New Report Explores Athletics at CIC Member Institutions

Athletics Report coverA new CIC report, Taking the Field: Intercollegiate Athletics on CIC Campuses, focuses on how member institutions’ athletic profiles have changed over recent decades. Published in October 2018, the report was written by James C. Hearn, David Welch Suggs Jr., and Jennifer May-Trifiletti—all of the University of Georgia.

Underscoring the groundbreaking nature of the authors’ work, CIC President Richard Ekman commented, “Independent colleges and universities whose athletic programs primarily compete at NCAA Division II and Division III and NAIA are important parts of the American college landscape. Yet few studies have been conducted on the progression of smaller independent institutions’ commitment to athletics. This report illuminates the centrality of athletics at many CIC institutions, the diversity of approaches that are employed, and the benefits that athletics can offer to students who participate.”

The study uses historical data on CIC member institutions’ intercollegiate sports offerings and student participation from the National Collegiate Athletics Association from 1991–1992 to 2014–2015 and additional data from the U.S. Department of Education on sports and institutional characteristics. Some key findings include:

  • Student participation in intercollegiate athletics at CIC institutions has risen appreciably over recent decades;
  • Although women’s sports offerings and participation have increased more quickly, men’s sports offerings and participation also have increased, and men maintain an overall advantage in total participation;
  • More selective institutions offer more sports, but lower proportions of their students participate in sports; and
  • An institution’s geographic location is closely tied to both the number and types of sports it offers.

In addition to providing data on the types of sports and rates of participation at CIC institutions (see Figure below), the report authors draw strategic implications from their findings. They suggest that institutional leaders evaluating their athletics programs should:

  • Be cautious when extrapolating enrollment trends;
  • Understand differences in outlooks and key issues for specific sports (for example concerns about traumatic brain injuries suffered by football players);
  • Be mindful that not every sport is appropriate for every campus, and some sports may be a poor fit for the majority of campuses (for instance, college sports that are most popular in New England may not work well on many southern campuses);
  • Systematically collect and analyze data in order to understand the impact of athletics programs on admission applications, admissions yield, student success, and institutional finances; and
  • Consider the quality of the athletics experience (namely, will expanding roster spots lead to a better or worse experience for student athletes?).

The report is available online.

Average Number of Sports by FULL-TIME UNDERGRADUATE ENROLLMENT, CIC Institutions (2015)

under 1,000 = 11.6; 1,000-2,000 = 14.4; 2,001-3,000 = 16.3; over 3,000 = 15.7
Source: Council of Independent Colleges. 2018. Taking the Field: Intercollegiate Athletics on CIC Campuses.