Do High School Athletes Succeed in College: A Review of Research

By Peltier, Gary L.; Laden, Rita et al. | High School Journal, April 1999 | Go to article overview

Do High School Athletes Succeed in College: A Review of Research


Peltier, Gary L., Laden, Rita, Matranga, Myrna, High School Journal


Many high school athletes dream of success in college sports. For a very select few, the NBA, NFL, or professional baseball may be a possibility.

However, estimates by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCM) indicate that:

* This nation has nearly one million high-school football players and about 500,000 basketball players. Of that number, about 150 make it to the NFL and about 50 make an NBA team.

* Less than three percent of college seniors will play one year in professional basketball.

* The odds of a high-school football player making it to the pros at all - let alone having a career - are about 6,000 to 1: the odds for a high-school basketball player- 10,000 to 1. (NCM, 1997).

In a 1994 book, Lessons of the Locker Room, Miracle and Rees discussed the question of whether college graduation is possible based on one's athletic prowess. The authors found the finding of the Knight Foundation Commission (1991) to be noteworthy. Of particular concern to the members of the commission were the admission and graduation statistics for athletes. For example, at half of all Division 1-A institutions, basketball and football players not achieving minimal university entry requirements were accepted as "special admits" at a rate ten times higher than that permitted in the rest of the freshman class. Also, in a typical Division I college or university, only 33 percent of male basketball players and 37.5 percent of football players graduated within five years (Knight, 1991).

Clearly, the majority of athletes entering basketball and football programs at Division I schools were unlikely to turn their aspirations of graduation into reality. In the late 1980s, athletes' initial academic deficiencies were exacerbated by the demands of these high-powered programs which required that they devote about thirty hours a week in season to their sport (Knight, 1991). Critics estimated the time spent in sports in big-time programs to be much higher: fifty to sixty hours a week in-season if travel time is included, and eighteen hours a week in the off-season (Edwards, 1984).

What then has been the college experience of high school athletes in the 1990s? The purpose of this article is to review the current research on the success of the high school athlete in college.

There is no question that intercollegiate sports have become the center of much debate over the last decade on college campuses. Some argue that the athlete is being used to bring status to the institution, but is not provided enough support to be successful either academically or socially. Athletes do have a special challenge to stay eligible academically, yet are also expected to perform well in their individual sport.

Walter and Smith (1990) state "historically, the public's perception of student athletes has been shaped by the popular press. They are commonly portrayed as intellectual troglodytes, admitted to college without meeting admissions requirements and excused for maintaining academic standards once they enroll" (p. 327). However, these authors maintain that "contrary to common belief, student athletes are much more like other students than they are different" (p. 327).

Sedlacek and Adams-Gaston (1992), on the other hand, have proposed that it might be useful to conceptualize student-athletes as nontraditional students. Athletes seem to have a unique culture and set of experiences in life that differentiate them from others (Sowa & Gressard, 1983). They tend to spend a great deal of time together and often have common goals and values generated by their experiences as athletes. They also tend to be subjected to prejudice and discrimination much like groups thought of as "minority" cultures. For instance, Engstrom and Sedlacek (1989, 1991) reported that some students and faculty tend to have negative stereotypes of student-athletes.

Stuart (1985) recognized that student athletes do have different challenges than nonathletes. …

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