college football

College football in the U.S. draws millions of fans each year, but we often fail to think about the academic experience of the players on the field. (Photo by Ben Stanfield)

As we enter the heart of another college football season in the U.S., millions of fans flock to stadiums and gather around televisions each Saturday. Sometimes forgotten in the hype and excitement that surrounds the sport is the fact that the players on the field not only are athletes, but also students who must devote a substantial portion of their time throughout the week to academics. As stated in the tagline of a memorable National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) branding campaign, “there are over 380,000 student-athletes, and most of us go pro in something other than sports.” In football, only about 1.5% of college players will go on to the NFL. Given this reality, it’s important for college athletes to gain meaningful value from their education to help them succeed in careers beyond sport. In fact, the NCAA’s rhetoric often reinforces the idea that the academic experience is of first and foremost importance for college athletes.

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The football programs at Baylor University and the University of Oklahoma made headlines in 2016 due to criminal behavior by team members. (Photo by Alonzo Adams/AP)

As we welcome another college football season, players, coaches, and fans are busy breaking down rosters, reviewing schedules and predicting which four teams will remain in the hunt for a national championship on New Year’s Day.

The arrival of a new season is an especially welcomed sight for the Big 12 Conference, with the 2016 season being such a forgettable one. Not only was the conference left out of the College Football Playoff, but two of their featured programs dealt with major issues and violations relating to the criminal behavior of their student-athletes. Baylor University fired head coach Art Briles and several high level university administrators in the wake of a sexual assault scandal involving numerous football players, and the University of Oklahoma had two players in Joe Mixon and Dede Westbrook that garnered national attention for their off-field issues. A video of Mixon striking a woman in 2014 was released, and it was reported that Westbrook had twice been arrested on domestic violence charges.

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University of Minnesota football players stand behind senior wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky as he reads a statement about the team’s boycott to media members. (Photo from the Minneapolis Star Tribune)

Sexual violence in college sport represents an important problem that coaches and administrators must address. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the government has conducted 365 investigations of colleges for possibly mishandling reports of sexual violence since 2011. A simple search in the Chronicle’s Title IX database using the terms “football” and “sexual assault” yields around 250 matches for currently open investigations and 49 matches for cases that have been resolved. Further, roughly half of the student athletes surveyed in a recent study admitted to committing coercive sexual behaviors. Scholars have been investigating the relationship between college football and sexual violence for a long time, and the problem has not gone unnoticed by journalists, critics, and higher education administrators.

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