2016 was an incredible year in sport and an interesting year all around. The 2016 Olympics, the Cubs won the world series, the Cavs and Lebron stormed back to win the NBA championship, and of course, the November elections. In the world of college athletics, there were a series of events that brought up key cultural issues and discussions on college campuses around student-athlete welfare, diversity, sexual assault, and mental health needs and advocacy.
These stories and others have impacted how athletic departments — and in particular industry professionals — have worked with student-athletes this year. Here’s a look at some of the key storylines we are keeping an eye on as we head into 2017 as we believe they have the potential to impact the student-athlete experience.
College Athletics Revenues
Athletic department revenues are at an all-time high. In fact, many argue this revenue growth is essential for the betterment of the student-athlete experience. As revenues increase, the disparity of the ‘haves and have nots’ has become increasingly clear. The revenue pie for Power 5 athletic departments has increased rapidly while other Division I institutions are finding ways to stretch dollars to do more with less.
At the Power 5 conference level, TV payouts and conference agreements have become so lucrative that it has reduced the need to count on sponsorship rights to pay for day-to-day expenses of the athletic department. And while the Power 5 have ample opportunities, many mid-major programs do not have the luxury of massive conference-wide payouts. This leads conferences and institutions to innovatively think through new sources of revenue. For example, we are very proud to partner with The Big South on the first ever, conference-wide career network. The program is being sponsored by Sharp and illustrates the type of innovation it takes to lead in the current era of college athletics.
This type of sponsorship innovation is being led by organizations such as Van Wagner, JMI, IMG and Learfield. For example this year, Learfield announced Campus +, a new operating division of its business that is designed to create broad strategic business relationships on behalf of many of its university partners. Learfield’s recent sale to Atairos, Van Wagner’s fantastic growth, JMI’s win with Clemson and IMG’s continued success, proves college athletics remain a red-hot market and there are plenty of opportunities available for continued sponsorship innovation and engagement.
Although O’Bannon (in O’Bannon vs. NCAA) was shot down, there is still a growing argument around future compensation of the college athlete. Lawsuits on the subject were front and center this year. This conversation was further amplified with new ideas for how to handle the future of paying athletes and “fairly” compensating student-athletes for the work they do on the field. And while Cost of Attendance legislation was passed in 2015, it came into full effect over the 2016-17 academic year with more athletic departments implementing the benefit — playing a role in recruiting, money management, funding and development discussions. But what does all of this mean to the student-athlete? While there are many discussions around what “should” happen, it’s still likely to be a while before we see any real resolution.
Student-Athlete Time Demands
The conversation around student-athlete time demands continues to be at the forefront of thought and planning for many athletic departments, conferences and key stakeholders of student-athletes. As we near the NCAA Convention in January, we can expect to only see more of this conversation with new proposals for how athletes should be — and will be required to monitor and spend — their time. What happens here is important for student-athlete development professionals as there is already an increasing need to provide student-athletes with life skills, leadership and career development resources. However, with limited time available, it’s proving to be exceedingly difficult to provide quality engagement opportunities to student-athletes to help in their journey to be successful beyond college. As college athletic leadership create new opportunities to free up time for the student-athlete, a key metric that will be sought after will be the ROTI – the return on the time invested. The student-athlete pinball effect is real and high impact activities directly correlated to outcomes, such as career placement, will continue to be invested in while those with poor correlation will be pushed aside.
Athletic Identity and Mental Health
The NCAA Sport Science Institute released its Mental Health Best Practices guide in early 2016. This is one of the first times the NCAA has put this large of a focus and initial investments on the mental health of the student-athlete. It appears as if they are continuing to invest time and resources into the research and development of new information around this topic as well. With the prevalence of anxiety, stress, eating disorders and substance abuse on the rise on college campuses (and more specifically with regards to student-athletes) it is imperative that this subject remain in focus. Student-athlete mental health is complex and highly unique to the individual. We believe this remains an area with great prospects for growth and enhancement to positively impact the journey of the student-athlete.
APR Success and What’s Next in Student-Athlete Development
Although APR is hitting all-time highs across all three levels of the NCAA, the state of hiring college students and student-athletes is poor. In fact, only 29.6 percent of surveyed 2016 college graduates had a job in hand upon graduating. In addition, 12.6% of recent grads are underemployed. Securing a job is becoming an even bigger part of the puzzle for student-athletes and advisors when it comes to ensuring “success” post-graduation. Gone are the days when a degree is ‘good enough.’ Employers now want to see more than just a piece of paper. As a result, many schools are creating programs and roles specifically dedicated to building relationships with employers and preparing seniors for their post-graduation careers. These programs are also in the early stages of measuring and tracking the activities associated with this process. Some are even putting a stake in the ground and measuring coaches and administration around these metrics.
The Student-Athlete Voice
For what seems like the most prominent time in history, we saw a huge increase in student-athletes taking a stand and making their voices heard. From issues related to sexual assault, diversity and inclusion and time demands, student-athletes are making it known that they have strong opinions on many issues–and they want a seat at the table. From the pre-game national anthems to sit-ins and protests, campuses and athletic departments were met with a variety of unprecedented events in our current landscape. These undoubtedly impact the student-athlete experience and will continue to evolve and demand attention, resources, and thoughtful education across athletic departments at all levels as we move into 2017.
The Role of Technology and College Athletics
The renowned technologist and investor, Marc Andreessen famously wrote “software is eating the world.” The college athletics market is no exception. Technology is impacting every facet of the market – media, consumerism, fan-experience, as well as the student-athlete experience. One group that does an outstanding job following the market is SportsTechie. As an example, SportsTechie recently started an interview series with athletic directors discussing the impact of technology on their own programs.
Relative to the student-athlete experience, the digital footprint of the student-athlete is becoming increasingly fragmented leading to what we call, “platform fatigue.” Compliance, sports performance, academic development, student-athlete development, operations and student success all play a role in this journey of the athlete. Platform fatigue is real and impacting the student-athlete experience. As technology continues to be introduced, it is safe to say the market will evolve rapidly and innovation will lead. The athletic departments that strategically manage technology will succeed.
2017 and beyond
There were a lot of important topics and milestones that shaped the athletic department culture and the student-athlete experience over the past year. Next week, we’ll share our outlook for what’s to come in 2017 as it relates to athletic departments and the student-athlete experience.
In the meantime, leave us a comment and let us know what else you think should be on this list!