Authors: W. Timothy Orr1, and David C. Hughes2

1Department of Sports Science and Wellness, Hampton University, Hampton, VA, USA
2Department of Sports Management, Shenandoah University, Winchester, VA, USA

Corresponding Author:
W. Timothy Orr, EdD
200 William R. Harvey Dr
Hampton, VA, 23368

W. Timothy Orr is an Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator of the Sports Administration Graduate Program at Hampton University in Hampton, VA. His research interests focus on Intercollegiate Athletic Administration and student-athlete academic success.

David C. Hughes, MS, is currently a faculty member at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia, and a Sport Management doctoral candidate at Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, TX. David’s areas of research interest include E-sports and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) impact on Intercollegiate Athletics. 

Division II Faculty Perception and Experience with Athletic Reform


Since the 19th century, scholars have debated the role athletics plays in the overall mission of higher education.  An institution’s role is to provide students with educational experiences relevant to its institutional missions (19). The issue addressed in this paper identifies the faculty’s perception of the role of intercollegiate athletics at a Division II institution. Academia’s value on the part of intercollegiate athletics is not high (3). This qualitative single case study investigates academic faculty’s experiences with, perceptions of, and suggestions for how athletics fits into the educational mission of the institution. Results indicated intercollegiate athletics has benefits beyond the playing field and is critical in enhancing the academic experience of college student-athletes. The focus of this Division II institution should be on academics instead of a win at all costs. If academic integrity is the top priority in athletic reform for this low resource Division II institution, the application in sports is that athletic departments should collaborate with faculty to create initiatives that would allow athletic excellence and academic integrity to co-exist.

Keywords: intercollegiate athletics, athletic reform, faculty, athletic governance, higher education


A primary reason for researching this topic is the shortage of research on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) intercollegiate athletic programs, particularly on the Division II level. The challenges facing the faculty’s perception of HBCU athletic programs in the 21st century is involved (6). Maintaining academic integrity, the proper alignment of academic mission statements, and the increasing concern regarding the commercialization of high profile intercollegiate athletics are significant issues facing faculty in higher education (29). HBCU intercollegiate athletic programs face unique challenges compare to its Predominately White Institutions (PWIs) counterparts.  Such as inequalities in national governing bodies (i.e., limited power, influence, financial support) and intra-institutional issues  (i.e., high administrative turnover, poor financial management, limited human resources, and low academic progress rate) (6).

In choosing this site, my previous experience as a coach, faculty member, and athletic administrator, I felt I could bring a unique perspective to the institutional culture. Having firsthand experience dealing with faculty members who loved athletics and those who did not have an interest in sports provided me an interesting perspective on how faculty saw their role in intercollegiate athletics. This institution has an enrollment of 1772 and hosted 10 Division II intercollegiate athletic programs. In the past, because of the low number of faculty members (n=117), most athletic coaches were responsible for teaching physical education activity courses and their coaching duties. A historical analysis of its revenue sports (e.g., Football, Men and Women Basketball) has not been one of notable acclaim. Its only conference championship came in 1971, followed by five playoff appearances and four divisional championships. In Men’s Basketball since 1969, they have captured three championships (1969, 1981, and 2007). Whereas, Women’s Basketball has yet to win a title.

The ideas in this paper reflect the responses of 12 faculty members at a Southeastern HBCU Division II institution, which indicates a great need for collaboration between athletic and academic departments to create an environment in which the student-athletes obtain a positive collegiate experience. Furthermore, this paper will serve as a point of reference to Division II universities with similar financial/human resource challenges to achieve effective athletic-academic integration.


Research exploring faculty views on athletic reform usually revealed some staggering statistics that prompted the urgency for faculty involvement in restoring academic integrity (14). For example, the NCAA Academic Success Rate (ASR) Report of one Southeastern Division II conference indicated: 1) one institution has a dismal graduation rate of less than 17 percent among Men Basketball players, 2) seven of the thirteen conference schools has a graduation rate less than 50 percent in Men’s Basketball, and 3) ten out of the twelve conference schools has a graduation rate of less than 50 percent in Football (22).  This problem has forced Division II university faculty to evaluate whether they will take on the responsibility and accountability of guaranteeing the student athlete’s academic experience and coordinating its athletic programs aligned with the university’s educational mission (5). The primary aim of academia should be to restore institutional control of athletic programs and restore the academic integrity of any athletic program that has been blemished by the creed and corruption of individuals involved. In general, college sports provide a significant educational opportunity to the student-athlete. Intercollegiate athletics provided three distinct attributes to higher education; 1) personal development, 2) a vehicle for increased intellectual attainment and upward social mobility, and 3) help increase student enrollment and revenue (20; 29). Skeptics who question the educational value in intercollegiate athletics suggest unethical behavior and academic scandals portrayed in athletics have resulted in the deterioration of academic integrity in colleges and universities (17, 24). The lure of sponsorship dollars and national prestige, faculty members from NCAA Division II institutions are having to defend the academic mission of an institution by implementing policies and procedures to control athletic greed and provide increased support for the academic integrity of the institution (15).  Faculty representatives have more power than presidents within NCAA Division I and II. Still, the issue is that too many faculty do not see it as a problem when the emphasis shifts from the academic mission to the tangible benefits of a successful athletic program (1).

Faculty guide the academic mission of the university, of which all students, including student-athletes, are to embrace. However, Presidents ultimately have the final authority on issues related to intercollegiate athletics (24). According to the policy of the study site, this is the expectation of faculty involvement. The Academic Advisor/FAR is responsible for planning and implementing the academic support program within the Office of Intercollegiate Athletics. They will work closely with the Compliance Officer to create an environment for student-athletes to excel academically and support their retention and graduation. Specific compliance responsibilities include:

  • monitor and evaluate the academic progress of student-athletes to ensure compliance with the institutional, conference, and NCAA eligibility requirements
  • administer class absence letters and academic progress reports.
  • advise student-athletes of educational needs and options to maintain eligibility.
  • provide evaluations of prospective student-athletes regarding NCAA academic standards and institutional academic standards.
  • prepare detailed degree audits to assess and document student-athletes’ academic progress, including initial and continuing NCAA academic eligibility.
  • assist the Compliance Officer/FAR in monitoring and ensuring continuing academic eligibility of all student-athletes.

This responsibility solely relies on one person, which is a tremendous burden for one person to bear. As keepers of the academic mission, faculty have substantial authority and control to direct the future of intercollegiate athletics at each college or university (12).  Since the classifications of NCAA institutions in 1973, Division II has tried to distinguish itself from the other divisions with a philosophy that suggests an effective intercollegiate athletic program based on sound educational principles and practices. The primary concern that the educational mission of a university or college is the educational well-being and academic success of the participating student-athlete (22).

The perception that athletics is an auxiliary enterprise, separate from the rest of campus, is widely accepted among faculty (16). Having little knowledge of the athletic department’s operation and limited power when faculty engage with athletic oversight is perceived to have any real effect on change, reform, and integration (16). The evolution of commercialism in college athletics, faculty oversight, has been overlooked and undervalued (17).  Unlike its Division I counterparts, faculty members in Division II look at their role in athletic governance differently. Division II athletics is more likely to be in alignment with the overall academic missions of the institutions compared to their Division I counterparts (23).  The limited profitability of athletic endeavors has persuaded many faculty to sustain investments regarding Division II athletics. Within an economic climate producing extensive institutional budget reductions, colleges and universities continue investing scarce resources in athletic operations (11). The decisions made in NCAA Division II athletic, academic reform regarding helping student-athletes earn their degrees must remain an integral component of intercollegiate athletics (22). If faculty governance groups could assert more substantial control over the academic integrity of its campus athletic programs, problems associated with intercollegiate athletics today is significantly reduced (25).


The reason for utilizing a qualitative single case study at a small, public, rural southeastern NCAA Division II HBCU institution was to (a) identify if faculty members experience the same ordeals with intercollegiate athletics as their Division I counterparts, (b) to research their perceptions of the role intercollegiate athletics play at their current institution and (c) identify possible suggestions on the role intercollegiate athletics should play in this particular environment. Few studies have examined faculty perceptions of intercollegiate athletics from a non-Division I perspective (23). The following research questions guided this study:

Q1. What are the academic faculty experiences of the role of athletics in the educational mission of the university?

Q2. What are academic faculty perceptions of the role of athletics in the educational mission of the university?

Q3. What strategies do academic faculty suggest on how athletics should fit into the educational mission of the institution?


The sample was 12 study participants comprised of representatives, chairs, or faculty members from various academic areas at the study site. The population sampling pool from the study site was 117 faculty members. Study criteria for the faculty participants were full-time faculty members (chairs are tenured faculty) who had an intercollegiate athletic experience, experience in athletic oversight, or expressed an interest in athletic administration. The demographics of the participants are shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Demographics of Participants

Participant Gender Ethnicity Academic
Years in
current role
F1 M Black Education N N 20
F2 M Caucasian Kinesiology N N 13
F3 M Black Physical Education N N 17
F4 F Black Special Education N N 10
F5 M Black Sport Management N Y 1.5
F6 M Black Sport Management Y Y 9
F7 M Black Natural Sciences N N 10
F8 F Caucasian Business Y N 11
F9 M Black Biology N N 21
F10 M Black Sport Management N Y 2
F11 M Caucasian Military Science Y Y 3.5
F12 F Black Music Y N 23

The demographic table shows that all participants were full-time employees in their current position at least one year, with the average years of experience (avg. =11.75 years). The teaching area of the participants breakdown as follows:  Sport Management (n=3), Education (n=1), Kinesiology (n=1), Physical Education (n=1), Special Education (n=1), Natural Science (n=1), Biology (n=1), Military Science (n=1), Music (n=1), and Business (n=1). Four of the twelve faculty members serve as Department Chair, and four have coaching responsibilities. Three of the twelve participants have tenures greater than 20 years, and four have tenures shorter than five years. Three of the twelve faculty were female, and three of the twelve participants where Caucasian. Eight of the twelve faculty members have had an intercollegiate athletic-related experience.  Each participant answered five demographic questions and ten interview questions.

The researcher used an open-ended interview guide for data collection, and participants spent from 9 to 55 minutes answering questions (as identified by voice recorder timer). Interview questions were created by the researcher, based on available literature and the researcher’s ten years of experience as an athletic administrator and collegiate instructor, including one year as departmental chair.  I sent the questions to three members selected from the faculty not associated with the study for their review and feedback on the interview questions and their alignment with the research questions.  The three faculty members who reviewed the interview questions made no recommendations to amend.


Upon receipt of institution study site IRB approval, through purposive sampling, departmental chairs, or a tenured faculty member from each academic area was invited to participate in the study. Representative emails were publicly available on the institution’s website.  The email invitation stated the title of the study, the purpose of the study, the data collection method, anticipated one hour or less interview time required, that participation was strictly voluntary, and that all data gathered are confidential.  The contacted departmental chairs, if they were willing to participate in the study, were asked to respond to the email invitation. The researcher then got the potential participants to explain the study, gave them a consent form to review, and asked for their participation. Of the contacted representatives indicating interest in study participation, the researchers accepted 12 representatives and thanked the rest who responded for their interest but stated the study was full. Assuring that representatives are selected to cover a diverse population of participants is an acceptable method of purposive sampling (10). I then collected data through individual interviews with the selected participants.  The personal interviews were each one hour or less and held at the university during work hours. 

Before the interview, each participant was briefed on the confidentiality and reminded if they wished to withdraw from the study; it would be okay with no repercussion. The researcher collected a consent form from each participant before the start of the interview. The consent forms were kept by me, the researcher, and not shared with the study site. The talks were audio-recorded by the researcher, using an electronic audio recorder, and I took notes.  If a participant did not wish to be audio-recorded, I would take notes only. Because the researcher was employed at the study site as an Assistant Athletic Director for Compliance, the researcher knows and has a working relationship with most of the faculty. I explained to each participant that I was conducting this study as a researcher, and not as an employee of the university.  Each study participant must recognize the importance of being honest with their response and not allow our working relationship to influence their answers. The researcher expected ethical and professional conduct throughout the data collection process.

In processing the data, each participant obtained a number and letter designation, i.e., F1, F2 (for faculty). The individual interviews were transcribed by me, the researcher, into Microsoft Word, and each interview transcript was sent back to each participant for member-checking. Once I checked all the members’ processes, I placed all responses from individual questions in a single separate document. The researcher then stored the data on a secure server with password protection. All paper data included the signed consent forms, which were held in a personal safe in the researcher’s home with only the combination known to the researcher.

The transcribed interviews and researcher notes were read and deconstructed to identify emerging themes.  The themes were grouped into similar categories and coded (27). With organized and categorized data, the next phase was to determine the connection of the data to investigate if themes influenced each other.  Establishing trustworthiness was accomplished by evaluating alternative explanations, disconfirming evidence, and searching for negative cases (27).


The analysis of the study into this DII University revealed faculty attitudes toward athletics are varied and diverse.  Having recognized prior participation in athletics has been recognized as the leading contributor to the faculty’s attitudes towards athletics, which often leads to conflicting aims of athletics and academia (9; 14). Faculty members believe intercollegiate athletic administrators did not provide necessary information for faculty committees to develop valuable student-athlete educational plans effectively.  Lack of communication between administrators and faculty concerning intercollegiate athletics suggests to faculty that athletics holds a privileged position in higher education institutions. Faculty also suggested being at a Division II level; athletics focus should be providing opportunities for student-athletes to continue their educational and athletic endeavors.  With a non-revenue-generating emphasis. Six themes were deduced from the data to answer the three research questions, as shown in Table 2. 

Table 2: Primary Themes Deduced from the Data to Answer the Research Questions

Theme F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 F6 F7 F8 F9 F10 F11 F12 # %
1. Faculty consider athletics a separate entity from the university’s academic mission. (RQ1)
  Y Y Y Y N Y Y Y N Y N N 9 of 12 75%
2. State university admissions policies prohibit admission irregularities for athletes. (RQ1)
  N Y Y N Y Y N N N Y Y 7 of 12 58%
3. Faculty recognized the benefits of a successful athletic program but felt it is not worth the financial strain it puts on the institution. (RQ2)
  Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y 12 of 12 100%
4. University athletics should focus on academics instead of a win at all costs. (RQ2)
  Y N N Y Y Y Y Y Y N Y 9 of 12 75%
5. Academic reform should be a top priority in athletic reform. (RQ3)
  Y Y N N N N Y Y Y Y Y 8 of 12 67%
6. Faculty feel that limited resources hinder the advancement of the university athletic programs. (RQ3)
  Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y 12 of 12 100%

Discussion and Conclusion

Division II athletics has a special place in the mission of the university. However, unlike its Division I counterpart, it is not expected to be the ‘cash cow’ for the university and be self-efficient. The findings from this study revealed intercollegiate athletics provides opportunities for those student-athletes who might be missing something that prevents them from attending a more prominent Division I institution. Therefore, what this university offers is an alternative for students to continue to play a sport they love and provide a means to an education that will help them secure a better future for them and their families.  Faculty felt that lack of access to sufficient financial resources hinders the advancement of the university athletic programs.  Findings from this study add to the limited existing literature on athletics as it fits into university mission statements, secondly, faculty perceptions of intercollegiate athletics at NCAA Division II institutions, and lastly, collegiate athletic reform at DII institutions. 

As the popularity of intercollegiate athletics continues to skyrocket, faculty have different perspectives on the role of athletics in higher education (3; 7).  The participants’ narratives were analyzed thematically and synthesized under the three following headings: 1) faculty’s experience in dealing with intercollegiate athletic alignment with the institution’s academic mission, 2) faculty’s perceptions of the role intercollegiate athletics play at the institution, and 3) recommendations to improve the effectiveness of the role of intercollegiate athletics.

Research Question #1 – Athletics fit into Institutional Mission

The study site participants were first asked the faculty’s experiences in intercollegiate athletics and how athletics fits into the mission of the institution. 

Overall, the findings revealed that the experiences the participants had with intercollegiate athletics had left a positive impression. However, nine of the 12 participants indicated that the mission statement did not mention athletics. Athletics not explicitly mentioned in the mission, 50% of the participants felt the holistic mission of the institution includes subgroups such as intercollegiate athletics.       

In this study, 8 of 12 participants agreed that academic reform is the top priority of intercollegiate athletic reform. Two participants noted better training is needed for teachers and academic advisors to serve the student-athlete population better.  However, two other participants suggested academic success begins with the student-athlete taking more responsibility for their welfare. One implication of the study findings is that providing better resources to student-athletes (i.e., hiring or identifying academic advisers to work specifically with student-athletes) will improve athletes’ educational experience, improving their athletic experience. Another significant finding is that participants felt intercollegiate athletics at the Division II level provided an “opportunity” for those students who seek an alternative to a larger Division I environment. Smaller institutions’ athletic programs do not have to deal with the pressures of having to compete on a national scale and maintain a certain financial level to remain competitive in student recruitment. The implication from this finding is that smaller institutions will better serve its student-athlete population by improving the resources for academic success instead of focusing on athletic capital campaigns.  The focus on educational resources supports the concept that the original perception of faculty is that the goal of the intercollegiate athletic program is the student-athletes’ academic achievement (16).

Research Question #2 – Faculty Perception of the Role of Intercollegiate Athletics

The study site participants were asked their perceptions of how intercollegiate athletics should fit into the mission of an institution.

 Only six of the 12 participants perceived the student-athletes receive similar treatment as the non-athlete. Being a Division II institution, the expectation of intercollegiate athletics is limited. Most of the participants were interested in the personal development of the student-athletes instead of the financial perks of a successful athletic department. This finding supports the theory on the “collegiate” model of athletics being used to enhance the overall collegiate experience, emphasizing the importance of teamwork, discipline, and hard work (26). A significant finding was that the lack of financial resources significantly impacted the perception of the role of intercollegiate athletics at the study site. An economic concern was the increase in federal and state government restrictions on funding for higher education, which forces colleges and universities dependent on financial resources for operations to seek other financial means (4). Four participants stated the institution was not financially funded for athletics to be successful.  One faculty noted since the decline in enrollment in the past few years, the athletic budget is affected, and there has been a decline in the win-loss records of the athletic teams. This finding implies that unless there is an increase in the athletic department, the pressure on intercollegiate athletics to produce winning teams should be minimal.

Research Question #3 – Suggestions Strategies to Best Utilize Intercollegiate Athletics The study site participants were asked about strategies to improve athletic reform in Division II intercollegiate athletics.

The findings for research question three came from asking participants their ideas on strategies to best utilize intercollegiate athletics in the academic mission of the institution.  The first strategy came in fiscal well-being. Unfortunately, all participants stated that based on the lack of financial resources that the athletic department is limited in what it can do. However, two participants suggested more creative ideas for fundraising for the athletic department. Duplicating capital campaign models of successful Division II programs could benefit this department. This finding implies that institutions that utilize a successful intercollegiate athletic program effectively will develop strategies to raise money, specifically for athletics. Developing fundraising strategies for athletics will reduce the need for the athletic department to rely heavily on institutional aid (i.e., student fees) for survival. Therefore, the administration can allocate funds to academic research and development. This strategy will better help in defining the role of intercollegiate athletics.

Another significant finding is that more campus departments work together for the better utilization of intercollegiate athletics in the overall mission of the institution. F2 and F10 suggested that a significant concern for this institution is that units do not work together to better the institution. Once different subgroups realize that success in one area can bring success to other departments, the more proficient this institution will become. This finding implies that more collaboration between athletics and other departments on campus would make it easier to define the role of intercollegiate athletics and how it can align with the mission of the institution. Sports coaches becoming more involved in university-wide committees and faculty forums will help fully integrate academics and athletics (13).


One recommendation for practical application is to better train faculty and academic advisors on how to better serve the student-athlete population, which includes allowing academic advisors to attend professional development NCAA workshops. The Director of Athletics should assign an advisor strictly to student-athletes, and this person attends professional development workshops sponsored through the NCAA. Academic affairs and the athletic department should collaborate on finding an advisor strictly for athletics.

A second, for practical application, is to change the evaluation criteria for coaches so that the overall win-loss record is not a significant factor in determining whether a coach maintains their job or not. Participants stated that the inadequate funding in the athletic department correlates to the lack of athletic success. Therefore, the administration should not hold a coach to an expectation of producing a championship program if the resources are not available for them to do so. Having coaches as a part of the faculty would be an excellent strategy if academia embraced athletics as an essential educational unit, recognized coaches for their role as educators, and provided validation and compensation for their academic success instead of their athletic record (27). Many of the competitive pressures currently impacting intercollegiate athletic reform could diminish—particularly for lower division institutions (27). Study participants who were coaches viewed themselves as educators and expressed the desire to be considered to be in such and appreciated for the role they play in shaping the educational experience of their athletes. 

The third recommendation for practical application is to establish more collaborative efforts between athletics and other units on campus. For example, create an athletic oversight committee responsible for reviewing admission standards, fiscal responsibility, and compliance matters. The establishment of the athletic oversight committee would comprise of various departments on campus, including faculty, admissions, Registrar, student financial aid, and athletic administration and coaches. An oversight committee would provide more insight and transparency into the operations and governance of intercollegiate athletics. Findings from this study suggest the main focus of this Division II institution should be on academics instead of a win at all costs. If academic integrity is the top priority in athletic reform for this low resource Division II institution, the athletic department should collaborate with faculty to create initiatives that would allow athletic excellence and academic integrity to co-exist.


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