Are Colleges Sufficiently Preparing Student-Athletes for Life After Sports?
Every fall, across the United States, hundreds of student-athletes begin their college athletic experiences. Some are focused on preparing for what they hope is a long and lucrative professional athletic career. For others, that is merely a pipe dream. In fact, less than 2% of all male college football and basketball athletes will ever be drafted by the NFL or NBA. Many are hoping that their university experience will provide them with the skills needed for their post-athletic careers. The question, though, is, are colleges and universities doing enough to prepare these young student athletics for the world after sports?
Are Student-Athletes Getting What They Need from Their Academic Experience?
When the conversation turns to athletics, colleges and universities immediately turn to platitudes about how their institutions are all about academics and that athletics are secondary to their purpose of educating young people and preparing them for life. But is this really the case? The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) own surveys have shown that around half of the student-athletes at member schools feel that more could be done to help them be better prepared for life after sports. Obviously the ones most affected by NCAA members’ priorities are not exactly happy with how their schools have chosen to help them attain meaningful post-athletic careers.
One problem that many athletes face when entering higher education is that they are not prepared for the rigors of college. Especially in the revenue generating sports like basketball and football, many young athletes are accepted into a college despite their academic record in high school. These young people are then not able to take advantage of their free education, and many wind up leaving college without a degree. Some even make very little progress toward earning one. The schools admitting these youngsters are doing so only for the benefits they can provide to the athletic department. Instead of giving these marginal students extra academic help, colleges often just leave them on their own without the proper guidance necessary to prepare for classes and do the work required for passing grades.
Other Problems Faced by College Athletes Looking Beyond Athletics
When in college, most student-athletes spend the vast majority of their time practicing, working out, and playing their sport. Factoring in class time, study time, and sleep, this leaves very little free time. This poses major impediments for student-athletes. Some have difficulty attaining the major they would like because required classes may only be offered at times that conflict with their athletic activities. They are then either forced to choose another major or simply not complete their education before their scholarship runs out.
Their rigorous schedules preclude taking advantage of internships or on the job training, and keep them from almost all other extracurricular activities. Study abroad opportunities are non-existent. This puts them at a disadvantage when entering the job market, as their non-athletic peers likely have more to put on their resumes. The free tuition included in their scholarships is not nearly as useful if they cannot take advantage of the opportunities available.
There are signs that things may be getting better for student-athletes. The long fight for financial compensation for student-athletes is finally over. The recent name, image, likeness (NIL) rules give student-athletes unprecedented chances to market themselves to the corporate world and reap the financial rewards that were for so long denied to them. The NIL opportunities are not limited simply to the revenue generating sports, either. Successful student-athletes in all sports can become local heroes and the local business communities can benefit from their endorsements and are willing to pay for them.
Athletes now enjoy the ability to transfer from one institution to another without having to sit out for a year. This gives agency to the student-athlete to make a change if they feel that their current institution is not providing them with enough academic support. Colleges and universities are also getting the message that they need to be more responsive to student-athletes’ concerns about their education and preparedness for life after sports. Many schools are now putting additional resources into programs designed to aid student-athletes in getting the most out of their time in school. If these trends continue, young people in the future will be better prepared to take full advantage of their college experience and enter the working world with a much better chance of having a rewarding career.