Message Received? The Effect of Academic Socialization on NCAA Athletes’ Grades

football players' hands holding ball

College athletes face different curricular and time constraints and also may receive unique academic guidance from their coaches and athletics-affiliated academic support staff, creating a developmental context that can be very different from that of their non-athlete peers.

They may face academic stereotyping and other modes of academic socialization that suggest they don’t belong in college classrooms; furthermore, they may receive additional academic support from individuals (tutors, advisors) who solely work with athletes. As such, it is worth examining the unique qualities of the types of academic messages NCAA athletes receive.

To explore the academic realities for NCAA athletes and non-athletes, the authors reviewed the survey responses and grade point averages of 442 students at a “Power 5” Division I public university. The researchers compared the types of academic messages received by both NCAA athletes and non-athletes, as well as the primary source of these messages. Further, they examined whether receiving academic support predicted academic performance.

This paper was published in Journal of Issues in Intercollegiate Athletics (JIIA) in December 2020. In March 2021, authors Dr. Paul A. Robbins, postdoctoral research associate at the Cook Center, and Dr. Keisha L. Bentley-Edwards, the Center’s Associate Director of Research and Director of its Health Equity Working Group, won the Outstanding Article of the Year Award from JIIA at the annual College Sport Research Institute Conference.

Key Findings

  • NCAA athletes primarily received academic messaging from academic support staff rather than family.
  • While NCAA athletes received more direct assistance and school-related encouragement than non-athletes, the support did not predict better grades.
  • The authors suggest that athletic departments shift from emphasizing direct academic support to providing services that foster greater independence during this key transitional period of social and career development.