Educational Alignment: Creating Scholar Ballers 24/7 Near and Far
The college sport landscape is in an uproar over the recent NCAA reform proposals
that were designed after a summit of university presidents in August of last year.
President Mark Emmert commented to the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate
Athletics, “I and the university presidents were disgusted with much of what we
had seen the preceding year—behavior issues, lack of integrity and forthrightness,
the scandals du jour. All of that was just annoying to the extreme.” This sentiment
resulted in emergency legislation that many have described as reactionary and
ineffective towards the real clean necessary to instill integrity to major college
sports. Does NCAA Division I intercollegiate women’s basketball warrant such
In particular, three measures have generated heated discussions by athletic
administrators, coaches, students, and academics. First, the plan to allow multiyear athletic scholarships rather than the one-year renewable awards is now on hold. Recently, more than 75 schools asked for an override such that the Division I board of directors may have to reconsider and vote a permanent reversal at the upcoming NCAA convention. Second, the legislation to give athletes a $2,000 stipend for living costs not covered by scholarships was recently suspended by the NCAA after at least 125 schools objected. And lastly, the presidents seek to reduce expenditures by limiting the foreign travel by athletic teams. This effort to save money in tourism may actually lessen the alignment of the university educational mission and the value of sport competition for student-athletes.
Sport is generally supported on university campuses because it fulfills the
educational charge to develop the mind and body. Students privileged to
compete at the varsity level are provided unique opportunities to learn outside
of the classroom. We all know the importance of instilling honor, teamwork,
communication, loyalty, and discipline to young people. Sport gives the institution
national exposure and provides coaches additional teaching opportunities of time
management and leadership. Coaching is not just when the athlete shows up at the
gym but rather a full-time 24/7 job. Athletes need instruction each and every day
and the coach’s role has expanded to mother, grandmother, father, and grandfather
– offering praise and discipline. NCAA Bylaw 30.7 outlines the foreign tours and
competition for member institutions and states that schools must not engage in a
foreign tour more than once every four years. Tours may only be scheduled during
the summer vacation period (or any other university official vacation period).
Hence, it can be argued that foreign destination road trips further isolate the
students from normal campus distractions, thus enhancing the atmosphere most
conducive for parenting and learning.
Foreign travel should be considered as a study abroad equivalent for student-
athletes. Study abroad programs are highly valued and encouraged on college
campuses. The immersion in another culture certainly provides students with the
chance to engage with people of other ethnicities and see firsthand the geographic
and architectural marvels of another country. Many athletes do not have the time,
schedule or finances to participate in their respective institution’s study abroad
program. The tour is now the family trip for many young ladies. Quite possibly, the
foreign travel trip is an once-in-a-lifetime occasion to leave the United States and
learn how blessed and fortunate one is to play collegiate athletics. The American
life is often a spoiled one and after leaving the comforts of home and campus,
the players can hopefully learn how not to take things for granted. So why create
this urgent legislative proposal to eliminate foreign travel? Perhaps athletic
administrators and coaches aren’t properly managing and promoting the academic
benefit to the bean counters and naysayers across campus.
It is no secret that there has always been a rift between academic and athletic
interests on college campuses. With the increased attention on football and
men’s basketball salaries, the front-page sport scandals, and the increasing
costs to universities and state budgets, the journalistic spotlight is wider and so
technologically advanced such that the radiance is now shining on the entire sports
program. Every sport program is a target for scrutiny and each mishap (financially
or competitively) can be used to justify the elimination of college varsity sports.
Intercollegiate women’s basketball program leaders would be prudent to consider
the following suggestions to avoid the additional examination of foreign travel and
to stay aligned with the university mission:
1. Develop relationships with professors. Faculty has power and a voice. Let
those who support your cause be a significant part of your program. Develop
and encourage faculty mentors for your players. Invite them to join your
overseas trip and to develop academic sessions to further maximize the
learning experience. Foreign travel focused on winning against cupcake
opponents and participating in a quick cookie-cutter tour is a setup for
disaster and a waste of money.
2. Research academic and extra credit opportunities for your trip. Independent
study, study abroad, and internship courses that are customized to the
location may be applied for the student’s learning.
3. Empower the athletes to creatively document their experience. Initiate pairs
or triads and ask them to develop a video and to journal their experience.
What did you learn? How would you change America or your hometown after
experiencing the various aspects of this culture or region?
4. Challenge each athlete to complete a leadership project during the trip. Based
on each student’s ability, design an activity or assignment that requires
critical thinking regarding her career aspirations, academic major or a
national hot topic. Share the learning during the offseason or over a holiday
5. Rethink the nonconference schedule. Although many fans aren’t too happy
with noncompetitive early season games, the savings to your budget may
prove to be the wisest decision. Foster regional and natural rivalries that
don’t require overnight stays or airline flights. With conference expansion,
many schools can now compete against a “power program” in another league
to gain early postseason-type competition without traveling overnight.
6. Bring more attention to why sport exists on campus. Educate your ballers
about why and how sport fits into the mission of the university. Invite guest
lecturers to speak to your team. Help to increase their understanding of
the complexities of athletic opportunities which will enhance the players’
reputation and reduce their sometimes spoiled and childish behavior
on campus. Remember, they represent and reflect you as they interact
with others on campus. Hey baller! Someone paid for you to be here. Be
The median NCAA DI institution spent ~ $2.5 million annually on team travel in
2006. Yikes! Critics of college sport often ask questions such as “Why can’t distance limits be placed on travel to all but a few special games?” “Is the practice of having teams stay in hotels before home games necessary?” and “Why can’t playing seasons be shortened, both for academic and financial reasons?” These queries are legitimate but may be more applicable to football. Women’s basketball is the non-revenue sport, if properly marketed, with the most potential to make money (if necessary) and engage the local community. Globally, basketball is the most popular sport among female teens, according to the International Basketball Federation. And it’s only been 30 years since the first NCAA women’s championship tournament took place and 73 years after the first for men, so with perspective one understands the progress that has been made in college women’s basketball.
However, there is no doubt that everyone must do more with less. The country’s
current economic plight requires a cut in expenses regardless of one’s status as an
individual, company or governmental agency. Intercollegiate women’s basketball
programs benefit from foreign travel though. If the purpose of the undergraduate
degree is to foster critical thinking, gain knowledge and independence for young
people, a major road trip is most beneficial. There are other budget items in men’s
basketball or football that can afford shrinkage of dollars. Let’s rally the troops,
discuss the issue, and get member institutions to override this elimination of foreign
travel proposal too.
Dr. Deborah Stroman is an enthusiastic educator and entrepreneur. She is a faculty member of the sport business administration specialization of the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. Additional responsibilities include academic advising and coordination of the undergraduate internship program for sport administration. As a business owner, Dr. Stroman offers distinctive consulting services for former athletes desiring a successful transition from their sport career. Her teaching focus is the theory and practical application of economics and finances, leadership, sport marketing, and sport administration. Her research interests are leadership and social issues of sport. As a former basketball player at the University of Virginia and graduate assistant coach for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she continues to stay active by playing basketball and golf, core training, and biking. Her other hobbies include reading, discussing politics and behavioral economics, and traveling. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919.843.0336.