Academic Clustering in Intercollegiate Athletics: Supporting Evidence for Disparate Impact of Amateurism?
Williams, Anthony Lamont (author)
Giardina, Michael D., 1976- (professor directing dissertation)
Perrewe, Pamela L. (university representative)
Rodenberg, Ryan M. (committee member)
James, Jeffrey D. (Jeffrey Dalton) (committee member)
Florida State University (degree granting institution)
College of Education (degree granting college)
Department of Sport Management (degree granting department)
The amateurism principle in intercollegiate athletics has become an increasingly popular topic in discussions of sport and equality since its inception in the mid-twentieth century. As the profitability of the collegiate-sport product increases into a billion-dollar business (In Re NCAA Grant-in-Aid Cap Antitrust Litigation, March 8, 2019) and commercialism continues to climb, there has been continuous discourse across popular (Branch, 2011; Harris, 2018; Hruby, 2016; Jackson, 2018) and political (Murphy, 2019) culture pertaining to the lack of student-athlete compensation and subsequent exploitation of collegiate athletic talent. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), a non-profit organization that issues rules and governs activities of collegiate athletic programs at institutions of higher education, has consistently denied revenue-generating players-particularly in basketball and football-the ability to be compensated at a market rate for their athletic performance (outside of cost of attendance) by adhering to the amateurism principles adopted from the British aristocracy. Academic integrity has become an increasingly salient component of the American intercollegiate amateurism model, especially when considering the amount of academic misconduct violations that have taken place at NCAA institutions of higher education (i.e., University of Miami, University of Southern California, Ohio State University, etc.) (Ridpath, Gurney, & Synder, 2015). The discourse related to academic dishonesty is intensified when the violation involves a collegiate athlete, particularly a high-profile athlete competing in revenue generating sports such as basketball or football (Potuto, 2006). The pressures to win at all costs while ensuring that all athletes are eligible has led to institutions pursuing various undertakings in order to ensure that academic eligibility is maintained. One popular phenomenon that exists as a result of said academic pressures is academic clustering, which occurs when more than 25% of an athletic team are grouped or 'clustered' into the same major. Collegiate athletes are attending institutions of higher education for the opportunity to advance their academic interest while participating in their particular sport as an avocation, but the grueling schedule set forth by coaches and athletic leaders often leads to an overemphasis on sport performance and a lack of attention to amicable academic progression. The narrative of collegiate-athlete exploitation comes from athlete insight that collegiate athletes spend 60+ hours a week on their sport (in-season) and that their participation in the sport leaves little to no time for students to study and pursue the academic major of their choice. The primary athletes that are being exploited are revenue-generating athletes, i.e., the athletes that bring in the most money to the universities and conferences. Sports such as men's basketball and men's football are the primary means of revenue-generation for large and successful programs, bringing in enough money to sustain the athletic departments they play for, as well as all other sports housed in their respective athletic departments (which do not generate the requisite revenue to sustain themselves). Ironically, these athletes are also predominantly black (Brown & Williams, 2019) and are being clustered into 'easier' majors in order to afford them the utmost time and flexibility to focus on their sport. This is problematic when one recognizes that the very terminology used–student-athlete–pays reverence to the importance of student-athletes being students first. This is not the case for most black athletes, and it brings into question the effect that this inconsistency is having on the black athlete population. Although the NCAA prides itself on protecting the interests of the students as they participate in sport as an avocation, the same freedoms do not appear to be afforded to the student-athletes that bring in the most money. In this dissertation, I examine the concept of perceived disparate impact and the potential effects of the amateurism model on collegiate athletes of color. Critical Race Theory (CRT) posits that disparate impact is a (c)overtly racial problem of hierarchy and colonialism. As recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court in the lineage of rules, the concept of disparate impact originates from Section 703(a)(2) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This concept highlights cases in which systems that are not intentionally racist or discriminatory are nonetheless having an adverse impact on marginalized groups. A comprehensive evaluation of academic clustering and the factors that lead to this phenomenon are important in the discussions of racial exploitation of black athletes by the intercollegiate amateurism model. Following the research by Case et. al., (1987), I consider if the concept of academic clustering can serve as evidence for a disparate impact claim to be made in opposition to the current intercollegiate amateurism model. To do this, I structured my project by investigating the concept through a Critical Race Theory lens and interviewed revenue-generating scholarship athletes to gain a better understanding of the motivating factors in their academic major selection process. I also interviewed non-revenue-generating scholarship athletes and analyzed the narratives to determine if there is a difference in the motivating factors present in the academic major selection process. As a researcher and former athlete, I understand that some collegiate athletes do not come to institutions of higher education for the sake of an education and are simply attending to play their sport in an effort to reach the professional leagues. Athletes who wish to pursue this route of progression should be given the right to do so, but those who do wish to get a legitimate education and leave their institution with a degree that they can utilize to make a career of should be afforded ample latitude to do so. I interviewed twelve collegiate athletes, half of which being revenue-generating scholarship athletes and the other half being non-revenue-generating scholarship athletes, as well as three academic advisors in intercollegiate athletics. Academic advisors were interviewed in order to investigate the manner of influence that academic advisors have in the selection of academic major by collegiate athletes. The bifurcation of athletes interviewed stems from literature supporting the notion that the divide correlates with race. Nonrevenue athletes are mostly white, while revenue-sport athletes are disproportionately black, especially at the most elite sports schools (Jackson, 2018). The narrative analysis of their interview transcripts served to provide a collective outlook on the motivating factors that influence their academic major selection, if such decisions are effectively allowed at all. After careful analysis of the empirical materials collected, the researcher found that some collegiate athletes at this institution are unduly influenced by athletic leaders and coaches. There appears to be a slight difference in the freedom afforded to revenue and non-revenue collegiate athletes, specifically when considering that non-revenue athletes receive far more direct undue influence from coaches and athletic leaders, whereas revenue-athletes operate under a guise of freedom related to the perception of choice of academic major (as long as it fits with their athletic responsibilities). Subsequently, the researcher now understands that athletes at this institution are not given ample latitude to choose their academic major, with athletic leaders, coaches, student-athlete balance, and adherence to strict admissions standards being the primary factors in their decision-making. Lastly, the researcher believes it is possible for there to be a legitimate claim of Disparate Impact according to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 brought against the amateurism model. The standards set by the Amateurism model are seemingly having a negative academic impact on some of the athletes in this study, which supports previous literature (see Fountain & Finley, 2009) related to the deviation of NCAA institutions from their original mission of protecting academic integrity. As a result, there remains a need to hold NCAA member institutions to the standards of their own academic origin.
May 18, 2021.
A Dissertation submitted to the Department of Sport Management in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Michael D. Giardina, Professor Directing Dissertation; Pamela L. Perrewe, University Representative; Ryan M. Rodenberg, Committee Member; Jeffrey D. James, Committee Member.
Florida State University