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Faculties’ Contradictory Perspectives of Intercollegiate Athletics

By Molly Harry, Ph.D., University of Arkansas; Daniel Springer, Ph.D., University of Oklahoma

The following article is adapted from a longer article published in the Journal of Intercollegiate Sport, the full text of which is available here.

As stewards of college athletics’ future, athletic directors and other sport administrators are uniquely positioned to bridge the persistent divide between athletics and academics. Faculty members’ perceptions toward athletics and athletes are a powerful force shaping athletes’ academic achievements and campus experience. Their perceptions around the role and value of college athletics represent an important factor for fostering supportive and successful environments for athletes. Insights from former NCAA President Myles Brand offer a compelling roadmap for understanding those perceptions and their implications.

Many faculty members hold what Brand labeled a “standard view” of athletics– as mere extracurricular activities with minimal educational value, viewing coaches as more game-day strategists than true educators. This perspective relegates athletics to the sidelines of the educational mission, neglecting the impact of athletic involvement on athletes’ development and experiences. Brand challenged this narrow perspective, advocating for a richer, more integrated understanding of college athletics within the academic ecosystem.

This “integrated view” recognizes athletics as an integral component of the educational experience, akin to the performing arts in cultivating skills such as teamwork, compassion, work ethic, resilience, and leadership. It challenges individuals to see athletic participation not as a diversion but as complementary to learning, drawing parallels to training and disciplines in music and art departments. Artists, musicians, and athletes often demonstrate significant accomplishments prior to enrollment and are commonly recruited or receive scholarship offers based on their abilities. Students in these groups typically experience intense demands on their time to hone and display their crafts, with many seeking to continue professionally.

Fostering a campus culture that values athletic contributions similarly to the performing arts not only enriches athletes’ college experience, but it also reinforces broader missions of teaching, research, and service that define higher education. By championing an integrated view, athletic directors can elevate athletics’ status from extracurricular to co-curricular, ensuring athletes receive the recognition and support they deserve. They can also advocate for policies and practices that help the campus community– faculty included– recognize the educational benefits of athletic participation.


Our Study

Previous research on faculty members’ perceptions of athletics notes that they generally hold more negative views of big-time intercollegiate athletics. However, limited research has explicitly examined faculty perceptions using Brand’s standard and integrated views. To address this gap, we surveyed faculty at Big Athletics College (BAC)– a Midwestern public Research 1 institution and NCAA Division I Power 5 member– to explore whether they held a standard or integrated view of college sports.

The survey consisted of statements from Brand’s seminal article on the standard and integrated views to determine the most prevalent perspective among faculty. Example questions to gauge a standard view included: “Intercollegiate athletics is a detractor from the mission of higher education” and “My institution is more well-known by the general public (in the state/outside of the state) for its intercollegiate athletics programs rather than its academics programs.” Example questions gauging an integrated view included: “Intercollegiate athletics is central to the mission of my institution” and “Athletes participating in intercollegiate athletics are participating in an educational endeavor.”

Faculty used a seven-point Likert scale to indicate whether they agreed or disagreed with these and other similar questions. We recruited faculty by randomly selecting email addresses from academic department websites. Roughly 800 faculty received an email. Of those, 216 (26%) completed the survey. Participants were primarily white Assistant or Associate Professors with 12 or more years at the institution. We divided faculty responses into four areas: (1) general perceptions of athletics, (2) athletics as education, (3) athletics as art, and (4) athletics as a business. Table 1 offers a snapshot of faculty responses.


Findings In Brief

Faculty at BAC reported mixed feelings about athletics’ role at the institution. They reported that athletics served as the proverbial “front porch” of the university– what people notice first, sometimes more than the institution’s academic achievements. Even though participants reported that athletics was central to BAC’s mission, they believed it sometimes distracts from the institution’s main educational goals. It was not so much that faculty were against athletics; they recognized that athletic participation can teach important skills like critical thinking and help shape an athlete’s values. Yet, they were not fully convinced that being an athlete should count as an educational activity in the same way classroom learning does.

They perceived value in athletics but also delineated the athletic and academic worlds. This was evident when comparing athletes to students in performing arts. Both groups put a lot of effort and dedication into their craft, yet the idea of giving athletes academic credit for their athletic participation did not sit well with the faculty. They also resisted Brand’s depiction of coaches as traditional educators similar to faculty.

When considering athletics as a business, participants concentrated on the athletic department’s financials. Faculty thought that athletic departments should manage their budgets using similar budget processes to their own campus units and that athletics should be financially self-sufficient.



This snapshot from BAC sheds light on faculty members’ complex perceptions regarding intercollegiate athletics and broader conversations about athletics in universities across the country, particularly those in the NCAA’s upper echelon. There is a delicate balance between celebrating athletics and maintaining the academic excellence that universities and their faculty stand for. While trying to narrow down faculty member’s views, we found they did not fit neatly into the standard or integrated view, but most leaned toward the standard view, favoring a separation between academics and athletics.

Faculty opinions varied, showing a mix of support and concern regarding athletics. On one hand, they viewed athletics as a key factor in the university’s identity, offering athletes valuable life lessons and personal development. On the other, there was a hesitation to afford athletics the same status as academic subjects or performing arts. There was a struggle for faculty to fully embrace athletics as part of the educational mission despite previous research suggesting athletic success can enhance the institution’s reputation and attract higher-caliber students.

One particularly prominent finding was how strongly faculty disagreed with the notion of viewing coaches as educators in the same light as themselves, a key component of the integrated view. This difference in perception accents the ongoing debate between seeing athletics as part of the university or as a separate entity, driven by a potential disparity in attention and resources between athletics and academics.

Faculty also viewed the athletic department as a business operating within the broader campus community, wishing for its finances to be handled like many other departments across the university. Yet, they also believed the department should stand on its own financially, reflecting mixed feelings about how closely athletics should be integrated into academic life. Interestingly, BAC’s athletic department is among the few self-sustaining programs in Division I and consistently contributes funds to support academic research at the institution.

From these insights, we suggest two main actions for athletic directors and other administrators interested in strengthening the bond between athletics and education. The first is to highlight connections between academics and athletics. This could be done by showcasing research on athletics, encouraging joint projects between faculty and athletic staff, or increasing opportunities for athletes to participate in research projects. Additionally, collaborations between athletic and academic departments– such as partnerships with media/communication colleges or architecture faculty for renovation projects– or town hall meetings and discourse opportunities can build trust, transparency, and understanding between athletic and academic stakeholders. Initiatives like these can help everyone see the value in both worlds working together, promoting an integrated view.

Second, it is time to redefine athletics’ role in higher education to reshape athletic departments to align more with academic standards or foster partnerships that bring educational and athletic goals closer together. This could mean restructuring athletic departments to mirror academic units, integrating them within academic colleges, or promoting faculty-coach partnerships with clearer guidelines for coaches as educators. While these ideas may seem novel, some universities are already exploring such paths, demonstrating the possibility of balancing athletic success with educational excellence. They also aim to foster an integrated approach, prioritizing academic and athletic success that advances the institution’s and field’s mission on and off the field.

Now is the time for athletic directors and administrators to champion a new paradigm, where athletics and academics are not just parallel tracks but intertwined paths that enrich and elevate athletes’ experiences. It is about finding a harmonious balance that benefits everyone involved– athletes, athletic personnel, faculty, administrators, and more.