Office of the President
We must share our story
We see college sports making a difference in people’s lives every day. Take Kaneisha Atwater, a women’s basketball player at Florida Gulf Coast University. Kaneisha is on pace to be the first in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree. Her son was born just months after she graduated high school, and her family couldn’t afford college. But the scholarship provided by Florida Gulf Coast gives Kaneisha the chance to parent her child, earn a degree and play the sport she loves. She’s on track to become one of the 2 percent of teen mothers who earn a college degree before age 30.
Hers, like so many others, is an against-the-odds success story the outside world seldom hears. The focus of sports media and fans often centers on what they see most on TV: Division I men’s basketball and Football Bowl Subdivision football. What they don’t always realize is they’re seeing only 3 percent of student-athletes from an association made up of three divisions and nearly 1,100 colleges and universities. While we absolutely need to address the challenges faced by the few, a big part of my job as NCAA president is ensuring the NCAA champions the value of college sports – all college sports.
Stories like Kaneisha’s illustrate that value. Nearly 20 percent of student-athletes are first-generation college students. And every year the Association, through its colleges and universities, distributes $2.7 billion in scholarships to more than 150,000 current and former student-athletes. Without that support, many students couldn’t afford college without taking on significant debt. In the end, student-athletes graduate at higher rates than the general student body. Equally important, a majority say playing an NCAA sport helped prepare them for life after graduation. This is the heart of why college sports as part of higher education is so uniquely valuable.
And yet, statistics still paint an incomplete picture. For those of us who have spent time on campus, it can be easy to view the dynamic stories we see perennially as commonly understood experiences. We lose sight of the fact these are not a part of most Americans’ impression of college sports. We owe it to student-athletes – and indeed, to all who love college sports – to tell these stories and champion the opportunities that make them possible.
Championing college sports does not, however, mean blindly or resolutely protecting the status quo. We must constantly look for ways to improve and evolve with changing times. In my role, I work to initiate the conversations that drive needed change and to ensure the bigger picture remains at the forefront in all our decision-making. We cannot speak enough about the “why” that informs the “how” and “what” of college sports.
This is a seminal moment for our Association, one in which we are uniquely positioned to shape our future. We must focus on those things that unite rather than separate us and work together to create the opportunities for young people to grow, learn and succeed. And we must ensure that college sports remain worth championing.