NCAA Study: College Athletes Want More Time for Friends, Self and Visiting Family

New study shows majority of college-athletes spend more time each week on their college sport than a full-time job.

According to a recent study by National Collegiate Athletic Association—GOALS (Growth, Opportunities, Aspirations and Learning of Students in College) student-athletes report spending more hours each week on their sport than reported in previous studies—in-season and off-season. College athletes who responded to the survey (total = 21,000) also report they’d like to have more down time; time to spend visiting family (76% to 56%) and socializing with friends (72% to 58%). High on athletes’ list, more so on female-athletes than males, was wanting more time to relax on their own—75% and 63% respectively (2015 GOALS Study, slides #46, 50, 16 and 51).

TimemagementAverage Hours Spent Each Week on Their Sport—37 to 52
All this not surprising given the hours college-athletes invest in their sport along with time needed for academics and necessities like eating and sleeping. The average time college-athletes spend on athletic activities (practice, conditioning and competition) according to GOAL’s 2015 results, range between 27 and 42 hours per week, depending on the sport and division (slide #32). But these hours don’t include non-athletic activities such as meetings with coaches, team functions, film-study, travel, etc.  If we add another 10 hours per week for non-athletic but team-related activities, then college-athletes are spending between 37 and 52 hours per week on their sport. NCAA omitted the total hours spent on ‘non-athletic activities’ in its summary report.

Concerns about Accuracy of GOALS Survey
The GOALS study, administered in 2015, 2010 and 2006 to athletes of Division I, II and III sports, is NCAA’s effort to measure student-athletes perceptions of academic and athletic experiences, and behaviors related to health and well-being. The 2015 survey consists of 92 multiple-choice and 2 free-response questions.  The questions, categorized into nine sections, include ‘time commitments’, ‘college social experience’, ‘health and well-being’, among others.

After studying the student-athlete questionnaire closely, the wording of several questions is misleading and some questions seem designed to curtail or channel student responses. It  appears, in some instances, designed to avoid gathering data. For example, the final two, open-ended questions where students can respond freely:

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Screenshot of the two last questions on the 2015 NCAA questionnaire that student-athletes responded to.

The wording in question #94 forces the student to respond with only ‘one thing‘ that is negatively associated with his or her sport, yet the wording for question #93, where students expand on the positives, is worded such that more than one thing can be included. A subtle but powerful effect. Question #94 in keeping with wording for question #93, should have read “What has been the worst part of your student-athlete experience so far?”

Another example is question #15:

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Notice the wording of “has athletics prevented you from majoring in what you really want”. Is adding the the word ‘really’ necessary? Subtle wording differences like those used in this question can produce great differences in results (

Rather than a providing a simple response of ‘yes’ or ‘no‘, the response choices associated with ‘yes’ are encumbered with the word ‘regret’. Regret is a strong word meaning disappointment, sadness or repentance. Most college students won’t admit disappointment with their choice of major, mainly because any regrets will happen after graduation when they are in the real world, looking for a job. Case in point, a Pew Research study of college graduates ranked their ‘regrets’; things they could have done in hindsight to better prepare for careers while in college, 29% selected ‘choosing a different major’ (Pew Research Center, 2014, pg. 10). Regrets come later, not during.

Bottom Line: What the Results Mean for Parents and Student-Athletes
Because of the voluntary nature this study (non-random) and the small sample size, only 21,000 athletes completed surveys out of 450,000 total NCAA athletes, (.05%), it’s not  statistically accurate, meaning the results can’t be generalized to all NCAA athletes. But it does provide useful insight about athletes perceptions about their academics, sports and  health and well-being. It’s helpful for parents, students, coaches, NCAA policymakers and decisions-makers within college institutions. Also useful is looking at trends in athletes’ perceptions and behavior over time—in analysis of results from 2006, 2010 and 2015.

The purpose of this post is to raise awareness among the student-athletes and their parents about common concerns of student-athletes, the challenges they face (time commitments, off-season workouts, etc.) that typically are under the control of the coaches and schools, even though governed by NCAA guidelines.  The article focuses on the time commitment of student-athletes in order that athletes can see they are not alone in concerns they may have. Even though there are rules in place about time devoted to ‘athletic activities’ (non-athletic activities are not included), the schools and coaches don’t follow the rules and the NCAA, other than handing out a few penalties here and there, haven’t done much to protect the athletes.

During the season, college athletes aren’t permitted to devote more than 20 hours a week to competition or official practices and workouts. Yet the average number of hours spent in season on athletic activities, according to NCAA surveys, far outnumbers that limit for every sport…A handful of programs have been penalized by the NCAA in recent years for conducting countable “athletically related activities” out of season — “What Off-Season” by Jake New, Inside Higher Ed

What to do? Students need to take a stand, to vocalize issues with violations and bending of the rules at their expense, and feel confident doing so. After all they want and need more time for friends, relaxing and most importantly (for parents anyway), visiting their family.

In the two following posts I’ll tackle two other sections of the report—’Academics’ and ‘Health and Well-being’.

Further Reading


5 Reasons Why Parents Need to See the Movie ‘Concussion’

If you’re a parent of a child who wants to play football [soccer, ice hockey & other contact sports] and you avoid the movie “Concussion” the way the NFL wants you to avoid it, then you’re avoiding reality” — The Chicago Tribune

la-et-mn-concussion-movie-nfl-20150903Kids that play contact sports are at risk for concussions and CTE, a degenerative  brain disease caused by hits, even mild blows, to the head. Which is why I suggest that all parents of athletes and kids over 12 years old who play contact sports—not just football but hockey, soccer, rugby, basketball or any other contact sport see the movie Concussion.

It’s based on the true story of Dr. Bennett Omalu, who discovered by studying deceased football players’ brains, that the brain is damaged by repetitive strikes to the head which leads to severe symptoms that can show up later in life. Symptoms that include headaches, memory loss, behaviour changes such as aggression, depression, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts. In younger people CTE begins with behavior and mood changes; in older people it begins with cognitive problems that progress and lead to dementia. Real life examples are Mike Webster, Pittsburg Steeler who died a tragic death at age 50 and Chicago Bears Dave Duerson who commit suicide in 2011. Both had CTE.

While concussion symptoms are immediate, CTE symptoms aren’t. CTE symptoms typically appear years after exposure to repetitive head trauma which makes it almost a hidden disease. Essentially the brain does not have the protection it needs to take repetitive, even mild blows to the head as experienced by heading a soccer ball, or through contact in football during tackling, or hockey during checking or collisions on the ice—all these incidents places our kids at risk. The movie does an excellent job of explaining what CTE is, how it happens and how Dr. Omalu was threatened and ‘strongly encouraged’ to suppress his findings by the NFL. Best described in the following 45-second clip below where Dr. Omalu’s (Will Smith) boss, Dr. Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks) explains why:

If you’re not yet convinced you should see the movie, below are five (really good) reasons:

1. Protect your Kids… by learning how head trauma can affect your child’s brain over time. There are several scenes in the movie where Will Smith explains what happens to the brain when there are repeated strikes to the head—Dr Omula shakes an egg inside a glass jar, mimicking how the brain moves around inside the skull. Given there’s no shock absorber in the skull, with repeated trauma it can lead to progressive degeneration of brain tissue, putting the athlete at risk for CTE.

2. Be informed…Know the risks so you can assess and make decisions about the kind of sports programs you want your kids to be part of.

3. Learn why the NFL, NCAA, FIFA and other sports associations are concerned about “Concussion”…For several reasons, mainly the culpability; there is a level of responsibility—blame that can be placed. Many failed to provide adequate warning and protection for players, whether through concealing the risks (NFL), or by not implementing adequate safety guidelines (NCAA). There are numerous class action lawsuits past and current: the NFL was ordered to pay $900 million to over 5000 retired players given they concealed the dangers of head trauma, NCAA for inadequate protective measures for athletes diagnosed with concussions, and in youth sports where a group of soccer parents brought a class action lawsuit against FIFA, U.S. Soccer and AYSO for failing to protect players with concussions. There will likely be more to come.

4. Educate your kids…Kids need to know the risks. If they are old enough, have them watch the movie, if they aren’t use an example of the egg in the jar to explain what happens to their brain. There are other resources parents can use to educate kids including this 5-minute YouTube video “Concussions 101, a Primer for Kids and Parents”.  There’s also role models, for instance Chris Borland of San Fransisco 49ers and one of NFL’s top rookies, quit the NFL at age 24 because of concerns about long-term risk of head trauma.

5. It’s a damn good movie.

When I watched Concussion it stirred an array of emotions—sadness, disgust, empathy, and hope. Hope, because at the end of the movie there’s a sense of triumph knowing that Dr. Omalu succeeded in raising awareness about the risks and effects of head trauma, not just among the medical community but to one of the most powerful and influential sports entities in North America—the NFL. Parents—you gotta see the movie and bring your (12+ age) kids.

To Learn More:



The Good, Bad and Ugly in ‘The System’ of College Football

The System, Book review

“The System”, Publisher: Penguin Random House

“I don’t think I will be able to watch a game now without thinking about the scope and amount of physical carnage that’s required for college football to succeed at the level it does.” —
Jeff Benedict, co-author of “The System”

“If I had one absolute revelation [after writing the book], it was how the weight of these $100 million programs is on the backs of these kids and the pressure they are under every week to perform.”  — Armen Keyeyrian, co-author of “The System”

“The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football” is a page turner. I couldn’t put it down, yet I hate football.  “The System” delves into the good, bad and ugly of college football— except it’s short on good. Armen Keteyian, lead correspondent of CBS’ 60 minutes sports program and co-author of the book, describes his goal in writing the book with co-author Jeff Benedict, which was “to pull back the curtain” on an ever-consuming entity—college football (Araton, 2013).  Indeed, when getting a glimpse behind the curtain, it’s not pretty.

If you read “The System” and are a college football fan you’ll never view football the same way again, and if you’re not a fan like me, you’re guaranteed never to become one.  Though on the other hand, I did gain an appreciation for the sport, specifically the amount of work and dedication invested by many honest and dedicated individuals —coaches, athletic directors, administrators, and athletes. Also, before reading the book I viewed the student-athletes as the victims of a system that puts sports before academics, that carry the weight of a multi-million dollar industry on their backs.  Yet there appears to be a hierarchy of victims in this system of college football; at the bottom of the hierarchy is a group of individuals—usually young women, though young men and children are not excluded, that are recipients of college-athletes or coaches, unlawful behaviour of sexual misconduct, abuse, assault and even robbery. Behaviours that are ignored, covered-up or dismissed in an effort to protect the power-wielding, money-generating entity of college football.

Summary of Book
Each chapter of “The System” describes a different aspect of college football; shares the intricate and often disturbing methods that make college football the money generating behemoth it is. Highlights of the book:

  • Recruiting athletes; it’s not about the academics, but the size of the facilities, the promise of NFL exposure and the ‘public relations’ efforts of the recruiting hostesses (pp 21 – 38)
  • Mega-money generated by college football; millions in revenue from television networks, corporate sponsors, ticket sales, branded merchandise, alumni donations—yet the majority of schools’ programs lose money every year. According to NCAA figures, just 22 programs out of 120 schools with football programs turned a profit in 2011. The average debt of the  schools’ in the red was $11 million each (p 44)
  • Boosters; how they support athletes, the programs and schools (pp 146 – 161 and pp 55 – 57)
  • Investigators; NCAA’s efforts to police the schools (pp 196 – 214)
  • Coaches; how they are recruited and how they recruit and manage their teams (pp 295 – 304)
  • Tutors; the academic support system that uses tutors, usually female students to keep athletes in the game (pp 162 -182)

Closing thoughts
An eye-opening read for football fans, coaches, parents of athletes seeking football scholarships, and anyone interested in finding out what goes on behind the curtain of college football.  “The System” is well-written, thoroughly researched—though there were times I struggled to keep track of the names of the players and key actors. Overall, an important book that sheds light on college football’s triumph and successes, yet reveals the stark reality that there’s more scandal than glory, and far more losers than winners.

Further Reading: