Student athlete

A student athlete (sometimes written studentathlete) is a participant in an organized competitive sport sponsored by the educational institution in which the student is enrolled. Student-athletes are full-time students and athletes at the same time. Colleges offer athletic scholarships in many sports. Many student athletes receive scholarships to these institutions, but having a scholarship is not mandatory for a student athlete. In the United States, athletic scholarships are largely regulated—by either the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) or the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which sets minimum standards for both the individuals awarded the scholarships (in terms of GPAs and standardized test scores) and for the institutions that grant them (in terms of the form and value of the scholarships and the proportion of recipients who must ultimately earn degrees). Also students that are very talented may get scholarships for playing a particular sport. The term student-athlete was coined in 1964 by Walter Byers, the first-ever executive director of the NCAA, to counter attempts to require universities to pay workers' compensation.[1]

Left: A U.S. high school girls' water polo team (with their male coaches in background) posing with their trophy. Right: A U.S. university girl practising a difficult gymnastics maneuver under the watchful eyes of her coach.

When choosing a college, a studenty may sign The National Letter of Intent. The NLI is an agreement between the athlete and the institution that certifies they are entering a four-year institution for the first time. The school must offer financial aid, and the student must meet the institution's admission requirements.[2] It is a belief that student athletes comprise one of the most diverse groups of people on our college campuses today, particularly with regard to factors such as personal history, academic preparedness, life goals and expectations, physical and psychological skills, and developmental readiness.[3] Student athletes are likely to come into contact with important and influential alumni who can help them during their college years and - most importantly- after college.[4]


Student athletes occasionally receive athletic scholarships from a college or university, though they may also be attending secondary school or a bathometric tertiary quad-mechanics school. An athletic scholarship is a form of scholarship to a college or university awarded to an individual based predominantly on their ability to play in a sport. Athletic scholarships are common in the United States, but in many countries they are rare—though, every year more people outside the United States receive scholarships. Athletes are subject to eligibility rules that may require that they maintain a certain grade point average[6] and may bar them from participating in professional competition. Aside from scholarships, many are also prohibited from receiving special treatment or incentives based on their athletic abilities .[7] However, institutions may give student athletes additional assistance in academic support areas such as tutoring and library services.[8]

Many coaches hear from hundreds or thousands of students looking for athletic scholarships or an opportunity to compete in intercollegiate athletics. Coaches must determine who they want on their teams—which often requires difficult decisions, because NAIA and NCAA have strict limits on the number of players allowed on college rosters.[9]

Historical perspective on student athletes

Competitive intercollegiate sports were not introduced into post secondary education in the United States until the nineteenth century. The first popular collegiate sport was crew but this was short lived as high media coverage and scholarships made football a lucrative industry in the late 1880s.[10] As interest in football grew so also did its aggressiveness and thus its resulting injuries. The NCAA was born out of President Theodore Roosevelt's demand to reform college football. He wanted this because football was an extremely rough sport which caused many serious injuries.[10] Since the 1930s the relationship between sports and universities have been turbulent.

Since the 1930s the media's coverage of sports has been a big revenue earner for school sports programs. This coverage of sports draws attention towards the schools and this in turn not only affects the financial capabilities of the institution but also its enrollment . Many student athletes from the top college sports at a particular college can increase enrollment numbers by winning games and later championships .[11] To deal with many of the ills within intercollegiate sports the NCAA has put together a number of pieces of legislation. In the past two decades, the NCAA has implemented several landmark policies to address some of the persistent concerns about the role of intercollegiate athletics in post-secondary education and the conflicting demands faced by student athletes, notably Proposition 48.[10]

Student athletes in high school

Student athletes in high school (and junior high or middle school) are also expected to meet or exceed requirements to play sports in high school. Many states enforce strict rules for their student athletes which are sometimes called "no pass, no play," which require 70's or above in all classes for sports eligibility. California, for example, expects a "2.0" GPA or a "C" average in every class.[12] College athlete Eligibility Requirements for U.S Colleges The NCAA gives a guided list of prerequisites for potential collegiate athletes divided by school divisions:

Division I Academic Eligibility

To participate in Division I athletics or receive an athletic scholarship during the first year of college, a student-athlete in high school must: Complete the 16 core-course requirements in eight semesters: 4 years of English, 3 years of math (Algebra 1 or higher), 2 years of natural or physical science (including one year of lab science if offered by the high school), 1 extra year of English, math or natural or physical science, 2 years of social science, 4 years of extra core courses (from any category above, or foreign language, nondoctrinal religion or philosophy); Earn a minimum required grade-point average in core courses and earn a combined SAT or ACT sum score that matches the core course grade-point average and test-score sliding scale. (For example, a 3.000 core-course grade-point average needs at least a 620 SAT).[13]

Division II and Division III Academic Eligibility

Currently, to enroll in a Division II college, and to participate in athletics or receive an athletic scholarship during your first year, it is necessary to: Graduate from high school; Complete these 16 core courses: 3 years of English, 2 years of math (Algebra 1 or higher), 2 years of natural or physical science (including one year of lab science if offered by your high school), 2 additional years of English, math, or natural or physical science, 2 years of social science, 5 years of extra core courses (from any category above, or foreign language, nondoctrinal religion or philosophy); Earn a 2.000 grade-point average or better in your core courses; and earn a combined SAT score of 820 or an ACT sum score of 68.[13]

It is also worth noting that Division III Academic Eligibility is slightly different than that of Division I or Division II. There are no athletic scholarships available at the Division III level, and athletic budgets are significantly lower. Thus, the standards for Division III eligibility are not as extensive. As long as a student athlete meets the admission requirements for their desired university, they are eligible to compete for a position on the team in their sport.

NCAA Eligibility Center

Every year, 180,000 prospective student-athletes register to have their academic credentials and amateurism status certified.[14] Amateurism refers to the regulations set up by the NCAA to deny student-athletes from receiving things such as agents, prize money, salary, etc.[15] The NCAA Eligibility Center's staff must explain what's expected, when and why. The staff work to deliver reliable, consistent, timely and accurate decisions on the academic eligibility and amateur status of every prospective student-athlete for which an institution has requested certification.

The vast majority of prospective student-athletes placed on a Division I or II institution's request list (IRL) are certified, most within days of submitting all of the required information and requesting final certification. About seven percent every year are deemed academic non-qualifiers. They don't meet academic standards set forth by the membership in the division in which they desire to compete. About 600 prospective student-athletes are not certified because of amateurism issues (mostly international recruits).[16]

Throughout the process, the NCAA Eligibility Center must rely on the accuracy of the information provided by the prospective student-athlete, the member institution interested in that prospective student-athlete, the collegiate testing agencies, the 30,000 high schools in the U.S. and the educational ministries in 180 different countries.[14]

Athletic scholarships

In the United States, athletic scholarships are largely regulated by either the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) or the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). These bodies govern the eligibility of student athletes to receive scholarships as well as stipulate scholarship rules once the scholarship has been given. The type and amount of scholarship money received depends on which one of these governing bodies a school is affiliated with.[17]

Athletes that wish to enter a Division I university or participate in a varsity sport and receive scholarship money must be cleared by the NCAA clearing house. The NCAA Eligibility Center certifies whether prospective college athletes are eligible to play sports at NCAA Division I or II institutions. It does this by reviewing the student-athlete's academic record, SAT or ACT scores, and amateur status to ensure conformity with NCAA rules.[18] To be eligible for an athletic scholarship, students must meet four main NCAA requirements: 1) Graduate from high school, 2) Complete the required number of core high school courses 3) Earn a minimum GPA on a 4.0 scale in required core academic courses. 4) Achieve a minimum SAT or ACT score.[19]

Athletic scholarship challenges

Gaining access to athletic programs can be difficult and achieving an athletic scholarship can be even more difficult.[20] Of the athletic scholarships awarded to athletes in the United States in 2013, only a very small percentage fully covered the students' tuition, room, and board and very few high school athletes earn college scholarships. Most scholarships that a student athlete receive do not fully pay room, board and tuition.[20] In fact, only about 2% of high school athletes earn an athletic scholarship to an NCAA university and on average, these scholarships are less than $11,000 and that is not even enough to go to school with. As students, academic responsibilities such as, attending classes, studying, and passing exams need to come first in the athletes mind. The student athletes must meet the NCAA eligibility standards. Failure to meet these standards and complete their academic work could be a risk to the student athlete's ability to compete, receive scholarships, and graduate from the institution at which they are enrolled.[21]

Student athlete pressures

Student athletes put a great deal of time into their studies and athletics. Student athletes face high levels of stress. This stress is heightened by the expectations placed on the student athletes, by their coaches, administration and teammates to perform at a very high level.[22] The transition for athletes can be hard academically because they don't know what to expect and are not ready for the work load they are going to get in college. Having study hall a few times a week or designated library times forces athletes to study at certain times so it is less easy to get distracted. According to Kissinger, student athletes generally face six distinctive challenges: 1) balancing athletic and academic responsibilities, 2) balancing social activities with athletic responsibilities, 3) balancing athletic success and or failures with emotional stability, 4) balancing physical health and injury with the need to continue competing, 5) balancing the demands of relationships with entities such as coaches, teammates, parents and friends and; 6) addressing the termination of one's college athletic career.[22][23]

Student athletes are likely to face great challenges in addressing identity. College athletics may form an ego identity for athletes as parents, peers, and even strangers give praises and accolades to athletes for their performance. This support and encouragement might seem positive—but when recognition comes only for athletic competence, a person's entire sense of self-worth hinges on making big plays and winning the game. When an athlete is unable to deliver at such a high level he/she may come under tremendous pressure. This pressure can be self-inflicted or often media driven. Student athletes typically experience different levels of stress based on various things that happen during their college lives, for example pursuing a degree, time management and fluctuations between new experiences and transitions among others. All the experiences are heightened because everyone expects student athletes to constantly perform well at a high level both inside and outside of the classroom. The consequences of not performing are very intense and can be severe and could even take the form of ridicule or even worse.[22]

This may be viewed as problem because students should be making tangible steps toward a future that focuses on all of their strengths, not just their athleticism but things such as professional contracts entice student athletes to put more effort into their sport. Ego identity can become fragile when society defines a developing personality based upon superficial values. This pressure can become overbearing and students struggle mentally from this. For example, Sarah Devens, a three sport star and All-American who went to Dartmouth, an Ivy League and a highly acclaimed academic institution, committed suicide, taking a .22-caliber rifle and shooting herself in the chest. She had a mental breakdown as the pressure became too much for her to handle.[24] For coaches the sport comes first but they are very understanding to the academic rigors that especially non scholarship athletes go through. At times, coaches ask athletes to notify them of pending tests or assignments.[24] Student athletes experience complex developmental issues that should be addressed in the programs and policies created by the institution. There are tremendous amounts of responsibility and high expectations placed on the shoulders of all the young athletes who come to our institutions. If what is expected of them is success in the classroom as well as on the court or field, it is imperative that support be provided at all levels of the institution so that they can be intellectually, emotionally, and physically fit.[10]

Academic performance

Even with all the pressures that student athletes face throughout each academic year, many seem to still perform at a very high level in both sports and academics. The Student Athlete Performance Rating (SAPR) combines elements important to a college athlete who wants the best showcase for his/her athletic talent and academic prowess.[25] One way in which student-athletes' academic performance is predicted is by use of the Academic Progress Rate (APR). Academic Progress Rate is an NCAA tool that measures the success of a program moving its athletes toward graduation. It takes into account academic eligibility and retention — whether the athletes stay in school.[26]

Division I sports team calculate their APR each academic year, based on the eligibility, retention and graduation of each scholarship student-athlete. It also serves as a predictor of graduation success. Another important measure of student athlete performance is known as the academic success rate (ASR). The ASR uses the number of team wins in the last 5 years,the team's all-time winning percentage,number of conference championships in the last 5 years,total attendance at recent home games,number of bowl games in the last 5 years, number of national rankings 25th or above in the last 5 years and number of program players currently playing in the National Football League or National Basketball Association.[25]

Title IX of the US Education Amendments of 1972

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, now known as the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act in honor of its principal author, but more commonly known simply as Title IX, is a United States law enacted on June 23, 1972 that states: "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 was designed in part to balance the amount of money spent on men's and women's sports. The late Sen. Ted Kennedy had a huge impact on women's athletics and the overall sports scene in this country. Kennedy led the fight throughout the years against efforts to overturn or water down the legislation.[27] "Over the course of time, he played the leading role in keeping Title IX strong through the Senate, using his stature and his savvy to ensure that it remained strong protection for women in athletics," said Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center. "As his leadership in the Senate grew, his responsibility for ensuring that Title IX remained strong and enforced grew. He became the chief force behind the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987, which virtually re-enacted Title IX after a devastating, narrow Supreme Court decision, which among other things removed Title IX coverage from all intercollegiate athletics in this country." Greenberger contends that Title IX might not have survived without Kennedy's guardianship, and thus the sports world as it is today might be vastly different. The increased opportunities for female athletes can be witnessed in college and high school athletics programs, and in turn have helped spawn professional leagues and greater participation and success at the Olympic level.[27]

Graduation rates for student athletes

United States federal law mandates that universities reveal their graduation rates purportedly to inform policy makers and constituencies about efforts to support educational attainment for students and athletes.[28] Revealing student athlete graduation rates helps prospective student athletes estimate the course load and amount of practice and game time that will occupy their schedules. Universities with more selective admission policies graduate both students and athletes at higher rates, though their athletes graduate at lower rates, relative to their student cohorts.[28]

A Graduation Success Rate is taken by all three levels of competition and it analyzes the percentage of athletes who receive a degree from their school. The Graduation Success Rate is different from an ordinary graduation rate in that it fails to include athletes who have transferred from a given school (perhaps because of grades). At the Division I level, the most recent Graduation Success Rate measurement is at 86 percent, which is the highest ever. This number is also up 15 percent from the initial recording in 1984.[29] Overall, athletes graduated at a higher rate than their non-athletic peers. Of course, the comparison between the graduation rates of athletes and non-athletes varies based on demographics. For example, white males who play Division I sports graduate at the same rate as athletes who do not play sports. On the other hand, African American males graduate at a rate that is 13 percent higher than African American male non-athletes.[29] The Division II level uses a measurement called the Academic Success Rate which is slightly different than the Graduation Success Rate used by the Division I level. The Academic Success Rate includes freshman athletes who are on a team but are not on athletic scholarship. Studies show that the comparison between Division II athletes and Division II non-athletes is relatively similar to that of the Division I comparison.[29] The Division III level's graduation rate reports may be slightly skilled because it is not a requirement for Division III schools to report their information at the end of each school year. However, in the 2014-2015 school year, 146 schools reported their information at the end of year, which is the highest number ever.[29]

Reason for higher rates

The reasoning for the higher graduation rates is not clear. It is not necessarily because student athletes are smarter, nor because student athletes have better grades. Pascale Elizabeth Eenzema van Dijk suggests that the answer may be that athletes stay on track due to tutors and other academic resources provided to them by their university.[30] Athletes who have poor grades are often able to turn things around with the help of a tutor. Another plausible explanation is the fact that athletes tend to stay in school because they have so much fun competing in their sport and want to maximize their time playing. In general, an athletic coach/program is under a lot of pressure to win. Thus, it is important that the best athletes remain eligible. Coaches ensure this is the case by offering tutoring, extra study halls, or other help.[30]

Student athletes after college

Student athletes train for many hours a week. Even before college most had a strict practice schedule. 98% of collegiate athletes do not become professional after college—some get jobs and others struggle. Statistics don't fully reveal this dilemma, because many Division 1 athletes are unemployed because they didn't fulfill their "student" responsibilities of being a student athlete.[31]

Many people feel that student athlete's role identity could be the cause of the difficulty adjusting into the professional world. Role identity refers to the way in which people judge themselves. It is typically learned in the process of role enactment from the evaluation, interpretation, and feedback on their performance by significant others.[32] When developing one's identity it can be dangerous for any single role of a person's self to be dominant. This attitude may lead a person to detach from other role options and developmental tasks.[33] Thus, if an "individual conforms fully or adequately in one direction, fulfillment will be difficult in another."[34] Student athletes are prone to this role engulfment, which reduces the motivation to explore alternative roles. This athletic myopia can create a "make-believe world where normal rules don't apply".[35] This may result in identity foreclosure, which could impede the acquisition of the new skills and orientations necessary for coping with new situations and maintaining a belief in one's personal competence when one's dream of athletic accomplishment fails.

Administrators, teachers, counselors and significant members of a student athlete's life tend to accommodate the child by allowing academic cheating in an effort to ensure academic eligibility or to guarantee college admission.[36] This is a problem, because it can create a care-free attitude that misleads the athlete into thinking that type of safety net will always be there.  An aggressive attitude is commonly developed as well in student athletes for the momentary benefits.  Sports, which aggression is not only tolerated but also rewarded and reinforced, often foster a "tough jock" image.[37] As an adolescent being seen as the tough guy often provides value to one's social standing because it provides "a sense of power from the fear in others and a sense of adulation from peers".[38]

As people we are expected to adapt to different settings which require us to manipulate our behavior that best suits the environment. “Unfortunately, those high school/college athletes who have role status and popularity thrust on them may see little need to develop a wide repertoire of interpersonal skills or to augment their educational and vocational skills”.[39] Ultimately this could lead to a lack of rationality when it comes to future goals and objectives.

Fewer than 4% of high school football and basketball players make the transition to the collegiate level and fewer than 2% of that 4% continue into the professional ranks, making the prospects for continuing in competitive team athletics more an attractive illusion than a realistic option.[38] Despite these data, a significant number of high school athletes continue to view college sport as the minor league experience necessary for entry into professional sport[39]

As athletes move on from sports the separation from their athletic identity maybe easier for some than others. It could be the greater the commitment to the athletic role, the more difficult the disengagement, but there are too many factors to pin point the reasoning. It takes time an effort to reinvent oneself and figure out a future in society aside from sports.

Rates between scholarship athletes, partial scholarship and non-athletes

Not only are there significant differences between student athletes and non-athletes, but there is also a noticeable difference in graduation rates between scholarship and non-scholarship athletes. The athletes who attend universities on scholarship have typically fared worse than non-scholarship or partial-scholarship athletes in academic achievement.[28] Many scholarship athletes feel obligated to put the varsity sport before academics because their tuition is essentially being paid by the coaches. Student athletes are at times disadvantaged by their full-time involvement in a varsity sports. According to the table of Demographic and Academic Information for Athletes and the General Student Population, it is evident that non-athlete students on average have higher GPA's than student athletes. The national average high school GPA for athletes was 2.99 and 3.31 for non-athletes. The national average college GPA for student athletes is 2.56 with a national graduation rate of 34.2% where as non-athletes average GPA is slightly higher at 2.74 with a national graduation rate of 46.8%.[28] The GPA averages are not too far off but the education received by non-athletes is far greater than a student athlete because of the lack of time the student athlete has to study. The highly popular athletes, such as basketball players, are normally focused on the next game or the pressures to win instead of the school work. However, oftentimes, they get the work done and balance both responsibilities. Although this is only an average and other factors such as the institution, sport, resources and division should be factored in, on average student athlete's do graduate at a lower rate particularly because of their rigorous sports schedule. According to Eric Ferris, Mark Finster and David McDonald, analysis of 10 years of graduation rates across all major athletic programs concludes that graduation rates alone are insufficient and misleading unless they account for the widely varying constituencies served by different universities.[40]

Student-Athletes and NCAA Compliance[41]

Compliance is a large part of college sports today, colleges across the country who are involved with the NCAA are all required to comply to the NCAA's rules and regulations. The penalties for colleges and student- athletes who do not comply with their rules and regulations. are pretty serious, they could lose trophies if it is the a college sport as a whole or if it is an individual student- athlete they can be kicked from a roster or lose a year or two of eligibility. That is why so many colleges have started to staff their own compliance offices to make sure every sport and athlete is following these rules and regulation, so they don't get hit with penalties.

See also


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  • The Shame of College Sports - Taylor Branch, The Atlantic, 7 September 2011
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