Thursday, September 29, 2011

14 Surprising Facts About Being a College Athlete

Participation in college athletics is a fun and enriching experience for many students. In fact, about 400,000 student athletes participate in athletic games each year, and thousands receive scholarships to do so. But the life of an athlete in college is not always as fun as it seems, and there are some hard truths to face if you’re interested in becoming a student athlete. Read on, and we’ll share information about scholarships, going pro, and managing your time on campus.

Full ride athletic scholarships technically don’t exist

Athletic scholarships can only be given out one year at a time, so promises of a full ride scholarship can be pretty thin. They are renewed each year at the coach’s discretion for a maximum of five years within a six-year period. Even then, there’s a good chance your scholarship won’t even cover the cost of tuition, with the average athletic scholarship coming out to about $10,400. Outside of football and men’s basketball, the average is $8,700.

The odds of receiving a scholarship aren’t high

We’ve explained why athletic scholarships aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, but chances are, you won’t have to worry about how good your scholarship is, because you’re not getting one. About 250,000 high school seniors play basketball every year, but only about 12,000 of those same seniors will receive a scholarship to play basketball at the collegiate level. Of course, that does not mean you won’t be able to get a scholarship, it just means an athletic scholarship is not high on the list of possibilities. Student athletes should pursue all types of scholarships and financial aid, not just athletic ones.

You may find more money in Division III

Division III schools are not allowed to award athletic scholarships, but according to US News & World Report, some of the best scholarships for athletes come from these schools. It sounds confusing, but Division III schools are typically smaller private colleges, and they often give merit awards for student accomplishments. Even better news is the fact that these merit grants often cut tuition by more than 50%, an excellent figure for any budding college athlete.

You’re being monitored by college coaches as early as 7th grade

It may seem extreme, but college coaches can start building files on players as early as 7th grade, according to Karen Weaver, the athletic director for Penn State-Abington. Weaver reports that files for basketball players begin as early as 7th grade, and often by the end of 9th grade. At this stage, parents should be making the initial contact, but eventually, students will need to take over in the recruitment process. Weaver recommends that student athletes take control of their athletic career by their junior year, avoiding conflicts between coaches and "helicopter parents."

Athletes may not be able to do internships

The average student athlete spends about 30 hours a week on class and schoolwork, then turns around and spends 20 hours a week on athletics. This leaves very little time for much else, including relaxation or a social life, much less additional commitments. It’s for this reason that student athletes often don’t participate in internships related to their degree, which can lead to missed opportunities that non-athlete friends can snatch up instead. Of course, one might argue that for future pro athletes, student athletics functions much like an internship might, but be careful: the odds of going pro after college are very slim.

One out of 25 will go pro

Forty-three percent of young black athletes believe that they will eventually go pro, but the real statistics paint a much different story. In 2008, 400,000 students participated in athletics, but only one of every 25 of those students went on to compete professionally. Depending on your team size, that means one (or none) of you will actually earn a paycheck from sports upon graduation. It may be disappointing to hear, but knowing this reality means you can be better prepared for the future, meaning, don’t forget to take care of academics and plan for a career outside of sports.

Graduation rates are lower than you think

Unfortunately, it’s clear that not every college athlete has considered a life outside of sports, as statistics reveal that graduation rates among certain athletes are shockingly low. ThinkProgress reported that out of the 65 teams that played in March Madness 2005, 43 of them would not have qualified if there was a 50% graduation rate requirement. Meaning, a large number of the players participating in March Madness will not actually graduate. In 2010, the average graduation rate for March Madness teams was 43%, with six teams under 20% and two under 10%. In fact, only one team, California State-Northridge, offered a better NBA drafting rate than graduation at 1.2% vs. 0%. Yes, that’s a 0% graduation rate.

The NCAA has specific academic requirements

Student athletes may be suffering from less than stellar graduation rates, but in order to qualify for play as a graduating high school senior, you have to follow careful requirements, as the NCAA has specific and even strict academic requirements for new college players. In fact, even if you’re eligible for graduation from your high school, you may not be eligible for the NCAA. It is for this reason that the NCAA recommends student athletes consult the NCAA Eligibility Center to stay on track with requirements.

Student athletes often end up identifying more as athletes

Low graduation rates aren’t incredibly shocking when you realize that most student athletes end up identifying more as athletes than students. An NCAA study on the experiences of college athletes revealed that 60% of student athletes reported viewing themselves "more as athletes than students." Again, this is unfortunate, as upon graduation, they are much more likely to be faced with a traditional career than continue on as an athlete.

Coaches often don’t follow practice limits

Unfortunately, coaches may be exacerbating the student athlete’s mistaken identity as simply an athlete. The same NCAA study reported that often, coaches do not follow the 20 hour per week limit on practice time set by NCAA law. More time in practice means less time in class and fewer opportunities to study, taking precious academic time away from student athletes who may be struggling with schoolwork.

Student athletes are stressed out

Again, this one is surprising on its own, but not so shocking when other facts are considered. With scheduling, academic, and physical pressure looming, student athletes often report more stress than non-athletes. Student life can be stressful enough, but according to Athletic Insight’s study, student athletes reported higher than usual stress in several variables, including: having lots of responsibilities, not getting enough time for sleep, and having demanding extracurricular activities. However, athletes do enjoy lower stress in some variables, like social isolation and satisfaction with their physical appearance.

You can’t have an agent

You might think that with all these issues for student athletes, it would be good to have an advocate on your side to help you enforce practice times, scholarship opportunities, and give you a better shot at making it out of college and into the professional realm. In other words, an agent to protect your interests. But according to NCAA rules, no student athlete can be represented by an agent and still qualify to play at the college level. However, parents can act as unofficial advocates, and better yet, students can advocate for themselves as well.

More baseball players go pro than anyone else

We’ve shared a lot of bad news for potential and current student athletes, but there is some good news in the statistics, at least if you’re into baseball. Statistically, more college baseball players will go pro than athletes in any other sport. The NCAA reports that 10.5% of baseball players will go from college to pro, followed by 4.1% for ice hockey players, and 2% for football players. At 1.9%, men’s soccer, and women’s basketball at 1%, these players are the least likely to play at a professional level after college, but numbers may grow as interest and new teams develop in these two sports.

College athletes may soon be paid

Another surprising but exciting fact for college athletes is that they may actually be paid for playing at some point in the near future. Many have shared their opinion that collegiate players are being exploited by not receiving money while schools enjoy revenue from NCAA sports, and that may soon end. Commissioners from the Big Ten, SEC, Big 12, and Conference USA all indicated that paying college athletes is an issue worth looking into, with some actively researching the possibility.

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Story by Tim Handorf

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