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


Money, College Athletics and Academics: Why they Don’t Mix

Headlines this week within the sports and higher education circles centered on University of Maryland’s Football program that plans to switch conferences, join the Big 10. The reason? Cash, cold hard cash. Apparently Maryland’s athletics programs have been running a deficit of $5 million a year, and are having a hard time making ends meet. Though the headline of this blog post states we shouldn’t‘ care, I suggest we should care, but more about how college athletics dominates and overshadows academics and the education of college kids. Furthermore in Division I and Ivy league schools, sports programs have been known to influence the institutions’ decisions, policies and sometimes even better judgement. It’s about money – money driven by sports fans, television contracts and endorsements, all at the expense of academics.

Let’s look at the parallels between college athletics and college academics to examine why this focus is wrong. Wrong because the focus and attention given to athletic programs (football and basketball for the most part) is totally out of whack. Higher education institutions are in big trouble, with tuition rates that are out of control and shrinking funds for public institutions. Yet the trouble is more than financial. Parents, students and employers are questioning the value of a college degree. Even more so now as students are unable to find jobs when they graduate, and have a boat load of debt. Employers lament that college graduates aren’t skilled for the jobs that they need to fill, can’t communicate effectively or think critically.  Many say higher education is in a bubble, and that bubble is going to burst soon. It is unsustainable. Not to mention that the traditional modes of higher education appear unable to adapt to the needs of our global and digital culture.

Ohio State University, Stadium. The fourth largest football stadium in the United States

The Cost of College Athletics
College athletics programs are expensive to run and the majority of programs don’t generate profits. Building stadiums to hold the fans is expensive (granted stadiums are usually funded with outside donations and ticket sales). So is building athletic facilities for teams, training equipment, coaches salaries, and of course conference fees. Don’t forget the administrative costs, travel costs, and if a school breaks NCAA rules or the law, there are court fees, payouts, lawyer fees etc.  It’s expensive. No wonder there are deficits.  This is why University of Maryland jumped ship and went to the Big 10. The athletics department was running a deficit as mentioned above, which forced them to cut seven of its 27 varsity sports teams this past summer. Yet things are looking much brighter this month with an infusion of cash on its way. And according to University of Maryland, “By being members of the Big Ten Conference, we will be able to ensure the financial sustainability of Maryland athletics for decades to come.Yet higher education institutions may look much different in decades to come.

The Academic Deficit
Financial: Off the field and in the lecture halls, we have problems too. Tuition for higher education as increased over 1,000% since 1978, far outpacing the cost of other consumable good or service, including medical care. Yet the quality of education is declining, the current system is failing, falling under a mound of debt that is being passed on to students.  Student debt is an economic concern, more than two-thirds of student graduate with significant debt load and many are unable to find full-time jobs.

The academic performance of students is also declining in a big way. SAT scores for 2011 declined for the third year in row, and students do less work in college now than ever before. The bright side is there are numerous models of education for higher ed coming forth that defy traditional education models. These new models focus on lowering costs, increasing access for students and improving quality. These schools focus on student learning, attempt to fix the system by preparing students for jobs of the 21st century. Higher ed needs to reform and adapt to meet the needs of today’s students. Does college athletics fit into this new model?

What is more Important?
I believe [sadly] that if the public were surveyed about what would be more important, either saving academic programs of a school or the football program (or basketball), that a significant number would vote for the sports programs. Yes, we have a problem. We need to start asking questions to solve this problem – what is the purpose of higher education? What is the role of college sports programs in academic institutions? How are students being served by college sports? These questions have no easy answers.  I’ve included several articles and statistics below that readers may find interesting and helpful when considering these questions. My goal is to motivate readers to support academics, promote scholarship and help prepare our young people so that they become good citizens, self-sufficient adults, and life-long learners. Does a multimillion dollar college football program contribute to this?

Innovative Higher Ed Institutions (some without college athletic programs)
Inventing a New Kind of College, by Emily Hanford, American RadioWorks
University Now, Making Higher Education Affordable to Everyone
Southern New Hampshire University, Innovation U

Related Articles:
Expansion by Big 10 may Bring Small Playoff, New York Times Blog
Student Loan Debt Statistics, American Student Assistance
College Sports Deluxe: The Golf Team, WSJ

Photo Credits:
Money, By 401K2012’s photo stream, Flickr, Ohio State Stadium, by mjum’s photo stream, Flickr