NCAA Women’s Basketball Trouble Spots Worth Further Review?

 

At the January 2011 NCAA Convention in San Antonio, Texas, members of the NCAA research staff reported results from the second NCAA Growth, Opportunities, Aspirations and Learning of Student in college (GOALS) and Study of College Outcomes and Recent Experiences (SCORE) studies which were administered in 2010.  The GOALS study surveyed over 20,000 student-athletes across all three divisions and from all sports in an effort to learn about their academic and athletic experiences.  SCORE, a longitudinal study, was distributed to over 25,000 former student-athletes in an effort to better understand the impact of former student-athletes’ educational and athletic experiences on their current life (“Student-Athlete Experience,” 2011).

Based on these survey results, Sander (2011) stated:

The findings include some dispiriting news for those involved in women’s basketball.  Many women’s basketball players singled out college coaches as a source of their dissatisfaction: More than a third of the Division I players surveyed said they had been contacted too often during the recruiting process, and just 39 percent—the lowest percentage across all sports—of players in that division [NCAA Division I] said they ‘strongly agreed’ that they could trust their coach (para. 2).

While these are all true statements based on the findings, what Sander does not point out are the percentage of women’s basketball student-athletes who felt athletics participation contributed to their decision to attend their current college (86%), the comparison of athletics vs. academics as the driving decision to attend that college (86% vs. 58%), the accuracy of their initial expectations of their athletic (60%) and academic (80%) experiences, or the level to which they felt academic honesty is valued at that college (68%), (“Examining the Student-Athlete,” 2011).  These statistics may not have been addressed because they do not put the spotlight on any problems.

When evaluating statistical results there are always many angles from which one can look.  In these NCAA studies, one thing that needs to stay in the forefront no matter which way one evaluates these results however, is that the information was self-reported creating a large vantage point as the basis. For example, the parties involved may have different definitions of academic honesty, higher expectations for the level of trust necessary in the coach/player relationship or may be starting from different moral or ethical baselines. 

Additionally, since the players felt their initial expectations of their athletic experience was 60% accurate, having 39% state that their head coach cannot be trusted makes some sense. Did those who thought their athletic experience was going to be different blame their coach and as a result decide their coach could not be trusted?

One also should ask, if 68% of these women’s basketball players felt that academic honesty is not valued at their college, is it really surprising that 39%  felt they could not really trust their coach?  A lack of trust could be defined as many things, including a player not getting the playing time she felt she deserved, or a coach not showing up on time for an appointment. Another possibility could be that the players had issues with their coaches in other areas that put everything in a negative light.  As one researcher I spoke with said, “We don’t know yet if there were a few teams that had major problems which brought down the overall average, or if there is just wide-spread mistrust,” (personal communication, March 1, 2011).

Developing trust is something that can take years and in some cases it may never develop at all and that’s under the best of circumstances.  Coaches are trying to develop trust in four years and under stressful situations in which they have to constantly make decisions that not only often result in a win or a loss, but those numbers in the wins and losses columns determine whether or not they keep their job.

There is little doubt that there are trouble spots in collegiate sports, for that matter in all sports at all levels, however as one researcher pointed out “. . . maybe women’s basketball players have higher standards” (personal communication, March 1, 2011). Until there is a universal baseline from which all student-athletes are measuring the areas discussed, it is premature to say that there is a widespread problem. 

Additional research is critical to better understanding these issues, but no matter what, it is important to remember that as long as the focus remains on winning first, and jobs are kept or lost based on winning percentage, the coaches’ focus almost needs to be more on developing the best athletes they can as opposed to the best student-athletes.

Click here for further insight into the relationships between players and coaches in women’s basketball.

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About the Author:
The Chair of Sports Management at the United States Sports Academy, Dr. Pamela J. Wojnar has worked in higher education for over 21 years. She has held such positions in athletics as athletic director, assistant athletic director, sports information director, head women’s basketball coach, assistant women’s volleyball coach and compliance officer. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in English with a business minor from George Mason University in Fairfax, VA; and her MSS and Ed. D. from the Sports Academy in 1993 and 2008, respectively.

 

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