What College Students Say about Intercollegiate Athletics: A Survey of Attitudes and Beliefs

Article excerpt

A sample of 1028 college students were asked to indicate the degree to which they agreed or disagreed with a set of statements concerning intercollegiate athletics. Students were generally supportive of intercollegiate athletic programs; however, they were skeptical about the academic seriousness of student-athletes, and generally did not endorse athletic reform measures. The set of statements distinguished between athletes and non-athletes, and correctly classified 79% of the participants.

The wisdom and precise role of athletic programs has provided a topic for discussion among faculty and university administrators throughout the last century. The value of such programs to the university is often rationalized by the financial gains, and national recognition that athletics are claimed to bring to an institution. Periodic scandals are dismissed as idiosyncratic failures of a particular coach, athletic director, or university president. The value of athletics in attracting and retaining students is often advanced as a basis for their continued existence. Since the programs themselves enroll a very small percentage of the total student body, the traditional rationalization of sports as a character-developing-experience is not heard as often as it once was.

Academic researchers who study intercollegiate athletics have examined the opinions of university faculty and administrators (Engstrom, Sedlacek, & McEwen, 1996), the relative incidence of specific behaviors, such as the use of physical abuse among student-athletes (Chandler, Johnson, & Carroll, 1999), or underlying motivational constructs, such as fear of failure (Simons, Van Rheenen, & Covington, 1999), betting on athletic events (Oster & Knapp, 1998), and the academic coursework of student-athletes (Knapp & Raney, 1990). The Knight Foundation in their Commission On Intercollegiate Athletics (1991-1992) sought to determine the attitude of the general public toward college athletics. They reported that a Harris Poll for 1989 found "78 percent of Americans" believed that "big-time intercollegiate athletics were out of control" (1992, p. 4). Following the recommendations for reform by the Knight Commission, this percentage decreased to 52 percent in 1992. College students, however, have rarely been queried on their attitudes about athletics (but see Leonard, Jensen, & Liverman, 1982).

Thus, the present study had a two fold purpose: First, to sample the opinions of college students about intercollegiate athletic programs, and their participants, student-athletes. Secondly, to discern differences between student-athletes and non-athletes with respect to university athletic programs.

Our university is not representative of all American universities with athletic programs, however, it does provided a reasonable population on which to evaluate some preliminary hypotheses. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas is a Division 1A participant in the Mountain West Athletic Conference, and has a strong history of commitment to intercollegiate athletics when measured by capital investment. It won the national NCAA basketball championship in 1990, and the national NCAA golf championship in 1998. Its basketball arena is the 4th largest in the nation, and it recently expanded its football stadium to accommodate over 40,000 fans.

Method

Participants

Participants were 1028 undergraduate students enrolled in a variety of classes at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas during the spring and summer of 1999. The majority of the participants (N=920) were self-identified as non-athletes, and 108 were similarity identified as athletes. Of the total sample, 59.4% were female, and 40.5% male.

Instrument and Procedures

The questionaire consisted of 44 items, the first five of which collected demographic information. The remaining items were statements about intercollegiate athletics and student-athletes. …