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Academic Services for Athletes: Soon to be Open 24/7


Last week in Buffalo, New York the annual convention was held of the National Association of Academic Advisors for Athletics.  A reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Education reported hearing informal comments from attendees such as, “I feel guilty even being here.”  “I know. I haven’t checked grades in two days.”

U. of Michigan Academic Support Center

Summertime used to bring well-deserved downtime for many athletics employees. But it has become clear that May, June, and July—or any months, for that matter—no longer offer a reprieve from the grind of the academic year.

Summer “bridge” programs—in which many transfer and first-year football and men’s and women’s basketball players get a head start on classes—keep most academic-services programs humming through months traditionally reserved for recharging. And increasing demands on advisers during the rest of the year—including additional weekend commitments and responding to text messages and other requests from students and coaches, sometimes at all hours—mean that many counselors are putting in repeated long days.

While academic-service facilities are not yet keeping all-night-diner hours, plenty of advisers say they’re feeling burned out from the nearly around-the-clock service.

“We don’t have down time anymore,” said Joseph P. Luckey, Head of Academic Support for Athletics at the University of Memphis and president of the national advisers’ group. “In wanting to do everything for students, we continue to develop programming to assist them–and they’re on our campus year-round.”

The pressures have led many people to leave the profession, often just a year or two after breaking into the field. At this year’s national convention, about 180 of the roughly 500 attendees attended for the first time. That’s partly a reflection of increasing attendance by interns and graduate assistants looking for jobs, Luckey says, but also a sign of turnover in the industry.

During a break between sessions, several academic advisers described the demands on their time.

“I work Sunday through Thursday,” said one Big Ten football counselor. But during part of the year, she and her colleagues clock in every day of the week.

“Sundays I work from 3 to 10,” she said. “Monday through Thursday I work a split shift, 9 to 2, and then I’m back from 6 to 10 or 11. Fridays during the season we have recruiting. And we’re expected to do game-day Saturdays. The first 12 weeks of the semester, the only days we get off are away-football Saturdays.”

Emily L. Blackman, assistant athletic director for student support services at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, keeps tabs on the men’s basketball squad in addition to running a four-person department that oversees some 300 athletes. She says she used to look forward to fall Saturdays. But because her husband is the sports-information director, he has to work every Saturday during the season. That leaves her to take the kids to the game.

Evenings and weekends are increasingly the best time for athletes to study, which has extended the work day (and work week) for many counselors. “There aren’t enough hours to get everything done in the day, so they have to study at night,” another adviser says. The way she figures it, “If you’re here working, I’m here working,” she says of the players she is responsible for.

Academic support staff members have increasingly become involved in the recruitment process for football and basketball.  Part of the sales pitch the coaching staff delivers to visiting prospects and their parents is to show off the academic support facilities, which now frequently cost schools millions of dollars to build and equip.  The people who deliver these services are supposed to be on call to be a part of recruiting visits.

Many schools now use their summer football and basketball camps as times to host elite prospects in a setting where the prospective student-athletes can be evaluated in on field situations.  When these prospects are on campus they are given informal tours of the campus and this includes the athletic support facilities.

Football and basketball coaches cannot formally interact with their players in practice-like situations during summer terms.  Players, however, can be brought in and enrolled in summer school classes.  Veteran players supervise “voluntary workouts” and a school’s strength and conditioning staff can work directly with student-athletes.

Schools frequently have younger players come to school early to take classes and get a jump on the transition to college life.  Students usually enroll in 1 or 2 courses for each of the 2 summer sessions that schools offer.  This means that the academic support staff must be available.  Most top programs now have 90% or more of their scholarship athletes on campus during the summers.

During their seasons student-athletes are in class during the mornings and early afternoons and then have organized and “voluntary” practice sessions.  These individuals usually don’t have  time to study until the evening hours.  When assignments are coming due or tests are coming up they may want to study until late in the evening.

Academic support staff members are expected to be available when needed.  Much of the actual work with student-athletes is done by part-time employees who often themselves are students.   Someone who works full-time must be in the building any time it is being used.

These employees also meet regularly with compliance staff persons who want to make sure that NCAA rules are not being violated.  They must report to coaches on the progress (or lack of such) being made by student-athletes.  The first responsibility of any academic support program is to make sure that all student-athletes remain eligible for competition.

Student-athletes have so much help available to them that it is difficult to understand how any of them could fail to make satisfactory progress and ultimate to graduate.  Schools literally spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year providing academic support.  The point may come in the near future when these jobs cannot be filled because of the insane demands made on staff members.


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