Counseling the Student-Athlete: A Matter of Academic Integrity

Golden West College, Counseling and Library Faculty Issues Committee

Over the last ten years, the Academic Senate has passed resolutions related to the issue of counseling and student athletes. This article provides some background on the role of counseling and athletics.

Sports fanatics and non-enthusiasts alike are weighing in on the national debate over balancing academic values with the pursuit of athletic excellence. Our colleagues in the academy are taking a particular interest in what some are calling the "commercialization" of collegiate athletics, waging a campaign to defend academic integrity against the movement to privatize college sports.

While commercialization may be less threatening in community college athletics, the cost of winning is no less pervasive and there is growing concern among counseling faculty over the need to protect athletic counseling and advising as a counseling function.

The authority over an institution's academic advising program has become the focus of recent attention from our university brethren. In 2002 an alliance of 55 Division IA faculty senates formed the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics (COIA) whose mission is to serve as a national faculty voice on intercollegiate sports matters. COIA acknowledges that intercollegiate athletics benefits athletes, as well as the campus and the larger community, but they also argue athletic programs are not always aligned with the educational goals and mission of our institutions, leaving the potential for compromising the values of higher education. In "A Framework for Comprehensive Athletics Reform," COIA opposes academic advising under the auspices of an athletic department:

4. Academic advising and related services.
Because athletes have such heavy burdens on their time, schools typically provide them enhanced support. Advising programs supervised through the Athletics Departments are a common source of academic violations. COIA recommends that Athletics Department advisors be appointed in the regular campus advising system, report through the academic advising structure, and be assessed by an academic-side review. ("A Framework for Comprehensive Athletics Reform," Executive Summary, COIA Steering Committee, Fall 2003)

The Drake Group, a nationwide group of college faculty who advocate for ensuring quality education for college athletes, argues that athletes are students and should be assimilated into the general student body by mandating that athletics academic advisement be administered by general academic advising departments. The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics similarly supports the integration of academic processes for student-athletes, including admissions, academic support services, choice of major and progress-toward-degree requirements (NCAA Presidential Task Force on the Future of Division I Intercollegiate Athletics: Student-Athlete Well-Being Subcommittee, "Academic Enhancements-Academic Advising, June 2005").

The Code of Ethics for the National Association of Academic Advisors for Athletics (N4A), a professional organization whose members are primarily responsible for the counseling and advising of student-athletes, recognizes the value of professional counseling and advising practitioners:

The National Association of Academic Advisors for Athletics, as a group, possesses a body of specialized knowledge, skills, and attitudes known and practiced by its members. These are acquired through professional preparation, generally through graduate study, in an appropriate academic discipline at a college or university. Additionally, they are acquired through experience, in-service training and personal development after the completion of formal education (

Community College Counselors Association in Academic Advising for Athletes (3C4A) is an affiliate of the parent association, N4A. 3C4A of California serves as a forum for professionals who provide academic counseling, advisement and assistance for student athletes at the community college level, with the goal of enhancing the quality of education for the student athlete, providing information and generating new ideas, and offering a professional structure and political voice for athletic counselors. Membership includes representation from many of our California community colleges.

More campuses are acknowledging the specialized training necessary to effectively counsel student-athletes, and are responding by hiring dedicated certificated counselors with expertise in athletic counseling.

California community college athletic counselors must perform all the responsibilities of a general counselor as well as:

  • Understand the intricacies and remain current in their knowledge of National Collegiate Athletics Association/National Association of Independent Athletics (NCAA/NAIA) and California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA) Eligibility and Transfer Issues
  • Stay abreast of developing issues and rules governing athletics
  • Develop education plans for athletes while being mindful of:
    • The importance of the Associate Degree in possibly determining transfer status and athletic eligibility
    • Summer term restrictions and implications for athletic eligibility
    • Preserving continuous athletic eligibility
  • Maintain reference materials specific to athletic and academic transfer
  • Inform counseling and non-counseling faculty of issues and trends affecting student athletes
  • Coordinate and communicate with parents, intercollegiate coaches, and compliance officers

The academic success of our student-athletes depends upon the accuracy and comprehensiveness of counseling and advising services provided by our institutions. All 109 of our campuses should be investing in dedicated counseling performed by certificated counseling faculty.