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NCAA survey shows healthy faculty influence on student-athlete academic success

By Gary Brown

A recent survey of NCAA faculty athletics representatives shows that most of those responding believe they play a significant role in influencing student-athlete academic success and that they elevate and protect academic integrity within their athletics departments.

FARs for the most part also believe their schools are committed to athletics as an integral part of the educational experience and that coaches at their institutions try their best to enhance that experience for their student-athletes.

The survey generated more than 650 responses. Most of those said they felt empowered by their institution’s president, athletics department and faculty governance to perform their athletics oversight duties. That sense of empowerment in fact was stronger in this survey than in the last one in 2005.

A high percentage of Division I FARs reported a significant sense of involvement in ensuring academic integrity (91 percent), rules compliance (87 percent) and student-athlete well-being (88 percent) at their institutions.

FAR Feelings of Empowerment by Division

Those percentages also were lofty in Divisions II and III. About 85 percent of Division II FARs and 70 percent of Division III FARs said they felt involved in ensuring academic integrity within their schools’ athletics departments.

Other survey responses indicated an increased level of empowerment and sense of contribution among FARs as well. For example, the percentage of FARs with a written position description has increased substantially in the past 15 years (from 29 to 80 percent in Division I). This has been a major initiative within the Faculty Athletics Representatives Association. Also, about 70 percent of the Divisions I and II FARs responding cited compensation or release time for performing their duties, further validating the position’s importance.

FAR Involvement in Academic Integrity, Rules Compliance and Student-Athlete Well-Being

As was the case in the 2005 survey, FARs were asked about the time devoted to the various elements of the job (academics, compliance/rules interpretation, student-athlete well-being and administrative responsibilities). FARs in general reported a significant decrease in the proportion of time they commit to administrative functions and an increase in their commitment of time to student-athlete well-being.

About 80 percent of Division I FARs in the Football Bowl and Football Champion Subdivisions believe they play a significant role in their athletics conferences, too. 

Academic findings

As has been the case in surveys of other NCAA constituents, FARs in Division I believe the Academic Performance Program adopted about 10 years ago has had a significantly positive effect on student-athlete academic success.

When asked whether the program (specifically the Academic Progress Rate component, which hold teams and student-athletes accountable for eligibility and retention) has positively changed the academic behaviors of student-athletes on their campus, 70 percent of FARs at Football Bowl Subdivision schools agreed that it has. However, just 44 percent of FARs at Division I institutions without football agreed with that premise and only 9 percent strongly agreed that it has changed student-athlete behaviors.

Eighty-six percent of the Football Bowl Subdivision FARs responding said that the APR system has positively changed their coaches’ attitudes toward student-athlete academic success.

Most Division I FARs also agreed that the NCAA collectively is committed to producing student-athletes who are successful academically and are well prepared for life beyond athletics. Agreement ranged from two-thirds (Division III) to just over 80 percent (Division II).

FAR Agreement that the NCAA Collectively is Committed to Producing Student-Athletes Successful at Academics and in Life Beyond Athletics

Divisions I and II FARs were asked about initial-eligibility standards (Division III leaves eligibility standards to institutional autonomy).

In October 2011, the Division I Board of Directors approved a new standard effective in fall 2016 that raises requirements on all components in order for first-year student-athletes to compete. Those initial-eligibility changes had not been announced before FARs completed this survey in spring 2011, but at the time of the survey, there was general satisfaction across Division I on the core-course requirement but some sentiment that core GPA and ACT/SAT minimums should be higher. About three-quarters of Division II FARs reported satisfaction with all elements of the initial-eligibility standards. Very few FARs in either division suggested that any of the standards are set too high.

Division I and II FARs also were asked if they thought first-year students should be eligible to compete immediately. FARs at Football Bowl Subdivision schools were the least inclined to agree that students who meet initial-eligibility requirements should be immediately eligible to compete (56 percent). Twenty-six percent of the Football Bowl Subdivision FARs responding endorsed the notion that selective criteria should be employed (such as the academic redshirt concept that was adopted in October 2011), and 19 percent would prefer that all first-year students be ineligible to compete.

Among other findings in the survey:

  • Thirty-eight percent of the Division I FARs responding (including 53 percent of FARs in the Football Bowl Subdivision) reported that student-athletes who do not meet standard admissions requirements are admitted to their institutions. Only 13 percent of FARs in Division II and 9 percent in Division III reported similar special admissions considerations at their schools. Eighty-seven percent of the Division I FARs said their admissions process is handled completely by staff outside of the athletics department.
  • Most FARs reported that their schools maintain their own criteria for admissions rather than defaulting to NCAA minimums. However, about 30 percent of Division I FARs (38 percent in the Football Championship Subdivision) noted that any student-athlete who meets NCAA minimums is generally considered admissible to their school. That percentage is higher in Division II, where 59 percent of the FARs reported that the NCAA criteria satisfy their institutional admissions requirements.
  • About one-half of the Divisions I and II FARs and one-third of Division III FARs responding reported that academic “clustering” (or the supposition that student-athletes tend to be over-represented in a small number of majors on any given campus) exists on at least some of the teams at their institution. Division I Football Bowl Subdivision FARs indicated the highest prevalence of clustering (nearly two-thirds of respondents in that subdivision think it exists in some form among student-athletes). As to why FARs think clustering occurs, the factor cited most frequently in Division I was scheduling conflicts with athletics practices and competitions. Only about 10 percent of Division I FARs who thought clustering occurred believed it was due to a perception that a given major provided a less rigorous academic path. The most frequently cited factor from Divisions II and III FARs was that athletes tend to share common academic interests.
  • The survey indicated that across all divisions, FARs believe that incidents of misconduct do not occur more frequently among student-athletes than they do within the student body. More than one-half of Division I and Division II FARs believe such incidents occur more frequently within the general student body, while most Division III FARs believe such incidents occur with about the same frequency within the two populations. Very few FARs believe that student-athletes are involved in more incidents than the student body.