Athletes’ Expectations for Success in Athletics Compared to Academic Competition

INTRODUCTION

In
this paper, we describe a study in which we investigate attitudes
held by student-athletes and non-athlete students towards
academic and athletic success. Athletic success is largely
viewed in the United States as a vehicle for disadvantaged
students to attain higher education. Most colleges and universities
in the U.S. have admittance programs in which a designated
percent of students who do not meet standard admissions criteria
are allowed to enroll. According to the National Collegiate
Athletic Association (1995), about 3% of all students enter
college under these programs. However, more than 20% of college
football and basketball players enter universities under special
admittance programs (Lapchick 1995). Thus, athletic prowess
may allow for an increased opportunity for education.

While
successful high school athletes may have increased educational
opportunities, these students often struggle when they enter
college. College athletes earn fewer bachelor’s degrees than
do students in general, they take longer to do so, their grades
are lower, and their curricula are less demanding (Adelman
1990).

Some
have also argued for the social benefit of sport participating.
Findings indicate that sport involvement is an important activity
that has the potential for reducing at-risk behavior and enhancing
development in adolescents (Agnew and Peterson 1989; Burling,
Seidner, Robbins-Sisco, and Krinsky 1992). However, student-athletes
report greater difficulty than other students in taking leadership
roles, learning from their mistakes, discussing their personal
problems, and articulating their thoughts (Dudley, Johnson,
and Johnson 1997).

One
reason that student-athletes struggle in college may be that
athletes have unrealistic expectations for careers in professional
sports. While a relatively high percentage of university athletes
expect careers in professional sports (Center for the Study
of Athletics 1989; Kennedy and Dimick 1987) a professional
sports career is not an option for any but the most elite
of student athletes (Lapchick 1991).

It
appears that student-athletes are diverted into athletic career
aspirations and away from mainstream opportunities for success,
such as academic achievement. In that student-athletes often
struggle academically and socially in college, it may be that
athletes expect greater costs and fewer benefits to accompany
a university education than do other students. We predict
that student-athletes, in comparison to scholars (not athletes),
will indicate higher expectations for costs and fewer expectations
for benefits to obtain from a successful university education.

Athletes
also often hold unrealistic expectations for professional
sports careers. We predict that student-athletes will expect
lower costs and higher benefits to accompany sport involvement
than will scholars (not athletes). And, because of expectations
for careers in professional sports, we also predict that athletes
will indicate lower motivation toward school performance and
higher motivation toward athletic performance than will scholars.

SURVEY
INSTRUMENTS

We
designed two survey instruments to measure the costs and benefits
that students expect to accompany academic and athletic success,
as well as motivation to perform both athletically and academically.
We designed one instrument, the Student Academic Questionnaire
(SAQ), to measure attitudes towards academic success and the
other instrument, the Student Assessment Survey (SAS),
to measure attitudes towards athletic success.

Each
respondent is assigned one of the two questionnaires. After
answering a number of demographic items, the respondent reads
a brief vignette. The vignette for the SAQ informs students
that the researchers are interested in looking at ways that
individuals feel about academic success. Respondents are asked
to imagine themselves in a scenario in which they are successful
university students. The vignette for the SAS tells students
that the researchers are interested in measuring attitudes
about athletic success. Respondents read a vignette in which
they are successful university athletes.

Imagining
themselves in the given scenario, respondents answer a number
of attitude questions designed to measure the costs, benefits,
and performance motivation they feel towards academic or athletic
achievement. We included three scales (each containing between
8 and 18 items) in the attitude questions, one for academic
or athletic costs, one for academic or athletic benefits,
and one for performance motivation. Questions in each scale
were identical across questionnaires except that we included
information about academic success in questions on the SAQ
and information about athletic success in questions on the
SAS. Respondents answered all questions on 5-point scales
from “Strongly Agree” to “Strongly Disagree.”

PREDICTIONS

We
make the following predictions regarding the costs, benefits,
and motivations that non-athlete scholars and student-athletes
will feel towards academic and athletic success:

Hypothesis
1: Student-athletes, in comparison to scholars (non-athletes)
will

  1. anticipate higher costs accompanying a college education,
  2. anticipate
    lower benefits accompanying a college education, and
  3. be
    less motivated to perform at a high level academically.

Hypothesis
2: Student-athletes, in comparison to scholars (non-athletes)
will

  1. anticipate lower costs accompanying athletic success,
  2. anticipate
    higher benefits accompanying athletic success, and
  3. be
    less motivated to perform at a high level athletically.

RESULTS

In
order to test the hypotheses described above, we passed out
the SAQ and the SAS to samples of students at The University
of Akron, The University of Iowa, Kent State University, and
Louisiana State University. Among the demographic items on
the questionnaires, we designed six questions to measure whether
we should classify respondents as scholars, athletes, or both.
We asked respondents their high school academic and sports
involvement, their academic and athletic scholarship status
in college, and whether they viewed themselves primarily as
scholars or athletes.

The
three items we designed to measure athletic status showed
strong correlations with each other-all correlations produced
probability levels less than .001. The same is true for the
items designed to measure academic status. Because correlations
between items were so high, we chose one item, the extent
to which respondents considered themselves scholars or athletes,
as our measure of academic or athletic status.

We
asked respondents two questions to evaluate the extent to
which they considered themselves primarily athletes or scholars,
with 1 indicating “very much” and 9 indicating “not
at all.” If respondents circled 4 or lower on the scholar
scale and greater than 5 on the athletic scale, we considered
them scholars in our analysis. If respondents circled greater
than 5 on the scholar scale and 4 or less on the athletic
scale, we considered them athletes for our analysis. Again,
answers to these questions correlated highly with high school
athletic involvement and with academic or athletic scholarship
status.

SAQ
Findings

The
SAQ measured the costs, benefits, and motivation that students
felt towards academic success. In all, 302 students completed
the SAQ, 135 scholars and 33 athletes. We predicted that student-athletes
would perceive greater costs for academic success than would
scholars. The cost of success scale is an average of the fourteen
items designed to measure the costs of academic success, with
1 indicating low costs of academic success and 6 indicating
high costs. The mean score on the SAQ cost of success scale
for scholars was 1.42 (st. dev. = .47) and for student-athletes
was 1.53 (st. dev. = .52). This difference is in the predicted
direction-athletes perceive higher costs for academic success
than do scholars. A t-test of the difference, however, is
not significant (t = 1.167, one-tailed p = .123).

We
also predicted that student-athletes would perceive fewer
benefits to accompany academic success than would scholars.
The mean score for scholars on the benefits of academic success
scale was 3.10 (st. dev. = .60) and for athletes was 2.80
(st. dev. = .69). This difference indicates that scholars
expect higher benefits for academic success than do athletes.
Further, a t-test of the difference is significant (t = 2.47,
one-tailed p = .008).

We
further predicted that student-athletes would indicate lower
motivation to perform academically than would scholars. The
mean score for scholars on the academic motivation scale was
3.34 (st. dev. = .52) and for student-athletes was 3.02 (st.
dev. = .55). This difference is in the predicted direction,
and a t-test of the difference produces significance (t =
3.16, one-tailed p = .001).

SAS
Findings

The
SAS measured the costs, benefits, and motivation that students
felt towards athletic success. 252 students completed the
SAS, 124 scholar and 23 athletes. We predicted that student-athletes
would perceive fewer costs associated with athletic success
than would scholars. Student-athletes had a mean score on
the costs of athletic success scale of 1.97 (st. dev. = .61),
while scholars had a mean score of 1.88 (st. dev. = .52).
This slight difference is actually in the opposite direction
of that predicted by our hypothesis, but a t-test of the difference
does not produce significance (t = .722, two-tailed p = .472).

We
also predicted that student-athletes would perceive greater
benefits to accompany athletic success than would scholars.
The mean score on the benefits of athletic success scale for
student-athletes was 2.43 (st. dev. = .60) and for scholars
was 2.20 (st. dev. = .93). This difference is in the predicted
direction, but a t-test of the difference is not significant
(t = 1.11, one-tailed p = .135).

We
also predicted higher motivation towards athletic performance
for student-athletes than for scholars. Student-athletes had
a mean score on the athletic motivation scale of 3.52 (st.
dev. = .45), while scholars had a mean of 3.44 (st. dev. =
.57). This difference, while in the predicted direction, is
not significant (t = .628, one-tailed p = .266).

In
sum, two of the six hypotheses we tested (hypotheses on the
benefits of academic success and on motivation to perform
academically) produced significance. Two hypotheses (on the
costs of academic success and on the benefits of athletic
success) approached significance. The hypotheses on the costs
of athletic success and on athletic motivation did not approach
significance.

DISCUSSION

Results
of our data collection provided partial support for our predictions.
Student-athletes, in comparison to scholars, perceived greater
costs and fewer benefits to accompany a university education.
Further, student-athletes were less motivated to perform academically
than were scholars. These findings support our predictions
and are in line with findings that athletes struggle academically.
Findings on the costs and benefits of athletic success received
less support.

Our
findings provide some support for our argument that athletics
serves to channel a disadvantaged minority away from mainstream
opportunities for success in the United States. If this is
true, then expectations about success in athletics and academics
may differ in countries were athletics does not serve this
purpose. It also may be that respondents in countries with
less rigid racial, economic, and ethnic partitions than the
United States will report smaller differences in their expected
costs for academic and athletic success. A valuable direction
for future research would be to shed light on these issues.

REFERENCES

Adelman,
C. (1990). Light and Shadows on College Athletics. Washington,
DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Agnew,
R. and D.M. Peterson (1989). “Leisure and delinquency.”
Social Problems, 36(4), 332-250.

Burling,
T.A., A.L. Seidner, D. Robbins-Sisco, and A. Krinsky (1992).
“Relapse prevention for homeless veteran substance abusers
via softball team participation.” Journal of Substance
Abuse, 4(4), 407-413.

Center
for the Study of Athletics (1989). Report No. 3: The Experiences
of Black Intercollegiate Athletes at NCAA Division I institutions.
Palo Alto, CA: American Institute for Research.

Dudley,
B.S., D.W. Johnson, and R.T. Johnson. (1997). “Using
cooperative learning to enhance the academic and social experiences
of freshman student athletes.” The Journal of Social
Psychology, 137(4), 449-459.

Kennedy,
S.R., and K.M. Dimick. (1987). “Career maturity and professional
sports expectations of college football and basketball players.”
Journal of College Student Personnel, 28, 293-297.

Lapchick,
R. (1991). Five Minutes to Midnight: Race and Sports in the
1990’s. Lanham, MD: Madison Books.

Lapchick,
R.E. (1995). “Race and college sport: A long way to go.”
Race and Class, 36(4), 87-94.

National
Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). (1995). 1995 Division
I Graduation-Rates Report. Overland Park, KS: Author.

Contact
information:

Jeffrey
W. Lucas
Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology
The University of Akron
Akron, OH 44325-1905
(330) 972-6915
jlucas2@uakron.edu

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