Colleges with high-profile sports programs may say they put the academic performances of their players first, but a new study suggests that the organizational culture of those programs prioritizes athletic success at the expense of academics -- and that athletes are unfairly blamed for the academic failures that result from such a system.
In the study, to be published in the Journal of Higher Education, the University of California at Riverside's Uma Jayakumar and Eddie Comeaux interviewed and observed athletes, coaches and other athletics employees at an unnamed Football Bowl Subdivision public university. The researchers found that coaches "emphasized personal control and choice, deflecting the pressure of the inherent tension on the athlete." Even athletes who came into the program wanting to focus equally on academics and athletics found that it was difficult to do so with the 40 hours per week they were devoting to their sport, and thus shifted their focus to athletics.
According to the study, the disconnect between the athletic program's stated focus on academic support and what actually happens on the campus creates what the authors call "a cultural cover-up."
"Support services, coupled with state-of-the-art facilities and stated organizational commitment to academics, taken at face value, suggest that the institution is strongly committed to supporting college athletic success," the authors wrote. "This messaging lends itself to the perception that athletes do poorly in school because of inadequate time management and study skills, rather than the excessive time demand required (whether officially or unofficially) by their sport and of a culture that actually pushes them toward athletics over academics."
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