This week’s EXSS Impact post was developed by Dr. Robert Malekoff and represents work conduted through the department’s Center for Research in Intercollegiate Athletics.
Why did you do this study?
Over the past decade many universities competing at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I level have moved from one athletic conference to another. In many cases this national realignment has dramatically enlarged the geographic footprint of conferences leading to two unintended consequences: (a) an increase in travel costs; and (b) more time away from campus for student athletes leading to an increase in missed class time and further segregation of students participating on intercollegiate teams. The primary purpose of the study (commissioned by the Knight Foundation on Intercollegiate Athletics and administered by the Center for Research in Intercollegiate Athletics at UNC- Chapel Hill) was to determine if there was interest among intercollegiate sports leaders for the consideration of alternative scheduling and administrative models that might reduce travel costs and time away from campus/missed class time. An example of an alternative model might have some sports at a university playing a traditional conference schedule, while other sports could be part of a competition grouping that was more regional in nature.
What did you do and what did you find in the study?
University presidents, athletic directors, senior woman athletic administrators, faculty athletic representatives, and head coaches from 55 Division I institutions in California, North Carolina, and Virginia (schools that represent conference memberships that span 40 states) were invited to participate in an electronic survey to determine interest in alternative Division I models for competition and administration for different sports.
Forty-three percent of the respondents expressed interest in exploring alternative models for competition and administration for different sports while 37 percent expressed no interest. The remaining 20 percent of respondents were ambivalent. Approximately one-third of respondents anticipate a decrease in the number of varsity sports offered and athletic scholarships in the next five years, basing these sentiments in part on the current financial climate of intercollegiate athletics. Concern about ever increasing costs associated with college sports programs was more prevalent among less resourced schools in conferences outside the “Power 5” (Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 10, Big 12, Pacific 12, Southeastern Conference).
How do these findings impact the public?
While the study did not reveal an across the broad Division I consensus for specific change, it did reveal high levels of anxiety and uncertainty about the current Division I model of competition among less resourced institutions and conferences. Ideally, the results will serve to encourage university leaders to consider and develop new scheduling and administrative models that might address financial and academic/athletic balance issues that threaten the long term feasibility of Division I athletic programs.