Do Your Athletes Deserve More Career Help?

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basketballMarch Madness and the news about the National Labor Relations Board office in Chicago giving Kain Colter and his fellow football players at Northwestern University the right to form a union to bargain collectively for more than scholarships, got me thinking if perhaps one of their bargaining requests should be for more career help.

Athletes are looking for something more than just a one year commitment to a scholarship.


  • If they are injured their freshman year, they could lose their scholarship and have to drop out of school
  • Only 1.5 percent of college athletes will make it to the pros

If you have not had an opportunity to understand the significance of this ruling, let me give you a little background on the NCAA and what your student athletes are doing for your college.

NCAA keeps your athletic program honest!

The National Collegiate Athletic Association was founded in the early 1900’s partly to keep college athletics honest and institute rules to protect athletes from injury.  Back in the 1950’s when TV’s were just finding their way into living rooms, the University of Kentucky found itself in the middle of a scandal where athletes were taking bribes that affected the outcome of games.

The NCAA was a one man office at the time headed by Walter Byers.  Walter realized that individual colleges would not be able to control the urge alumni, coaches, and administrators might have to win at all costs, so he recommended colleges abide by a common set of rules, which included sanctions and reprimands if those rules were broken.   His idea caught on and the process to manage this has grown into an organization with over 450 staff!

The Indianapolis based nonprofit organization has

  • 1281 colleges who are members
  • 450,000 athletes that must abide by NCAA rules

The effect of their work has been legendary:

  • The membership based NCAA has been able to impose a very strict codes of ethics to keep everyone honest and playing fair.   These rules have resulted in loved, respected and revered coaches losing their jobs because a few athletes accepted a free tattoo, a jacket, or a few incidental items.  The rules apply to everyone.  Even mega players like Texas A&M’s Jonny Manziel, the first freshman EVER to be awarded the Heismann Trophy, was suspended for a ½ a game, EVEN after an investigation of whether he accepted payment for an autograph proved false!  Right or wrong, no one crosses the line without consequences.
  • The NCAA negotiated TV rights for its members that resulted in a 14 year contract worth 11 BILLION dollars spinning off over $770 million dollars a year in revenue split between its members.  The new agreement with CBS is generating $225 MILLION per year – new revenue. Some receive as much as $50 million dollars and others as little as $10,000.
  • The NCAA has signed up sponsors like ATT, Coca Cola, Herseys, CapitalOne, Enterprise, Lowe’s and others that add even more money to share with colleges

The financial part of this is supported by the 140 million people that tune in every year for “March Madness”, a yearly championship designed around a series of playoffs that result in identifying the top team in the nation.  The process electrifies audiences, always results in surprises, and upsets along the way.

The NCAA has been so successful in negotiating that SOME colleges are awash in money and throwing in areas they can to ensure a winning team. One fact that blew me away was that the legendary football coach at Ohio State University, Woody Hays (in the 80’s) received a salary of $42,000 a year, whereas the current coach gets in excess of $4 million dollars!  Yikes!

So what does all this have to do with you?

I’m sure you are wondering what this all has to do with you right?

You are going to see a great deal more conversation in the media and on your campus about what athletes deserve.  Arguments will be made on compensating athletes for the enormous amount of time and effort they invest in order to provide you a winning team.   It’s not uncommon for athletes to invest over 40 hours a week during season for personal workouts, team workouts, travel to games, team meetings, etc.

Division I and II schools are allowed to provide full scholarships for only one year at a time. Athletes may get a full ride to college for that year, but few have the time or opportunity to work because of the enormous time commitment to their sport.  I watched a number of documentaries that suggested many don’t have enough money for incidentals like travel home, or entertainment.  Some indicate they don’t have any additional money for fund when their meal plan allotment runs out.  These are hungry boys that need to eat!

Athletes will argue that non-athletes on campus are getting paid to do office work, research etc., and are hoping the NCAA and administrators recognize that the level of professionalism and effort they are requiring of the athletes is the equivalent of work!  Work that should be compensated.

Powerful voices are suggesting change

The Knight Commission on Collegiate Athletics has been a consistent advocate for colleges to do more to help keep funding and focus on college campuses on the focus on academics and not on athletics.

To clarify the commissions objectives William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, and R. Gerald Turner, president of Southern Methodist University, who are co-chairmen of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics wrote:

The Knight Commission has called on college presidents, athletics directors and conference commissioners to use a significant portion of playoff revenue to reward teams that do a better job of educating and graduating their players. Instead, this educational initiative would be a powerful incentive for making sure that football teams offer the students who play for them a meaningful educational experience and an arsenal of skills to use when they have left the football field behind. More broadly, a portion of the abundant financial incentives flowing to this not-for-profit enterprise of college sports will be aligned with its primary educational mission.

Did you get what they said:

“use a significant portion of playoff revenue to reward teams that do a better job of educating and graduating their players.”

I’m always looking for ways to help you get more resources so you can help more students leave campus prepared for the 11-14 job searches the Department of Labor Statistics suggests they will have by the time they are 38 years old.

If the NCAA agrees with the Knight Commission, and your athletic program does too, you have an incredible opportunity to partner with the athletic department to ramp up the career services provided to your athletes.

Start a conversation today!

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Don Philabaum
Love to find ways to use technology help more grads and alumni develop successful career strategies.
Don Philabaum
Don Philabaum
Don Philabaum

4 thoughts on “Do Your Athletes Deserve More Career Help?

  1. After teaching student-athletes at The University of Alabama, I have learned that this is definitely a question that will continue to be discussed. Helping student-athletes translate their skills learned court/field/pool is a critical need for their long term success. The sacrifices and time given by our NCAA athletes is astounding to me…how can we ensure that their financial needs are met as well as their professional,academic, and ethical leadership are as well?

    • Well stated Ellen. An athlete that puts 30 hours into their sport might do it for love, but they are providing a lot of credibility and in some cases fueling a lot of money for the college. They have a right to argue, “is this not work?” “Why shouldn’t I get paid, as a dorm floor advisor is, or a student worker gets paid!”

      • Another point of discussion is how paying athletes could impact income for other sports and Title IX compliance? I can understand diverse views on this…I have heard many administrators highlighting all the benefits that do come in addition to athletic scholarship (i.e., state of the art training facilities, medical care, attire, travel expenses). I’ve heard many sound arguments from both sides of the coin.

  2. As a graduate intern in a Career Development Center, it is our duty as educators and counselors (for educators and counselors that is 🙂 ) to ensure student athletes are given the time and permission to explore other and additional interests. Due to the massive amounts of time spent in the sport, most student athletes identify as an athlete and with others in their sport. Simply because they have not had many other experiences outside of that realm, it is essential that student athletes are provided opportunity to study abroad, have exposure to new and different students, and are permitted to work or volunteer in the community.

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