College Admissions Issues for Student Athletes

College sports are a big business, bringing in over a billion dollars per year for colleges in the United States alone. Add in the income from bowl games, merchandise, and television rights and the figure becomes mind boggling.  As if money alone were not an incentive enough, alumni, community members, fellow students, college administration, rich donors, and your mentally unstable sports fanatic all want to see winning sports teams. This creates a huge amount of stress upon future college students trying to figure out what school to apply to. As a student athlete looking to enter the college of your choice, there are a variety of issues you should be aware of when choosing which college to attend.

If you are a star high school athlete getting ready to graduate, your first encounter with your new college will probably come in the form of an athletic recruiter. After watching you play or practice, they will want to talk with you and your coach to determine if your skills will be a good fit for their school. Be aware that a recruiter’s job is not just to locate phenomenal athletes, but to also talk them into attending that university. As such, recruiters might paint a rosier picture of what awaits you at your university than what exists. Their charm and promises aside, a recruiter’s job is to help put together an impressive roster of players, not make sure you have the best possible college experience.

To help prevent being taken advantage of, make sure your parents or family members are there with you to ask the recruiter questions, and your family members attend any campus visits with you. Campus visits for potential student athletes have a reputation of using “hostess groups”, or liberal amounts of alcohol and very close attention from the opposite sex to help make that recruit choose a particular college. While this might be entertaining, it can distract you from making the best possible choice for your future.

Questions that you and your family should ask of a recruiter, and get in writing, include how much financial help the university will provide, what happens if you get injured, what services are available for student athletes, and the culture of the university. The quality of the above can vary considerably from college to college, so it is important to pin down concrete answers to these questions.

Usually at the forefront of most student athletes minds is how much of tuition, room & board, and any type of an allowance the University will offer. Obviously, you want the best financial deal possible, but how do you get it? The solution is to shop around a bit, letting colleges know you are weighing different offers, and even advertise yourself to potential colleges by creating a highlight tape of your accomplishments as a high school player. Since it is impossible for scouts and recruiters to attend every game, a good highlight tape of you playing can help increase your value.

The unfortunate truth is that while there are many exceptions, a great deal of college athletes struggle academically. Legendary college basketball program UNLV graduated zero, yes that’s right zero, of their players from 1995 to 2000 despite being one of the top teams in the country. The reasons for poor academic performance entail a variety of reasons, but the time commitment that being a competitive athlete brings out certainly factors in here. Often, athletes are responsible for attending early morning physical conditioning, where cardio and strength exercises take place. Then, afternoon or early evening practice of the specific sport takes place. Sometime in between there the student athlete has to eat, attend classes, study, plus make some sort of a stab at a social life. Understand that you will have to manage your time well, and inquire if the university will allow you to be enrolled part-time during sports season if you make up your missing courses during the summer so you are still eligible via NCAA rules.

get back into the gameSaddest of all is the stereotypical high school sports star that never had to do any real academic work in high school. Most high school districts have a no-pass, no –play policy designed to encourage student athletes to maintain their grades. Reality however, is that star athletes may have gotten a free pass from sympathetic teachers or principals who refused to hold them accountable for poor school work. Do an honest self-assessment of your academic skills. If they are not completely up to par, inquire about what type of academic services are offered to student athletes. Will competent tutors be made available to help you pass that difficult math or science class you are struggling with? Consider if you have an away game in another state and have to miss Thursday and Friday a week before midterms. Does the University send in a note-taker to help you stay current in the courses you will miss during that time?

Since you will be signing a contract to play sports for the university, ensure you read it carefully because it will be legally binding. It might be useful to have an attorney go over it with you as well if there is anything you do not understand. An important item to take note of here is the legal language that deals with injuries that you might incur as a player. Each university is different, but many institutions revoke your scholarship and room & board if you are unable to play due to being injured. If there is one thing you argue and negotiate about in your contract then this should be it given the high rate of injuries in college contact sports.

Knowing the culture and reputation of your future school is critically important. This is vital so that any potential problems are avoided because more often than not, the athletic department is not on your side. They exist to have smooth running programs free of controversy, create winning teams, and to make money for the institution. As a player, even a very good one, you are just a small cog in a giant machine. When a problem arises, be it a disagreement with the coach or university policy, keep in mind that you as an individual can be very easily replaced if necessary. If that happens, odds are good that no other athletic program is going to pick up a potential troublemaker. To prevent this, research the reputation of the institution that you are going to be going to. Does the coach have a history of temper tantrums or physical violence towards players like Bobby Knight did? Even with a full scholarship, is that the kind of person you want to answer to for four years?

Bryce Hall