Recruitment is a vital component for any college or university.
Recruiting top student-athletes is even more strategic due to the
potential increase in undergraduate admissions and booster donations
that a championship season may bring. While much research has been
conducted related to the factors influencing the choice of college,
there is limited research focusing on college choice factors of
student-athletes. Additionally, a majority of the research focusing on
college choice factors of student-athletes does not address those
student-athletes at top Division I-A institutions. The present study
sought to determine if the factors that influence the college choice of
high level students-athletes was different than research results
focusing on non-athletes. The findings of this study suggest that,
although student-athletes have different factors that influence college
choice, non-athletic related factors as just as important as athletic
related factors. These findings are valuable to the successful
recruitment of student-athletes and may mean the difference between
successful and unseccessful athletic programs.
The students entering institutions of higher education today are
much different than those of previous generations (Abrahamson, 2000).
Often called Generation Y, Baby Boomers II, and Millennials, this group
has often been described as ambitious, precocious, stressed, wayward,
and indifferent (Newton, 2000). Additionally, these people have been
characterized as being exposed to greater "grown-up" activity
and less experienced in exercising discipline and decision making
(Newton, 2000). As this generation makes decisions about attending
college, and ultimately what college to attend, they consider factors
much differently than previous generations. It is imperative that those
involved in the recruitment process understand both the factors that are
most influential in selecting an institution and the methodology
utilized by college bound students in their search process.
Previous studies have attempted to determine what factors have the
greatest influence on students' college choice. Spies (1978) found
that academic reputation of the institution was more important than
financial considerations. More recently, Sevier (1993) studied
college-bound high school juniors and reported that availability of
desired major and total cost of attending college were the most
important factors. Galotti and Mark (1994) noted that parents/guardians,
friends, and guidance center materials were rated as most important in
the college search process. Most recently, Hu and Hossler (2000) found
that students were most influenced by family input and finance-related
The transformation of college athletics over the past 30 years into
a multi-billion dollar, internationally recognized business has changed
the focus of intercollegiate athletic departments. Budget minded
administrators have realized that a winning team can provide an
effective means of advertising their institutions and securing much
needed additional funding (Davies, 1994). Many Division I-A college
basketball and football programs generate 20-to-30 million dollars
annually in revenue (Fulks, 2000). Not surprisingly, success within an
athletic department can positively impact the institution's overall
reputation and ultimately lead to higher numbers and caliber of
undergraduate applications. Over the past twenty years championship
teams in football and basketball have led to increases in undergraduate
admission applications for the years following the championship (Toma
and Cross, 1998). In addition, winning teams bring notoriety, which
allows greater selectivity in admissions but also stimulates booster
donations to the athletic department and the university as a whole
With the impact winning athletic teams have on a university it is
not surprising that the pressure to produce winning teams is enormous.
Coaches are expected to recruit the most athletically talented players
to provide the university with winning seasons. "Because the
athletic record is identified with the prestige of the university,
acquiring 'blue chip' athletes through active recruitment is a
major concern of university coaches" (Mathes & Gurney, 1985,
pp. 327-328). In order to ensure the cycle of successful seasons, it is
imperative that the athletic department recruits the most athletically
talented and academically eligible potential student-athletes possible.
Since intercollegiate athletes not only choose a university, but
also a team and coach, their college selection process may be much
different than non-athletes. Although there has been much research
focusing on the decision-making process of students, the literature
focusing on student-athletes' decision making processes is limited.
Mathes and Gurney (1985) found the college coach and campus environment
were most important in the student-athlete decision making process.
Similarly, Adler and Adler (1991) noted that the coach and reputation of
the coach were most often mentioned by athletes. The opportunity to play
early in their careers was found by Konnert and Giese (1987) as very
high in the considerations of student-athletes. Reynaud (1998)
identified receiving an athletic scholarship and academic reputation as
the most important factors in the decision-making process. While these
studies provided vital information and background on the decision-making
processes of student-athletes, they were either conducted several years
ago or included student-athletes at lower levels within the NCAA
structure. It is anticipated that factors affecting the decision-making
process will be different today than it was 10-to-15 years ago. Further,
athletes competing at the Division I-A level are exposed to playing on
television, before large crowds, and in an environment where
championship seasons lead to increased admissions and increased booster
donations. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to determine if the
college choice factors of first-year, NCAA Division I-A student-athletes
differ from previous research focusing on non-athletes. With this
understanding universities can recruit quality student-athletes and be
in a better position to win more championships, produce more revenue,
and increase visibility.
The accessible population for this study included all 135
first-year student-athletes enrolled at a large, public, four-year,
Research I institution that enrolls almost 40,000 undergraduate,
graduate, and professional students. In addition, the University has a
large intercollegiate athletics program, involving more than 400
student-athletes and 25 varsity sports (12 for men and 13 for women).
The University was selected for this study because of its national
reputation as a "Big-Time College Sports" institution.
Attempts were made to survey this entire population at the University
during study table sessions required of all first-year student-athletes.
However, eight students were not present at any of the study table
sessions when data were collected and one student who was present
refused to participate in the study. The remaining 126 first-year
student-athletes who completed survey forms represented 99.2% of all
students present during study table sessions and 93.3% of all first-year
student-athletes at the University.
The Intercollegiate Student-Athlete Questionnaire (Gabert, Hale,
& Montalvo, 1999), developed through consultation with athletic
department personnel from various institutions, was adapted for use in
this study. The resulting instrument was designed to explore the degree
of influence that 25 college selection factors had on the decision made
by prospective student-athletes to attend the University.
The survey consisted of five demographic items concerning each
participant's gender, race/ethnicity, state of high school
graduation, primary intercollegiate sport, and scholarship status. These
items were followed by a list of 25 college choice factors such as
family members and high school teammates; opportunities for travel and
media exposure as a student-athlete; the institution's academic
support services, athletic facilities, and degree program options.
Students were asked to rate each of these 25 items using a five-point
scale ranging from 1 (Not at All) to 5 (Very Much) to describe the
extent to which each factor had influenced their selection of a
Data Collection Procedures
Permission to administer the survey at study-table sessions
required of all first-year student-athletes was obtained from the
Assistant Athletic Director at the University. Each student was told the
purpose of the study and received directions for completing and
returning the survey. Once the questionnaires were completed the
students were asked to seal their responses in an envelope, and return
the envelope to the researcher.
The analyses utilized descriptive statistics (frequencies,
percentages, means, standard deviations) to summarize the demographic
characteristics of the respondents. For the purposes of sub-group
comparisons, all respondents other than whites were combined to create a
group representing students of color. Respondents who had graduated from
high school in states other than the state in which the University is
located were combined in a group representing out-of-state students.
Finally, respondents whose primary intercollegiate sport was football or
basketball were combined in a group representing revenue-producing
sports while all remaining student-athletes were combined to represent
non-revenue sports. Means and standard deviations were computed for
responses to each of the 25 college choice factors.
At the time of the study 135 first-year student-athletes were
enrolled at the University. Surveys were distributed to all first-year
student-athletes present at study table meetings. Of the 127 individuals
present, 126 returned completed and useable surveys for a response rate
of 99.2%. The sample was comprised of 72 (57.1%) men and 54 (42.9%)
women. In addition, the respondents were predominately white (79.4%);
the remaining 20.6% were students of color. The second largest
racial/ethnic group identified was African-American (14.3%). The
majority of participants (52.4%) graduated from high schools within the
state where the University is located. Full athletic scholarship
recipients represented 22.2% of the sample, 26.2% were partial athletic
scholarship recipients, 23.0% received non-athletic scholarships, and
28.6% indicated that they did not receive any scholarships. For the
purposes of this study, a full athletic scholarship was defined as one
that provided full funding for tuition, room, and board. A partial
athletic scholarship involved any amount of funding provided by the
athletic department that was less than a full athletic scholarship. A
non-athletic scholarship referred to any funds awarded by a source other
than the athletic department at the University. Finally, non-scholarship
was defined as not receiving a scholarship from any source.
Revenue sports, defined as football and men's and women's
basketball for the purpose of this study, involved 18.3% of the
respondents. The remaining 81.7% participated in non-revenue sports.
Although some other sports may produce some revenue at the University,
the three revenue sports identified above are traditionally combined for
the purposes of comparing revenue and non-revenue sports within the
professional literature. It should be noted that 27.8% of the men, but
only 5.6% of the women participated in revenue sports.
All sports offered by the University, with the exception of
gymnastics, were represented in the obtained sample. Overall, cross
country/track, football, swimming/diving, and soccer were the sports
most often represented. The largest samples of men participated in
football, cross/country, and swimming/diving. For women, cross
country/track and water polo comprised the largest samples.
The five factors most influential in choosing a college of
student-athletes included: degree-program options (M = 3.98), head coach
(M = 3.86), academic support services on campus (M = 3.83), type of
community in which the campus is located (M = 3.79), and the
school's sports traditions (M = 3.77). Among the lease influential
factors were college choice of friends (M = 1.63), the prospect of
television exposure (M = 1.92), other (non-athletic related) financial
aid (M = 1.94), school colors (M = 2.22), and opinions of high school
teammates (M = 2.29).
This study found that the most important factor for
student-athletes was the degree program options offered by the
University. Other important factors were the head coach, academic
support services, type of community in which the campus is located, and
the school's sports traditions. Two of the top three factors were
specifically related to the academic rather than athletic environment.
This is a key finding and should be understood as recruiting efforts
should be broad based, balancing academics and athletics if they are to
Traditionally, coaches recruiting for major college athletic
departments focused on highlighting the athletic accomplishments of the
athletic program. This study shows that academic accomplishments are
just as important to those being recruited. Similar to a study conducted
by Canale, Dunlap, Britt & Donahue (1996), academic reputation was
very important for student-athletes seeking a college. This study also
found that degree options were rated as the highest factor in the
decision process. This may be due to the fact that the University
offered more than 200-degree programs for undergraduates which may have
attracted student-athletes' seeking a variety of degree program
options. Like many undergraduates in the general student population at
the University, student-athletes may find the institution's
outstanding academic reputation to be very inviting. Such students are
likely to be interested in academic support services, which the
participants in this study indicated was their third most influential
factor in their selection of a college.
Factors in the athletic environment at the University were also
rated as very important in this study. Among the most important were the
head coach, school's sports traditions, athletic facilities,
athletic training facilities, and the official on-campus visit. The head
coach was also identified as the most influential athletic factor for
Division I student-athletes participating in a study conducted by
Gabert, Hale, and Montalvo (1999). However, not all findings coincide
with those reported within the college choice literature. For example,
high school students often report that their friends have significant
influence on their college-choice process. However, in this study, the
opinions of high school teammates ranked 21st of 25 items and the
college choice of one's high school friends ranked 25th or lowest
of all the items listed on the survey form.
A somewhat surprising result of the study concerned relatively low
ratings associated with factors considered essential to "Big-Time
College Sports." Television exposure, perceived opportunity to play
immediately, and perceived future professional sporting opportunities
were among the lowest-ranked factors. Furthermore, the participants
rated athletic rewards (a 5item survey scale containing these and other
reward items) consistently lower than both the campus and athletic
environment. These results may be due to the fact that respondents were
from each of the sports offered by the University. Many of the sports
(e.g., swimming, track), although funded and supported similar to the
other sports, do not receive the national attention, large crowds, and
Successful recruiting of college students is vital to the success
of any university. Recruiting top level student-athletes is even more
important due to the impact that successful seasons may have on
increased admissions and donations to the university. Although there is
no overriding factor as to why student-athletes choose a college to
attend, this study provides a better understanding of the common reasons
which can help recruiters focus their efforts on methods that are
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NICOLE R. LETAWSKY
RAYMOND G. SCHNEIDER
Bowling Green State University
PAUL M. PEDERSEN
Palm Beach Atlantic University
CAROLYN J. PALMER
Bowling Green State University