Leading The Way In Examining the Impact of Intercollegiate Athletics on Higher Education and Society

This week’s EXSS impact blog post focuses on the recent work of Dr. Erianne Weight and The Center for Research in Intercollegiate Athletics (CRIA).  The CRIA works to facilitate data-based decision making and practices with an emphasis on maximizing the quality and quantity of intercollegiate athletics experiences.  This is accomplished through high quality research.

In this post, she summarizes some of the key findings from research examining intercollegiate athletics and address the questions and debates being raised about the role of intercollegiate athletics in higher education. Many thanks to Erianne for providing this week’s EXSS Impact blog post.

Slide1Why did you do this study?

In 2012, we conducted a study measuring the prevalence and tone of intercollegiate athletic media coverage by analyzing the front page content of five major US newspapers in order to understand the message non-sport-fans (or those that would not typically read a sports section) are receiving about the industry. Results of the 365-day 2011 sample highlighted a very narrow, very critical media frame with 93% of the articles focused on football (59%) or men’s basketball (34%), and 80% of the articles critical in nature, with dominant themes including financial exorbitance, scandal, pay-for-play, conflict between athletics & the academy, athlete discipline problems, coach power, and athlete entitlement.

This reality of current public messaging coupled with the long-standing controversy related to the proper role of athletics within the academy has led to the proliferation of several models for reform (one discussed within this blog last year). Fundamental to the dialogue on reform, however, is an understanding of the educational premise of intercollegiate athletics. Theoretically, athletics is housed within the academy because of its educational nature, yet there has been virtually no effort to quantify this education, and athletic pursuits at the collegiate level have largely been viewed as tangential (or even contradictory) to the educational mission of the academy. The studies highlighted within this post are part of an ongoing effort to quantify and enhance the educational value of participation in intercollegiate athletics as a part of a larger effort of The Center for Research in Intercollegiate Athletics to measure the educational, social, and economic impacts of intercollegiate athletics and facilitate data-driven decision-making within the academy.

What did you do and what did you find in this study?

One of the most tangible measures of a successful educational experience is student job placement. Thus, we felt it would be informative to identify skills and qualities that corporate employers associate with and/or value in candidates who participated in intercollegiate athletics. Attribution theory was utilized to determine how the presence or absence of athletic participation on an applicant’s resume influenced a recruiter’s impression of the candidate. There were two parts to the study. One part measured attributions of intercollegiate athletics utilizing a broad sample of corporate university recruiters (N = 224 from 117 companies). The other (conducted by one of our former graduate students, Peter Chalfin) measured the same construct targeting a sample of employers who actively recruit student-athletes (N = 52).

NCAA Tweet LargeKey findings from the two studies are listed below.

  • Overwhelmingly, participation in intercollegiate athletics was viewed positively as an attribute that can set candidates apart in the application process.
  • In both studies the top three qualities/skills associated with intercollegiate athletics participation were 1) competitive nature, 2) goal oriented, and 3) ability to handle pressure. Other qualities employers highly associated with intercollegiate athletes included strong work ethic, confidence, and ability to work with others.
  • Employers who specifically targeted athletes ranked captain or All-American intercollegiate athletics experience more highly than any other extracurricular activity, with mere membership on a team superior to extra-curricular experiences including “editor-in-chief of a student newspaper”, “member of the debate team”, “member of the marching band”, or “part-time manager at a restaurant.”
  • Broad-sample university recruiters also ranked captain or All-American intercollegiate athletics participation among the most valued extra-curricular experiences – higher than managing a restaurant, serving as a treasurer in a student organization, being an RA of a campus dorm, president of a fraternity, or concert pianist.
  • In both samples, there were no significant difference based on the sport played (tennis, basketball, or football), NCAA Division (NCAA DI or DIII), or sex.
  • Significant differences in both samples were apparent between “captains” and “members”, and “All-Americans” and “members”, with a clear order of value with captain experience most highly valued, followed by All-American status, team conference champion, and member. Thus, a captain or All-American Division I or III male or female tennis, football, or basketball player, for instance, would likely be valued more highly by an employer than a male or female member of a Division I or III tennis, football, or basketball team.

How do these findings impact the public?

Many have deemed athletics the “front porch” of the American University as it is arguably the most visible element of the academy in terms of steady media coverage. The type of media coverage our university athletics programs have been associated with as of late, however, has been troubling. Certainly there are ills within the system that need recalibration, but based on the results of this study, there is a lot of education occurring within intercollegiate athletics programs that employers are aware of and proactively seeking. Most universities, however, are not overtly acknowledging (through course credit), nurturing (through organized learning systems), or publicizing (through demonstrating marked growth in conscious programming) many of the educational opportunities that are currently transpiring. Last year (2013-2014) at the NCAA Division I level alone, there was over $4 billion dollars of intercollegiate athletics subsidization through student fees and direct university support. This tremendous investment in the most profitable division of intercollegiate athletics within our nation marks the impact this industry has on every tax payer, every student, and every stakeholder of the American University. In order to maximize this investment, we need to examine and cultivate the educational rationale for which athletics exists within the academy.