The Literate Practices of Big-Time College Sports

Table of Contents

Chapter One
Studying the Literate Practices of Big-Time College Sports

From the first football game in 1869 to the twenty-first century multibillion dollar college
sports industry, athletics and academics have, at best, a historically uneasy relationship
within American higher education. Despite this uneasiness, a close study of the literate
practices of big-time college sports, namely football and men’s basketball, holds great
promise for researchers invested in extracurricular forms of literacy and teachers working
with student-athlete writers. Student-athletes competing within these sports engage with
literate practices hinging on learning through the body, a burgeoning area of study within
composition and rhetoric (Arola and Wysocki, 2012; Kroll, 2013). In articulating the literate
practices of big-time college sports, I begin with a focus on plays student-athletes learn for
their sport, for plays are textual gateways into understanding how student-athletes know
and gateways into literate practice. Therefore, in this book my inquiry is direct and threefold:
What are plays and what do they do? How do student-athletes learn plays? And, finally, how
can we—teacher of composition and rhetoric—better connect with student-athletes based
on my findings? These questions constitute the book’s chapters and culminate in one
essential question: how do student-athletes know? To frame my entry into these questions,
I connect research from two growing areas of scholarship: 1) work charting the constellation
of extracurricular literate practices and activities students bring into the classroom (Roozen,
2008; Williams, 2009); and 2) work on the ineluctable relationship between the mind, body,
and material objects during cognitive activity (Fleckenstein, 1999; Knoblauch, 2013;
Micciche, 2014).

Chapter Two
What are Plays and What Do They Do? Considering Big-Time College Sports’ Plays

In 1942, Oklahoma’s head football coach scribbled notes in red and blue pencil next to his
rough drawing of a football play. During the 2014 college football season, the Oregon Ducks’
assistant coaches held aloft large placards divided into quarters on the sidelines. Oregon’s
coaches imposed four images on these placards, which clandestinely conveyed a play to the
players on the field. In this chapter, I introduce recent and historical football and basketball
plays gathered through extensive physical and digital archival research (e.g., Michigan
State’s 2011 basketball play 54 Fist; West Virginia’s 2005 football play Reo 37; an unnamed
1942 Oklahoma football play). I illustrate how these plays as text respond to specific
rhetorical situations impacting their composition. In response to my chapter title—what are
plays and what do they do?—I offer the following: plays are multimodal texts, dialectically
constructed, historically situated, and anticipative of competitive bodily enactment. Next,
players and coaches cause plays to undergo resemiotization, a term which describes the
process by which meaning transfers across various semiotic resources (Iedema 2001, 2003).
Once plays undergo resemiotization, plays are embodied by players. In brief, plays do
J. Michael Rifenburg 2

competitive bodily action. Understanding what plays are and what they do opens a window
into seeing how players learn plays, which I do in chapter three.

Chapter Three
How Do Student-Athletes Learn Plays? A Case Study of a Division II Men’s Basketball Team

This chapter is based on a year-long case study into the men’s basketball team at the
University of North Georgia. During the 2014-2015 season, I attended practices, traveled
with the team, sat on the bench during games, and listened in on film sessions and locker
room talks. The head coach shared with me his scouting report folders, handwritten
miscellany, and texted me screenshots of notes he composed on his iPhone. I focus on how
the coaching staff taught and how the players’ learned plays through providing a narrative
of the season. Engaging with and learning plays within this community of practice demands
engaging and learning through the body. Similar to the student-athletes who embody plays
such as West Virginia’s Reo 37 and Michigan State’s 54 Fist—plays I analyzed in chapter
two—UNG student-athletes developed a method for understanding, internalizing, and
enacting a bodily literacy for their community of practice. At the close, I offer a three-step
cognitive process by which student-athletes learn: spatial orientation, haptic
communication, and scaffolded situations. Recent research on learning theory in general and
the connection between the mind, body, and external object during cognitive activity in
specific informs this process (Micciche, 2014; Reynolds, 2004; Thompson, 2009). Moreover,
this process speaks to the larger question driving this book: how do student-athletes know?

Chapter Four
Supporting Our Student-Athletes: The Literate Practices of Big-Time College Sports in the
Writing Center

I consider programmatic and pedagogical challenges of tutoring student-athlete writers
based on my four years in a Division I athletics writing center at the University of Oklahoma.
Pulling from interviews with athletics department personnel, including the director of
athletics, and textual analysis of policy documents, I explore how stakeholders at various
levels perceived and enacted student-athlete writing tutoring. Tutoring practices resulted
from the NCAA’s principle directed toward academics: Principle 2.5 found in the NCAA
manual for Division I Athletics. Fearful of committing NCAA academic misconduct based on
this principle, the athletics center initially handcuffed itself to outdated methods of working
with student-athlete writers. Yet the athletics writing center productively jettisoned these
methods through forming intra-institutional alliances with campus WPAs, particularly
campus-wide writing center administrators. This chapter illustrates the importance of using
the collective capacity of those invested in writing to improve writing-related services for
student-athletes, while still adhering to a NCAA academic principle. At the close, I offer
implications for writing center administrators, staff, and tutors working with student-athlete
writers. These implications respond to Jackie Grutsch McKinney’s Peripheral Visions for
Writing Center Work (Utah State, 2013), in which she calls for an expanded gaze of writing
center work.