Going Pro: A Long Shot

CSU against San Diego State. Image credit: collegian.com

CSU against San Diego State. Image credit: collegian.com

I had a discussion recently with Jim, vice-president of marketing for a successful private company about his experience with hiring college students who’d recently graduated. Our discussion confirmed my long-held belief that college-athletes for the most part, are less likely to find a satisfying career after college than those that don’t play a NCAA sport.

Jim shared the story of one of his recent hires, a college-athlete—Sean, who attended a prestigious university playing for the school’s ice hockey team on a scholarship. Jim described how Sean, hired as an account manager, appeared confident and personable, yet spoke frequently about how he ‘almost made it to the NHL’. Sean seemed haunted by ‘just missing’ his chance at the pros. “Sean had lots of potential, but seemed to be holding back—almost as if the job was beneath him” is how Jim described it.

Results from a recent NCAA supports shows that Sean’s aspiration of making it to the pros (or Olympics) is an assumption held by many college-athletes from all sports—case in point as many as 78% of Division I male college-athletes playing hockey think it’s at least somewhat likely they’ll become a professional and/or Olympic athlete in their sport, as do 53% of soccer players, and 24% swimmers (NCAA, slide #92). Even with the median falling around 50%, that’s a significant number of athletes thinking that they’ll be going pro after college. Female athletes don’t have as high expectations (NCAA, slide #94).

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NCAA Research (2016), Slide #91

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NCAA Research (2016), Slide #94

Huge Discrepancy Between College-Athletes Expectations and Reality
Yet not surprising, the chances of going pro or making the Olympics is incredibly small; for the majority of sports it’s around 1.0% or less (NCAA Research, 2015). The discrepancy between what college-athletes think is likely to happen, going pro or getting to the Olympics, and what will happen is significant. Distressingly so. The concern is how this mindset of these athletes affects the choices they make in college, and the plans and expectations they have for the future—after graduation.

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NCAA Research “Estimated probability of competing in professional athletics” (2015)

Negative Impact on College-Athletes Mindset During College Years
The goal of higher education is to prepare students for adult life that includes not only having the critical thinking skills to engage fully in civic, family and community life, but the experiences that will guide them to a path that leads to a fulfilling and satisfying career. College is the foundation for providing these opportunities, yet the schedule of college-athletes leaves little time for athletes to engage in clubs, participate in on and off-campus events, mix with different groups, or explore different academic paths. Their schedule is tight, thinking narrowed because of it. Their sport is the single focus for most athletes. The lack of breadth in school experiences is likely why many student-athletes think of little else but going pro.

Fortunately not all college-athletes think this way. The NCAA research reveals that Division I and II male athletes are more likely to think of going pro, while female athletes and Division III athletes have for more realistic expectations (NCAA research, slide #93).

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NCAA Research (2016), Slide #93

Means to and End
There are benefits to being a student-athlete, being able to attend a college one might not have been able to attend without one’s sport for instance, but it’s a means to an end, where the end is an education that sets college-athletes up for life; not for going pro.

Further Reading

References

 

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 (qualtrics.com).

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

 

Book Review of “Cheated: The UNC Scandal, the Education of Athletes, and the Future of Big-Time College Sports”

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“Cheated: The UNC Scandal, the Education of Athletes, and the Future of Big-Time College Sports” Jay M. Smith and Mary Willingham. Potomoc Books.

‘Cheated’— an apt title. By the end of the book the reader is exposed to how college athletes are cheated out of an education, and how faculty and staff cheat by covering-up, bending the rules, and participating in academic fraud to usher athletes (mostly football and basketball players) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) through the system with paper classes, passing grades for poor or non-existent work, and elaborate systems of course and schedule manipulation to keep athletes playing to win. Written by Jay Smith, professor of history at UNC, and former academic advisor Mary Willingham, both who exposed the academic deception and fraud at UNC. Both authors received the Robert Maynard Hutchins Award for integrity in the face of college sport corruption.

The book is eye opening, discouraging, and distressing. It describes how gifted athletes, typically football players, arrive on campus severely under-prepared academically, lacking the basic skills needed for college-level course work. The school, in this instance UNC, perpetuates the problem by steering athletes to easy majors, creating paper classes (which typically requires only a paper to be turned in at the end of the semester in order for the student to receive credit), providing tutors that help students navigate the system to get through by completing as little school work as possible, and other complex arrangements within departments where faculty and administrators are more concerned about ‘winning’ than athletes’ education.

You may have read about this story; it received significant media attention when Willingham, an  academic advisor at UNC (she has since left UNC), brought the situation to light. When the book was published in March of 2015 there was much backlash from numerous stakeholders, including UNC administrators and faculty, alumni, booster clubs and fans. Backlash was directed at the book itself, the ‘allegations’ (though validated as accurate by auditors), and the authors. Unfortunately harassment and badgering of the authors and their families continues still. The ongoing harassment forced Ms. Willingham to withdraw aspects of the social media campaign to promote the literacy program, PC Read, developed for academically under-prepared college-age students. You can read more on the book’s blog site, here.

Closing Thoughts
Few want to admit that college athletics have a dark side, and the ‘few’ make up many—school administrators, coaches, booster clubs with their (generous) alumni, and fans. Sadly, the story of UNC is a recurring one—playing out at colleges throughout the US; UNC does not stand alone.  “Cheated” is wake-up for academia, coaches, NCAA, parents and athletes. There’s much at stake for all involved, yet it’s a large group of student athletes who have the most lose; they are the biggest losers, ‘cheated’ out of a rigorous college education that sets them up for life, instead of failure.

Further Reading: