not find institutions as accommodating.

As a top Scottish player his club and union contracts are supplemented by a commitment to his district team. "The Scottish Exiles are considering introducing regular Wednesday training sessions at Murrayfield - that will mean missing lectures".

He thinks it possible that some future players will opt to miss university. "With rugby becoming a career, some people may take five to six years to complete their courses. I can imagine some saying they don't want to spend so long".

But he would still advise young players to go to college - and adds that the Leicester club take a similar view. "As they say you can't play rugby forever - and what are you going to do afterwards?"

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