Investigating Social Capital Differences Between College Athletes and Nonathletes

Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Exhibit Hall RC Poster Sessions (Tampa Convention Center)
Bryan L. Finch, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK and Aaron W. Clopton, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA

Researchers have raised concerns that student-athletes, particularly at the NCAA Division I-A level, will leave college unprepared for a career outside of athletic competition (Kennedy & Dimick, 1987; Murphy, Petitpas, & Brewer, 1996). Other studies have examined the social and academic struggles of student-athletes compared to other students. Student-athletes often had lower graduation rates (Lapchick, 2000), less social and campus interaction (Adler & Adler, 1991), and poor career exploration and planning beyond athletics (Lally & Kerr, 2005). Additional research suggests that student-athletes are less able to prepare for future careers due to the additional constraints of playing collegiate sports (Ferrante & Etzel, 1991; Jordan & Denson, 1990) and have lower levels of career maturity than their colleagues on campus (Blann, 1985; Kennedy & Dimick, 1987). However, very few studies have looked at student-athletes using a social capital framework.


The current study was designed to examine possible differences in social capital between college student-athletes and non-athletes. Putnam (2000) defined social capital as the fabric that connects us together through social networks, with benefits including trust, reciprocity, cooperation, and information. To assess for social capital, the five-item Social Capital Assessment Tool (Krishna & Shrader, 1999) was utilized. SCAT consists of the two elements that comprise social capital: sense of trust and reciprocating social networks.


Athletes and non-athletes were randomly selected online in the fall of 2007 from 41 BCS institutions. A total of 1702 participants responded for a response rate of 35.5%. Variables included scales for trust, social networks, social capital, overall student adjustment, future degree plans, and grade point average. Independent sample t-tests revealed only one significant difference between the two groups. Non-athlete students recorded higher scores on degree planning (t[1265]=-2.10, p<.05), that is, non-student-athletes were significantly more likely to pursue higher degrees, or finish their current ones, than were the college athletes.


The results suggest that student-athletes and non-athletes share similar views regarding their feelings of trust, social networks, and social capital on campus. The significant difference in degree planning suggests that student-athletes may still be behind their campus counterparts in areas such as academic and career planning, as has been found previously (Kennedy & Dimick, 1987; Lally & Kerr, 2005). Future research into the role of social capital and student-athletes' academic and career planning may prove beneficial for athletic and academic administrators.