Trends in Collegiate Athletics

Final Project

PRT 3510 – Trends and Issues in Community Recreation and Sport Management

Robert Kaelin

U0446799

University of Utah
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The field of collegiate sports is one that is of great interest to me. It is the field where I

have quite a bit of experience, working in the recruiting department for University of Utah

football the past two years, and is the field I hope to go into as a future professional in the sports

and recreation industry. For those reasons, it made the most sense to interview professionals in

collegiate athletics as well as research the trends facing the collegiate sports industry.

Before conducting my interviews, I assumed the biggest trends, as far as negative trends,

in the industry, were athlete related. Them being either from the amount of time an athlete needs

to spend in college before turning professional, the attitude of athletes coming into college, or

some other trend directly affecting collegiate level athletes. However, during my interviews and

while conducting research, I found the true negative trends far more interesting, affecting not

only collegiate athletics, but athletics in general throughout every level.

My true passion lies with collegiate football, so that is where the majority of my

interview questions and research came from.

My first interview was with Pablo Cano, the Director of Player Personnel for the football

team at the University of Utah. Player personnel just means recruiting, so Pablo is in charge of

all the recruiting efforts that are football related for the University of Utah. Briefly, his

background and qualifications are as follows. He played Division 1 college football as a

defensive back and wide receiver. He has been either a coach or a recruiting coordinator in five

states, including three high schools, five junior colleges, and four universities/colleges. He has

been the Director of Player Personnel at the University of Utah for two seasons, and was the

Assistant Director at the same location for three years prior.

My second interview was with Brittani Forbush. She is the Director of Client Services for

Utah Sports Properties. I was put into contact with her through a fellow student I’ve had classes
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with during my time in the Parks, Recreation, and Tourism department at the University of Utah.

My fellow student completed one of her PIR experiences as an intern for Brittani. Brittani has

formerly been the Client Relations Manager with Miller Sports Properties, the Senior Client

Relations manager with the Utah Jazz, and the Director of Partner Services and Integration with

Utah Jazz and Larry H. Miller Sports and Entertainment.

I asked both Pablo and Brittani a variety of questions with the hope that they would have

some thoughts on the positive and negative trends in collegiate athletics, and they delivered. The

five main questions I asked them in order to get this information were:

1. What are the biggest changes you have seen or witnessed in collegiate athletics in the

past five years?

2. What are the most relevant positive trends in collegiate athletics?

3. What are the most relevant negative trends in collegiate athletics?

4. What are the biggest factors leading to these trends?

5. What are you and your department doing to ride the positive trends and overcome the

negative trends?

Their responses to these questions were very different, Pablo coming from the recruiting and

operations side of sports, and Brittani coming from the marketing and online presence of

collegiate and professional sports. Their responses to these questions are listed below.

In the order above, Pablo responded:

1. “The online presence as far as recruiting, scouting, and finding players is the biggest

change within the last five to ten years. It’s amazing how nationwide recruiting has

gone.”
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2. “Technology for sure. Virtual reality, equipment, all of the upgrades we’ve seen in

football are amazing. They’ve also increased the safety for football which, though it has

decreased the physicality of football, has been a big improvement.”

3. “We don’t have enough kids playing football anymore. There are tons of reasons for that,

but if we don’t get more kids to play football, who knows what will happen to our

program, and other college programs. On another note, and not necessarily directly

dealing with football, on the field football, the level of education for student-athletes has

gone down a ton.”

4. “Parents don’t want their kids to play football because it’s aggressive and dangerous.

They are signing them up for easier sports, less contact sports. And for education, there is

a ‘win now mentality’ so guys don’t worry about school, all they can think about is

football, football, football. That’s not only the players but the coaches too.”

5. “Through our summer camps and providing high school kids free tickets to home games,

we are hoping to continue and increase excitement through football. In our program, we

do a pretty good job of focusing on education and ‘life after football’, but when success

in college football is measured by on field accomplishments, and wins and losses, it’s

tough not to spend all our time on x’s and o’s.”

Brittani’s answers are as follows:

1. “So much more of an online presence through media and social media for sure.”

2. “Like I said, using social media in terms of being able to market our materials is huge.

Fans, more than ever, want to support their team, alma mater, and show their support

from wherever they are. Social media helps us promote that stuff. There is money in
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sports, there always has been, there always will be, so as much as we can promote teams

and our stuff is huge.”

3. “Job security, for us working in sports I would say is a negative trend. Everyone loves

sports and everyone wants to work in sports, so you have to be really good at your job in

order to keep it. With that being said, there are lots of jobs available in sports, so you will

be able to find a job, it just depends with which organization or where in the country that

might be.”

4. “Like I said, everyone wants to work in sports or be involved in sports in some way, so

proving that you can do something that someone else can’t, especially those who are

willing to do it for free, is huge.”

5. “We try to be innovative and creative in how we market and deal with our clients. Not

everyone has great bedside manner, communication skills, or is personable, so we preach

those things to those in our office. If the client likes us, that is one less step we have to

take in order to get their service.”

These answers, along with the other answers Pablo and Brittani gave to various other

questions I asked during their interviews, helped me come up with more of a focus on which

trends I wanted to focus on as part of my final project. I realized that I could focus on the

positive trends and how to continue benefitting from those trends or I could focus on the negative

trends and how, as a future professional, I would go about trying to change those negative trends

and make them positive trends in the future. I decided to go with the latter, and focus on two of

the negative trends I discussed with Pablo, those being, fewer youth playing football (contact

sports in general), and a diminished focus on education in sports.
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I asked Pablo for some further information as to why he thought there were less youth

playing football and he suggested two other trends, that both connect together, leading to the

drop off in numbers. He suggested, and I concur, that concussions and injuries scare parents into

electing lower contact sports for their children in which to participate. This, along with the

increase in interest in sports such as lacrosse and soccer as well as outdoor recreational activities

such as hiking, biking, and climbing, have led to the decrease in youth participation in football.

Pablo talked about how not only does he hope to increase the number of youth playing football

so that there are better numbers of participation, but because it creates lifelong fans of the sport.

“It is vital for our organization that we increase the number of kids playing football. It not only

creates a larger pool for future high school, collegiate, and professional athletes, but it creates

fans for life. Fans are the reason for sports”, said Pablo.

Now, I was very curious in Pablo’s comments on the diminishing focus on education, more

so than the participation of youth in football, because the thought of education being a negative

trend in the sports industry never even crossed my mind. We always hear those who play sports

at the high school and collegiate levels referred to as student-athletes, but why is it that the

athlete part is the focus of these student-athletes? When did the student part lose meaning? It

occurred to me that athletes go to school for sports, not education, though it should be the other

way around, students should go to school to learn and be able to play sports on the side. Pablo

talked to me about how a lot of university football teams allow their players to just scrape by

whereas the University of Utah makes education a priority. “Though we try to encourage and

focus on education within our program, players spend so much time on football, that they are

often over-worked.” The problem with this is that not every student-athlete plays professionally.

In fact, in recent statistics by ncaa.org, only about 1.5% of college football players play
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professionally. And that equates to an even lower percentage having long-sustaining careers that

are sustainable enough to provide for them and their potential families. One thing Coach

Whittingham, the head coach for University of Utah football, constantly reminds his players is,

“at some point football for all of us will end, the only question is when that will happen. It is

important to prepare for life after football.” With that in mind, one thing I need to take into

consideration when dealing with this negative trend is preparing those who don’t have a long

career playing professionally for life after football.

In further discussion with Pablo on these matters, as they were both trends he saw

specifically in collegiate football, he brought up that at the collegiate level, there isn’t much he

can see that can be done to change these trends. These trends start at a young age and according

to Pablo, “these issues start from parents when they have young children and from administrators

in high school. These bad habits are already established by the time a player gets to college” So,

I decided that some further interviews would help me figure out how these trends can be

corrected at the lower levels, before a player even gets to college.

I continued my research acquisition by interviewing three High School head football

coaches, Zac Erekson from Skyline High School, Aaron Whitehead from Olympus High School,

and Justin Thompson from West High School. I chose these three coaches because they are

currently at programs varying in success and varying in socio-economic conditions. I figured that

if they all had similar suggestions, plans, or ideas on how to improve these negative trends, or

even actions currently in place, then those actions would be a good place to start in creating my

own plan of how to address these trends as a future professional.

As I had hoped, all three coaches suggested one reason for each negative trend, and they all

said the same thing. The general consensus for how to improve the number of youth participating
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in football was through creating enthusiasm for football. This can be done through summer

camps, creating traditions at the high school level which can run down through little leagues and

other youth programs, and an increase in showing parents and young children that football, when

played right, can be safe. As far as education goes, all three coaches blamed administrations for

the lack of educational focus among high school athletes. In order to play high school sports, a

student-athlete needs to have a GPA higher than 2.0. All three coaches felt that this number was

far too low to encourage student-athletes to take school and their education seriously. “If a

student shows up to class and does their assignments, there is no way they should be even close

to having as low a GPA as a 2.0”, said Erekson. He went on to say that without increasing the

standard for educational expectations, high schools nationwide will continue to see a decline in

grades and test scores, and eventually student-athletes who were B average students will start to

wonder why they spend time studying and working hard on assignments when they could be

spending that extra time working out to get better at their sport.

The stakeholders regarding these issues range from coaches and players to parents, fans, and

anyone involved in education. If the number of youth participating in football continues to

decrease, where will the collegiate and professional athletes come from? Will the quality of

football eventually decrease? And as far as education goes, if the standards for student-athletes

fall will that affect all students? Will the level of education in general decrease? These are the

issues we face if we do not overturn these negative trends.

This leads me to my plan of action regarding both of these negative trends. The biggest

changes that can be made are with youth playing football. That is where more changes can be

made, and changes that can quickly cause an impact and where we can see results the fastest. I
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recommend, and if I am in a position as a future professional to make some of these changes, I

believe they would make a great deal of difference.

1. Create rule changes at the youth level to diminish head and other serious injuries. As

discussed with Pablo, rule changes regarding safety are already being put into effect to

decrease the amount of head and other serious injuries from the game of football, but that

is still the number one concern for parents when they look to enroll their children in

youth football. Football, at the lower levels of little league and high school, have

established much stricter rules than the collegiate and professional leagues, but additional

rules such as what constitutes a legal tackle, and rules regarding kickoffs and punts could

be put into effect to decrease blind side hits, full speed hits, and unsafe tackling in the

youth game. The negative of this plan comes down to “football purists” who say that

football is the way it is, and is as physical as it is for a reason, to ensure that only the top

tier athletes and the toughest competitors participate in their beloved sport. But the

strength of this plan far outweighs the weakness, as safety being our number one concern

and decreasing the amount of injuries makes this plan worthwhile to put into effect.

2. The second change I would put into effect would be the increase in flag football leagues

rather than tackle leagues for young ages. Though the initial complaint would be that flag

football will not prepare youth for the physicality they will need if they decide to

continue playing up through the ranks, high school, college, and professional, but this

plan includes parts to help prepare youth for future football. I would include injury

prevention clinics, tackling clinics, and other clinics that would teach proper techniques

that would promote tackling, body awareness, and other safe habits. These clinics would

be once a week, through the little league program, where those players involved in flag
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football leagues, could come as part of the cost of them playing in the league, and

participate in clinics teaching them proper techniques. That way, if these children decide

to continue to play football and want to get more into actual football, they would already

know the techniques that would help prevent injuries as they progress to tackle football

leagues. This would also show parents the positives of football such as leadership, trust,

and other life lessons that playing on a competitive team such as football, provides youth.

This will also show parents that we care about their children and are willing to change the

way things are done to protect their children. Another benefit of this plan is that it allows

more youth, who are not necessarily interested in playing tackle football, the opportunity

to be involved in team sports as a form of recreation.

3. Lastly, the third plan I would put into effect to combat injuries, which, as it stands now, is

the biggest factor as to why parents do not want their children involved in football, is by

increasing the standard of coaches in little league football leagues. Many, most in fact, of

the coaches for little league football, are parent volunteers who want to be involved in

their children’s lives. The problem with this, is that coaches are not receiving the same

training and therefore are not teaching the same techniques to those they coach. This

could be fixed by having coaches be certified and go through specific courses to be able

to coach football at any level. This may decrease the number of volunteer coaches, as the

leagues will not have enough money to pay coaches for their time and this will cost

volunteer coaches more time and money to be certified than they currently have to pay in

order to coach. But the benefits of having trained coaches will be increased level of

football teaching and learning by coaches and players.
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All of these plans will teach youth proper techniques that will decrease injuries and stay with

them throughout their playing careers. The youth will be the future professionals, so by

starting them off young and teaching them correct principles and techniques, eventually, high

school, collegiate, and professional football will increase its level of standards of the game as

well.

The next plan of action to increase the level of education is two-fold.

1. Coaches need to focus on education. Coaches Erekson, Whitehead, and Thompson told

me that because of the “win now” mentality, administrators do not allow coaches to focus

on education as it does not directly affect the on-field success of their team. If a coach

does not show increased on-field success in two to three years of being hired, there is a

great chance they will be fired and another coach will be brought in. This makes it very

difficult for coaches to have a desire to help their students off the field more than simply

attaining the 2.0 they need in order to participate in sports. If coaches were allowed to

actually build their programs, including the education of their student-athletes in the

classroom, grades and test scores would increase. Though in the immediate there may be

a possible decrease in on field production, it may take a while to see results both on and

off the field, and it would take time away from football related practice and learning, if

our goal is to increase the education level of our students, this is the best way to

accomplish that. The theory that focusing on education rather than athletics actually

makes a difference has already been proven. According to (The Atlantic), in Premont

Independent School District in Texas in 2012, for “financial mismanagement and

academic failure”, the school district suspended all sports. This was in hopes that grades

and test scores in the school district would increase. The results were, “80 percent of the
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students passed their classes, compared with 50 percent the previous fall.” They

eventually started bringing back sports, few at a time, so as to continue the focus of going

to school to be on learning, not athletics. By the time they brought back all sports teams,

the level of education had remained constant, at the higher percentage than before the

suspension of sports. This proves that a focus on education will provide positive results.

That would be my plan, school districts and local high school administrators getting

together to be more faithful to coaches and allow them to build their programs rather than

expecting on-field success right away at their given schools.

2. The second step to increasing the education level among student-athletes is for the

administration, combined with the school districts, and the education board nationwide,

to increase the standards and academic goals for student-athlete participation. As stated

above, student-athletes need only a 2.0 in order to participate in high school and

collegiate sports. But by increasing the standards for these student-athletes, creating a

precedence, the level of education received, learned, and retained will increase. The

downside of this plan is that we may lose some top tier athletes who will no longer be

able to participate in sports due to their fallen grades. Though this may be true for the

first few years after this plan is put into effect, eventually, and overall, this plan will raise

the standards and level of education for student-athletes nationwide. This will help

students prepare for life after football, as Coach Whittingham stated, we all need to

prepare for. This will help increase the knowledge and understanding for students in

general, which will increase our standard of living nationwide. Though some athletes

may get lost in the process, it is better that a few fall in order to preserve the majority of

the people.
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In conclusion, the issues and trends affecting collegiate athletics not only affect collegiate

athletics, but every other level of athletics. The best way to reverse these negative trends is

by starting at the base level of sports, especially when it comes to football. As we plan to

change these trends, and put into action our plans, we will see these trends turn and become

positives for the sport. Youth participation in sports will increase, education levels, test

scores, and grades will increase, and we will better prepare our children, student-athletes, and

fellow players for positive experiences while playing football, and bright futures after their

careers end.
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References

Cano, P. (2017, February 20). Personal Interview.

Forbush, B. (2017, February 24). Personal Interview.

Erekson, Z. (2017, March 1). Personal Interview.

Whitehead, A. (2017, March 1). Personal Interview.

Thompson, J. (2017, March 3). Email.

NCAA. (March 10, 2017). Estimated probability of competing in professional athletics.

Retrieved from http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/research/estimated-probability-

competing-professional-athletics

Ripley, A. (October 2013). The Case Against High School Sports.

Retrieved by https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/10/the-case-against-

high-school-sports/309447/

Ferguson, J. (June 21, 2012). 50 worst-scoring high schools in Utah.

Retrieved by http://www.deseretnews.com/top/769/0/50-worst-scoring-high-schools-in-

Utah.html