Intercollegiate Athletics – Beyond The Bottom Line

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Carlyle Carter became the Executive Director of the California Community College COA and CEO/President of the CCCAA in 1995. Prior to arriving in California, Mr. Carter served as the first minority to lead a NCAA Conference not comprised of Historically Black Colleges and Universities as Commissioner of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference for 11 years. Mr. Carter came to the MIAC from Penn State University where he served nine years as the Director of Athletics and Recreational Sports for Penn State’s Branch Campus System. Mr. Carter has served on numerous NCAA committees and was a founding member of the National Alliance of Two-Year College Athletic Administrators serving as President in 1993-94. Mr. Carter received a B.S. in Physical Education/Coaching in 1978 and a M.Ed. in Sports Admin. in 1983 from Penn State University


Historically, during challenging financial times funding for athletic programs has been called into question as educational institutions re-examine priorities based upon “funds available”.  The focus has always been on cost savings or the “bottom line”.  The article attempts to focus on a broader perspective of the net value of athletics based upon educational outcomes and goals established by the Obama Administration, the AACC and the CCLC Commission on the Future.   The article points to institutional findings of the academic success of the student athlete population when measured against the non-student athlete population.  A statewide study is currently underway with a final report due in the summer of 2011 examining several measures with the anticipation of duplicating institutional findings.       



The athletic directors, administrators and coaches in intercollegiate athletics understand and accept that historically, whenever educational institutions (at any level) are faced with financial challenges, there are some factions within institutions that perceive athletics along with other programs as expendible or not at the core of the mission of the institution.  Clearly there are difficulties that all colleges are facing in addressing the current challenges revolving around State funding and the need to examine every aspect of College expenditures.  For example, in recent weeks there surfaced a “leaked” LAO document that referenced a “subsidy” for Community College Athletics that generated a lot of discussion. First and foremost, it should be clear that no such subsidy exists specifically for intercollegiate athletics as anyone with knowledge of the actual district budgeting process fully understands.  However, once leaked, the damage had been done and an inordinate amount of time was spent responding to the media regarding this issue as athletes and intercollegiate sports are generating a lot of interest.  The result has been situations in which “debates” are occurring on-campus where the report has been referenced and, in some instances, polarized the faculty and/or departments in search of an easy target for elimination in an attempt to reduce the bottom line.  If one focused soley on the surface or only on the “bottom line” it is understandable that one could seek such a conclusion.  However, it is a somewhat limiting viewpoint that ignores the actual performance outcomes of the student athlete population in the classroom and thus, focusing beyond the bottom line. 

Call to increase degree and certificate completions

Most within the system are aware of National and Local initiatives in response to the call by the Obama Administration for “…Community Colleges to increase degree and certificate completions by 5 million by 2020 as a component of the larger higher education attainment goal.” (Report of the Commission on the Future of the CCLC).  Further, in the report of the American Association of Community Colleges entitled “The Completion Agenda: A Call to Action,” the AACC joined five other national organizations “…to express a shared commitment to student completion.”  The goal being to produce 50% more students with high-quality degrees and certificates by 2020.  Lastly, in the document “Divided We Fail: Improving Completion and Closing the Racial Gaps in California’s Community Colleges” of the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy, authored by Moore and Shulock (October 2010) there is a continuence of the themes of the aforementioned reports – California Community Colleges must increase “completion” manifested by acquisition of certificates and degrees.  Furthermore, Moore and Shulock, along with the Commission on the Future, identify the need to address the ever widening educational gap between socio-economic groups.

The Commission (on the Future) calls upon community colleges to close the participation gap among socioeconomic and demographic groups.

“Addressing the achievement and participation gaps is equally an economic necessity, a moral imperative and an expression of the economic and democratic promise of the state.  If achievement among the fastest growing communities lags significantly behind the achievement of other communities, the state cannot escape a future of increased inequality, political and social instablity, and sluggish economic growth.”

When looking beyond the bottom line in examining the performance of the student athlete population away from their athletic endeavors, the data clearly demonstrates that student athletes excel beyond the non-student athlete population in every measure.  In fact, if the student athlete cohort were pulled out of the statistics cited in the “Future’s Report” the numbers would be lower in all categories (full-time enrollment, basic skills, completion and transfer). 

Academic performance of student athlete participants

In August 2010, the California Community College Athletic Association Board of Directors approved a project to examine and report the academic performance of student athlete participants.  Later in the year, the CCCAA engaged the services of the California Partnership for Achieving Student Success (Cal-PASS) to conduct the study, develop a tool to provide institutional member access to local student athlete data and provide a final statewide averages report.  Previously, there have been institutional and/or District studies that have been conducted periodically that support the stated position that student athletes perform better academically than non-student athletes (DeAnza, Long Beach, Palomar, Saddelback, San Mateo CCD, West Hills CCD, and Yuba to name a few).  The scope of this project however is the first of its kind to include student athletes from all 103 member programs for California Community College Athletics and report the statewide averages.   It is clear that when provided adequate resources intercollegiate athletic programs can yield positive results away from the competitive arena. 

The project will analyze in excess of 100,000 unduplicated records of student athletes between the 2004-05 and 2009-10 academic years against a similar non-student athlete population during the same time frame.  Questions of interest have been identified as follows:

·         What is the GPA of student athletes compared to similar non-student athletes?

·         What math and English courses, by course level (e.g., basic skills, degree applicable), have student athletes successfully completed compared to similar non-athletes?

·         Retention at 12 and 24 month periods (student athlete vs non-student athlete)

·         Completion (certificate or degree by student athlete vs non-student athlete)

·         Transfer-ready (student athlete vs non-student athlete)

·         Transfer to 4yr institution (student athlete vs non-student athlete)

The final statewide report will disaggregate the data by the following criteria “overall”:

·         Year

·         Sport

·         Gender

·         Ethnicity

Additional data will be reported in an attempt to assess performance after transfer to 4yr institutions.


It is anticipated that the final report of the project will be available during the Summer of 2011.  We have however, received some of the preliminary findings and the numbers point to a duplication of what was found by institutions or CCDs that have conducted similar studies – student athletes perform better in the classroom than do their non-student athlete classmates.  


If student athletes are reaching completion in a shorter time frame and at a higher percentage, and,  if student athletes are reaching transfer – ready or actually transferring in a shorter time-frame or at a higher frequency, and,  if student athletes of each ethnic group are performing at a higher level in each category, then why would the focus be on the bottom line solely? Should not the focus be on how the success was achieved?  Would it not be prudent to study this model of success to further enhance the performance and achievement of the goals set forth by the President of the United States, the AACC, the CCLC Commission on the Future and several objectives outlined in “Divided We Fail”?

The California Community College State Chancellor’s Office recently conducted an informal survey of all CCC Business Officers and found that (on average) intercollegiate athletics “operations” occupies approximately 1% of college budgets.  It could and should be argued that there is no other CCC program expending less and demonstrating so much success in all of the established targets as set forth by both internal and external entities.

It should be stated therefore that perhaps there is less objective rationale to support a position to eliminate funding for intercollegiate athletic programs and doing so would not represent a net gain but rather a net loss.   There would appear to be ample evidence to suggest to those in position making the ultimate funding determination to look “Beyond the Bottom Line”.