Not All Students Are The Same: Student-Athletes In Mergers And Closures

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Not All Students Are The Same: Student-Athletes In Mergers And Closures

Student-athletes are often a microcosm of the overall student body of an institution. The student-athletes of an institution are students just like all others there to get an education, but they also represent the institution in most public arenas and are often at the forefront of the institution. But when an institution is merging with another or even closing, many of the student-athletes are treated the same as every other student, even though they have additional needs that must be considered.

When an institution decides to close, they should create teach-out plans either at the same institution or with another institution to make sure their students have a home to finish their degree without any delays. While this is important to student-athletes as well, a student-athlete must consider more than just the completion of their degree but also the completion of their playing career, if they so choose. Student-athletes choose an institution for reasons of academics but also because of the coach or coaches who recruited them, the teammates they knew already were on the team, and a myriad of other reasons not completely related to the academic program in which they are enrolled.

When an institution is closing, the student-athlete cannot necessarily just go to another school and join a team but must find the right fit for the person and position they occupy on the team. A baseball or softball player who plays catcher cannot just choose any new institution and team but has to consider their remaining eligibility as well as opportunities for playing time at the new institution. If the team has a better catcher, the player has to decide to try to earn playing time or find a different opportunity. All of this takes time. More time than simply transferring to a new academic program, which is why when closures are abrupt and immediate, the student-athlete suffers the most.

When considering mergers, there are differences in the considerations of the general student body and the student-athlete population. Reducing two bursar’s offices or business schools into one is different from the same consideration for athletic departments. With a single institution, one bursar’s office or one school of business is all that is needed and can handle as many students as needed. If more than one athletic department exists within merging institutions, a decision must be made whether to maintain or reduce the number. Unlike the school of business’s ability to handle as many students as there are faculty and classroom spots, each athletic department has a limited number of roster spots per team as well as a limited number of teams. If the decision is to keep all departments, then people continue on with business as usual. If the decision is to eliminate a department or even a team, then the same considerations exist for student-athletes as in a closure, as the number of roster spots are reduced.

Overall, mergers and closures in higher education are occurring more frequently. Each transaction must consider the impact on students. Student-athletes should not be overlooked in the process and should be given the best opportunity to be successful, not just in academics, but in their playing career as well.

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Writer: James Hagler, Consultant, SPH Consulting Group.

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