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A Look at 2017 in Student-Athlete Development

By December 20, 2016 January 4th, 2017 No Comments

Earlier, we reflected on the state of student-athlete development and the collegiate student-athlete experience. Now, let’s dive into what we think we’ll see more of as we get into the New Year.

Based on our conversations daily with college athletic departments from across the country and our experiences in working with a variety of institutions, industry professionals and student-athletes, we’ve put together a list of our top predictions for the upcoming year.

Measurement and tracking of student-athlete development will become a priority.

In 2016, we saw a number of schools draw a line in the sand around tracking job placement of student-athletes — schools like Ohio State and Arkansas State. These examples reinforce that we can no longer just rely on graduation rates and assumptions that student-athletes are ready for the “real world.”

As former Oregon State AD and new Georgia Tech AD Todd Stansbury  states, “We’re moving our priority from GPAs and grad rates to getting people ready for the real world.”

This type of thinking will become more prevalent across college athletic departments.

We’ll also see more formalized, required programs, along with additional resources put towards job preparation and placement. Student-athletes are demanding more support in this area and to accommodate, athletic departments will have to find ways in which to hold key stakeholders in the athletic department accountable for how prepared these student-athletes are once they leave campus. To do this, it not only depends on those working directly with the students as advisors, but also across the department and the amount of support that comes from the top down.  

The athletic departments that move from promoting “programs” to creating a culture of positive student-athlete experiences will find competitive advantage.

Student-athlete time demands ramp up.

This discussion will continue heavily in 2017 as legislation will either get approved or will be put forth for evaluation and approvals at key conventions and meetings throughout the year. A driving point behind the need to review student-athlete time demands is consistent feedback of alumni student-athletes of missed opportunities to prepare them for life after athletics, mainly the opportunity for internships and travel abroad.  

An evolving point in the conversation will be the question of which activities and metrics are most valuable for preparing student-athletes for life beyond college. As with the metrics shift we just discussed, defining the ideal outcome and what activities are necessary to achieve that outcome is what must occur.

If the most important metric is job placement, then a greater focus and requirements must be placed in that area. And of course, regardless of what is decided, it will impact how athletic department administration, staff and coaches work with the student-athletes — ultimately changing how they “do” their jobs.

Athletic time demands of athletes will be further scrutinized, as will other demands such as community outreach.  There will be an increased focus associated with the career development process of the athlete.     


Roles and responsibilities across the profession are merging.

With the increasing overlap between roles in academics, life skills, leadership and career development, many industry professionals now have to wear more than one, if not many hats when it comes to programming and direction of student-athletes. 2016 was the first full year of the N4A and the NCAA Life Skills programming merge. And while there are still lots of clarification needed around this, it’s becoming increasingly important for the two to create a definition around what constitutes student-athlete support and student-athlete career development. At Game Plan, this year we also started to see increasing overlap with the roles around alumni / varsity clubs and student-athlete development. It will be interesting to see how all of this evolves to better support the entire student-athlete journey as there are still many gaps in providing former student-athletes with personal and professional development support once they graduate.

In addition to the more traditional student-athlete development functions, innovative athletic departments like Michigan State and Notre Dame are bringing together student development with sports performance. Similar to the ‘platform fatigue’ challenge  we discuss with our customers, managing the human resource element of college athletics is critical to budgeting on long-standing success.  Innovative moves to become more comprehensive will ultimately drive organizational and economic efficiency.  

The need to provide “experiences” for student-athletes increases.

As with the need to support former student-athletes, there is a pressing desire to help current athletes experience more — outside of athletics and academics. This comes in the form of workplace experiences, as well as life experiences. This includes study abroad programs tailored to current student-athletes and also customized internships. More athletic departments and student-athlete service areas will work on bridging the gap and will find ways to get these student-athletes what they want and need to be more well-rounded and successful beyond college. Depending on how the time demands discussion shakes out, we could also start seeing chunks of time where student-athletes will be able to do off-campus internships or visit abroad. Two opportunities that are somewhat difficult to accomplish in the current landscape.

College sponsorships will evolve.

At the Power 5 conference level, TV payouts and conference agreements have become so lucrative that it has eliminated the need to count on sponsorship rights to pay for day-to-day expenses of the athletic department. As this continues to shift, it will force sponsorship deals to become more innovative. Sponsorship of initiatives and events in the department that help a company to get their brand more involved in the student-athlete experience will become a bigger part of sponsorship packages. And while the Power 5 have ample opportunities, mid-major level programs do not have the luxury of conference-wide payouts and TV. This leads these conferences to innovate as a primary method to fund athletic department expenses.  This innovation is also occurring on the other side of the market from the sponsorship groups like Van Wagner and Learfield. If outsourced, campus-wide deals will become the norm. New categories of sponsorships will include balance in trade.

Other examples include Big South’s recent announcement of its conference-wide career network, as well as Oregon State’s Everyday Champions and first round draft choice initiative. The Big South is providing Game Plan’s innovative student-athlete development software to its member institutions in order to enhance current resources on campus and provide comprehensive student-athlete development. The Everyday Champions Program is designed to enhance the experience of Oregon State University’s student-athletes through participation in different clubs, events, and activities all of which give student-athletes an opportunity to grow personally and professionally, while developing the leadership skills to enter into the real world with poise, conviction, and a drive to succeed.

How it all plays out?

Ultimately, we’ll have to wait and see how a lot of this unfolds in the next year. It’s certain that there are going to continue to be dramatic shifts not only in student-athlete development, but across the business of college athletics.  

What do you think’s coming in 2017? What else would you add to the list for the New Year?

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