The Role of Student Affairs in Educating College Athletes

I’m not sure why I’m making my first foray into blogging on a topic that I admittedly have very limited knowledge of, but after attending class on Wednesday night (SUNY Albany EAPS 649 – “Administration of Athletics in Higher Education”), I realized just how truly uneducated I am about collegiate athletics and the intricacies of their management, leadership, and role on campus and in the local community.

As a student affairs administrator working at a Division I institution (yes, my little Siena has 18D-I teams), I have never really given much thought to the concept of athletes being an “at-risk” student population.  However, this is a group of students that can benefit greatly from our roles as student development professionals.  This mirrors current NCAA Director Mark Emmert’s recent statements regarding cheating and other proposed changes.[1]  Emmert proposes a series of what some might consider “basic” adjustments and changes to NCAA policies, but, if implemented these changes have the potential to create many new opportunities for our role as student affairs professionals.  Some of the reforms Emmert and the NCAA are (or will be) proposing include:

  • Academic Performance:Changes have been instituted requiring higher academic standards in order for student-athletes to play in NCAA championships.  A proposal for higher academic standards for freshman admission at 4-year and community colleges is also forthcoming from the NCAA.  As student affairs professionals, this is a great opportunity for us to focus programming around academic success to student athletes.  With higher standards seemingly on the horizon, academic advising offices, academic peer mentors, and writing and tutoring centers should be among the first resources reaching out to players and coaches, highlighting these services.  Often times, athletic offices have their own academic support services staff, but this shouldn’t mean we simply wash our hands of our obligation to educate our student-athletes.  With many of the largest D-1 programs struggling with their retention and graduation rates of student-athletes (see below for information on football graduation rates) now is the time to engage in outreach to our colleagues in Athletics to offer support for programming, advising, tutoring, and skill development essential to academic success.
  • As a disclaimer: I chose stats relating to football graduation rates, as it is usually football that is the “powerhouse” sport for an institution (in terms of budget, media exposure, and attendance) and given the recent news regarding NCAA violations among football teams, felt it was the most time-relevant issue.
Selected Institution Graduation Rates for Student-Athletes (Football)[2]
Duke 96%
Notre Dame 96%
Navy 93%
Northwestern 92%
Boston College 91%
Georgia Tech 49%
Texas 49%
Florida International 47%
Oklahoma 45%

Arizona

41%
  • The stats above include some of the best and worst graduation rates, with all remaining schools falling somewhere in between.  The average graduation rate in 2010 was 66% for football athletes.  In another interesting twist, the disparity between graduation rates of African-American and Caucasian football players at certain institutions is extremely alarming.  While I don’t have any immediate thoughts on how to bridge this significant gap, the numbers below for 2010 demonstrate an alarming trend, that also warrants attention from student affairs in terms of how are we supporting our minority student athletes.

Grad Rates for African American Football Players: Selected Schools[3]

African American

Caucasian

Difference

North Carolina St.

43%

94%

-51%

Auburn

48%

94%

-46%

Arkansas

40%

78%

-38%

UCLA

31%

68%

-37%

Georgia

48%

83%

-35%

Miami

65%

100%

-35%

Mississippi

60%

94%

-34%

Utah

48%

82%

-34%

Texas

37%

69%

-32%

Georgia Tech

41%

73%

-32%

Oregon

39%

70%

-31%

  • Simplification of NCAA Rule and Procedures: The current NCAA Compliance manual for Division I institutions is 439 pages long.  For Division III schools it is “shortened” to 324 pages.[4]  The focus on certain rules as “unenforceable” is an area where the Director is looking to make changes and focus on real problems, such as boosters, academic performance, and eligibility requirements.  I would be interested to see how many student affairs professionals have read parts of the NCAA compliance code.  Examining this issue from a student affairs perspective, I was immediately drawn to student conduct codes, which are full of appendices, exceptions, and provisions for almost every situation imaginable.  As our codes and policies have expanded to include new issues each year, I wonder if we will reach a point where rewriting and shortening our policies will become necessary.  Thoughts from colleagues are welcome on this.
  • Cost of Attendance Awards: Current NCAA scholarships traditionally cover only tuition, room, and board.  Books, student fees, and other living expenses normally covered as part of the term “Cost of Attendance” are not included in NCAA scholarships and aid.  This proposed change to allow these expenses to be included in scholarships could, and I stress the word could, help alleviate the problems that some schools are having with boosters giving money directly to student athletes (a current NCAA code violation that has been the subject of recent news articles involving Ohio State and the University of Miami).  As student affairs professionals, how can we assist athletes in making money to help cover their day-to-day expenses?  I know that my own personal bias has shown through in this regard as I’ve always felt athletes are “too busy” to be able to work in my department so have never bothered to recruit them for open positions.  In looking at this issue in another light, I would argue that student-athletes are exactly the type of people we’d want working in our offices (if they choose to).  Student-athletes tend to have better than average time-management skills due to their busy schedules juggling classes, practices, games, and their own social and personal lives.  They are often times excellent ambassadors for the institution and possess a great deal of knowledge about the institution.  Utilizing them in roles where they may interact with students, families, and alumni could be a new opportunity to engage student-athletes and other constituent groups on our campuses.
  • Personal Responsibility: This catch-phrase is occurring with increasing frequency regarding NCAA policies and procedures.  As student affairs professionals, this concept is not new to us, but at times, working with athletics on this issue can be tricky.  Working with our Athletic Department, we have instituted a 3rd Party Notification process where the Head Coach and Athletic Director receive notice that athletes have gone through the conduct process once they complete the required hearing(s).  This sharing of information has helped us facilitate conversations with coaches where our Dean of Students now speaks to every athletic team in the first two weeks of each semester to open dialogues about personal responsibility and the impact actions can have not only for the student, but also on the community and team as a whole.  Coaches are also taking responsibility and going over the student code of conduct with their students in practices and trainings to ensure that student-athletes are aware of policies and the consequences, both through Student Affairs and through the NCAA, where applicable.  How else have others partnered with Athletics to promote personal responsibility?

In all of these areas student affairs professionals have a unique ability to continue our role as educators on a population that is often among our busiest and most stressed student groups.  How have you supported student athletes in your role?  How have you not supported student athletes in the past?  When was the last time you spoke to a coach or administrator from the athletics department when you have had concerns about a particular student athlete?  The athletics department is often viewed as an entirely separate entity, at times an image that is intentionally created, but not always.  I would argue that coaches and administrators in athletics may be the first people to notice changes that a student is presenting, and could be an excellent resource to bring this information forward so we can help identify additional campus resources to help our student athletes.

By no means do I profess to be an expert on athletics or even my own areas of interest in student affairs.  I do, however, recognize that student-athletes are a group that, at times, have fallen under the radar of student affairs administrators.  The developmental challenges facing student-athletes are just as prevalent (and in terms of academic performance, arguably more so) as those of other students on our campuses.  How we continue to develop relationships with the Athletics Department on our respective campuses is something that I am looking forward to exploring through comments on this particular blog entry as well as through continuing in EAPS 649 this semester.


[1] Emmert, M. (2011, September 1). Cheating will not be tolerated. Retrieved from http://www.ncaa.org/wps/wcm/connect/public/ncaa/resources/latest+news/2011/august/emmert+cheating+will+not+be+tolerated

[2] Rutter, J., Eubanks, M., and Novinson, D. (2011, April 22). The Bootleg’s 2010 graduation rate analysis. Retrieved from http://stanford.scout.com/2/952555.html

[3] Rutter, J., Eubanks, M., and Novinson, D. (2011, April 22). The Bootleg’s 2010 graduation rate analysis. Retrieved from http://stanford.scout.com/2/952555.html

[4] NCAA Academic and Membership Affairs Staff.  (2010). 2010-2011 NCAA division III manual. Indianapolis: NCAA. Retrieved from http://www.ncaapublications.com/productdownloads/D311.pdf

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