Authors: Aaron Vaughn, Jimmy Smith

Corresponding Author:
Aaron Vaughn
Gonzaga University
502 E. Boone Ave, AD Box 25
Spokane, WA. 99258

Aaron Vaughn, Graduate Student, Master’s of Arts in Sport and Athletic Administration (MASAA), Gonzaga University

Dr. Jimmy Smith, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Sport and Physical education; Gonzaga University,

Advising student-athletes: Understanding job preparation, roles, and challenges of the athletic academic advisor

According to the NCAA, each athletic department must provide its student-athletes with academic support that aids them with the necessary resources to be successful in the classroom. While much of the research in intercollegiate athletics focuses on coaches, student-athletes, and athletic administrators, less is known about Athletic Academic Advisors who provide necessary support to the student-athlete for their success off the fields or courts. This research aimed to contribute to the broad intercollegiate athletic literature related to further understanding Athletic Academic Advisors, and sought to specifically understand their preparedness, job roles, and challenges. A survey was sent to 510 athletic academic advisors; 115 responded, yielding a 22.5% response rate. Results showed important factors on preparedness was the level and focus of their degree, previous experience working with student-athletes, having a written set of job roles, and having been mentored. The relevant challenges faced by this population were student-athletes’ lack of academic desire, NCAA eligibility rules, athletes encountering issues with stress, communication, attendance, and an overwhelming amount of job roles.

Keywords: athletic academic advisor, student-athlete, NCAA, job preparedness, job roles, job challenges


Academic advising has played a significant role in colleges and universities for many years and when utilized, leads towards students’ academic success (Brown, 2008; Hollis, 2001; Knox, 2003; Lyons, 2015). The intercollegiate athletic department, one extension of the many institutions of higher education, often houses hundreds of student-athletes that compete in sporting events that take these individuals away from the classroom and other study opportunities. Intercollegiate athletic departments are required by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to provide student-athletes (SA) dedicated academic advisors, or Athletic Academic Advisors (AAA).

Research has addressed university-level academic advisors from a training and development perspective (Brown, 2008), student retention (Habley, 2004), and graduate student relationships (Knox, 2003). However, a current gap in the existing research shows a limited understanding of AAAs job preparation, responsibilities, and duties. Another gap in research was with the challenges AAAs face when working with SAs. Collegiate athletes come across multiple challenges that a general student might not have, such as time constraints and physical and emotional exhaustion, and these challenges carry over to their advisors (Johnson, 2013; Linnemeyer, 2010; Lyons, 2015; Thompson 2011a). Previous research suggested some of these challenges could include coaches, difficult schedules, lack of academic devotion (Watson, 2005), relationship issues (Thompson, 2011b), lack of compliance (Thompson, 2011a; Lyons, 2015), lack of resources (Hollis, 2001), and athlete unpreparedness (Linnemeyer, 2010). Therefore, the purpose of this research was to identify the challenges advisors come across, as well as research the preparedness level they have when advising SAs. The current research may prove beneficial to three parties: (1) AAAs by eliminating stress/job burnout through proper preparation and knowledge of their challenges (Huebner, 2011), (2) athletic academic hiring administration by understanding what AAAs need to be successful, (3) and the SA by the overall improvement of this service. Therefore, the research question became:

What are the challenges that academic advisors come across when dealing with SAs, and are advisors properly trained and prepared to take those on?

Literature Review

Research is limited related to the population of AAAs, and because of this, the current research took a broad approach by covering job preparedness, job roles, and challenges AAAs encounter when advising SAs. The following literature review is structured to cover separate topics that coincide with the large spectrum of literature related to these topics to connect AAAs experiences. Previous research that has also taken a broad approach may have tackled two of the currents research’s objectives at once, but due to the lack of research in the broad area of academic advising and AAAs, topics may be referenced separately or multiple times under different headings by similar authors. For example, Knox (2003) researched both job roles and challenges encountered by academic advisors, and the current research covered both of those topics for AAAs. A variety of similar occupations were looked at to gain relevant knowledge on AAAs; these included academic advisors, counselors, faculty advisors, and student perspectives.

Academic advisor preparedness and training
As with any job, it is important to understand the means of preparation and training to accomplish job-specific tasks efficiently (Habley, 2004). This concept is no different for any academic advisor position amidst the university or an athletic department. Habley (2004) reviewed training programs for academic advisors through surveying 2,122 advisors at 401 private four-year institutions. This study found that 52% of colleges used individual advisor training programs, 35% of colleges offered multiple advising workshops throughout the year, and 24% offered a yearly workshop (Habley, 2004). Brown (2008) furthered Habley’s (2004) study by surveying academic advisors to prove a need for a formal training program. Brown’s (2007) survey found that less than 33% of colleges mandate a training program, 35% of colleges don’t offer a training program at all, and only 33% of advisors felt they had adequate training. He also argued that there needs to be more research done to “identify important academic advising needs and issues” (Brown, 2008, p. 319).

Other research has reviewed strategies in advising. Research by Smith (2004) tested strategies that were thought to help prepare academic advisors. This was done at a single university in the northeast United States with an average freshman class of roughly 2,000 students, and surveyed a total of 2,584 students over a 5-year period. He also interviewed a small portion of these students to gain a further understanding. Smith (2004) focused on determining if academic outcomes would aid in the success and preparation of academic advisors. This was accomplished through student focus groups, exit surveys, and research on a college student inventory. The last of those aimed to test where students were in their lives academically and socially. Smith (2004) found that creating outcomes had a positive effect on the success of academic advisors and helped them keep their attention on students who needed their services most. These outcomes included academic goals that focused on what the students needed to accomplish in order to be successful academically. They were developed through advisors observing student focus groups that revealed what the students needed in advisement and the struggles students were having academically. Advisors mentioned they could “hear the voices of students without the power dynamic inherent in a one-on-one appointment” (Smith, 2004, p. 423) and were able to learn issues that were specific to students at their university. Using this information, advisors decided to create and carry out goals and outcomes based on the academic challenges students had discussed, which led to a better academic advising service (Smith, 2004).

There is currently no research addressing AAA preparedness in comparison to their academic backgrounds; however, previous research has been done on similar careers. Goodman-Scott (2015) completed research on 1,052 elementary, middle school, high school, and college counselors with master’s degree, and compared what they had learned in their academics to what their job actually entailed. According to the data, their academic knowledge aligned with their job roles aligned, which was shown to be beneficial to the counselors. This highlighted the positive impact of having a job-relevant academic background.

Challenges in academic advising
Previous research has reviewed job-related challenges for various careers similar to AAAs. A study accomplished by Knox (2003) interviewed 19 academic advisors at psychology and counseling graduate schools to learn the costs of advising. These costs included: time-consumption, managing multiple tasks/students, emotional issues, lack of institutional rewards, and a decreased productivity in their other areas of work. Knox (2003) argued that the combination of these challenges and academic advisors having inordinate tasks inhibits them to fulfill their job duties properly.

In efforts to design an effective counseling service, Watson (2005) looked at relationship challenges by studying the behaviors and willingness of students in comparison to SAs to seek help from advisors. The study compared 132 non-SAs to 135 SAs at the Division I level, using the quantitative Expectations about Counseling-Brief form survey created by Tinsley (1982). This study was based on a concern that SAs are not using support services as well as other students. There were four areas tested: personal commitment, facilitative conditions, counselor expertise, and nurturance. The findings showed that SAs had lower help-seeking attitudes towards student counseling/development (Watson, 2005). The lower score shows the lack of willingness from SAs, which represents a significant challenge.

Communication is a common challenge in the workplace, and Thompson (2011) argued that communication privacy dilemmas are present in the advisor-athlete relationship. He accomplished a qualitative study exploring AAAs’ perspectives on this issue and the findings led to three themes. First, advisors explained that they can get caught in the middle when something was mentioned during their advising meetings that should be told to coaches or another faculty. This led to the second theme, loyalty conflicts. Advisors did not want to break the SA’s trust, but if something negative happened that the advisor knew about through a previous advising session, they would break the faculty’s trust by not informing them beforehand. Lastly, they explained that no clear guidelines were available on these issues (Thompson, 2011). With this information, Thompson (2011) argued that there needs to be a written guideline for advisors on communication issues to help deal with sensitive information during advising sessions.

Another communication challenge regarding the advisor and advisee interaction was studied by Chan (2016). He interviewed 5 academic advisors and 74 advisees at a nursing college to understand a lack of communication he saw. Both the advisors and advisees suggested that communications were important, but the advisees noted that there was no personal relationship with their advisor and the advisors mentioned that the students seemed unwilling to communicate on the personal level (Chan, 2016). Students suggested small group academic meetings to overcome these issues, but they also mentioned that some advisors seemed to lack empathy, which made them unapproachable (Chan, 2016). The advisors expressed concern for freshman students’ adaptation to the new lifestyle and academic level (Chan, 2016). Future professional goals were mentioned as an important topic of communication, yet the two parties disagreed on when these should be discussed. The advisors mentioned they would rather discuss career goals later in the student’s academic career, but students explained they would feel more passionate about their classes if they had a better career understanding upfront (Chan, 2016).

Retention is a common goal among academic advisors, and Khalil (2014) completed quantitative research to determine some of the challenges academic advisors were facing in an engineering program, in hopes to boost the school’s retention rates. Khalil interviewed the sole academic advisor for an engineering program of 1,200 students at Southern Polytechnic State University and asked several questions about advising tasks and challenges. Some of the issues the advisor faced were: students coming to the advisor for career counseling even though there was a designated career counselor (the advisor also did not feel trained on this aspect), students having negative feelings and a misunderstanding towards transfer credits, students having conflicts with certain professors, having too many students to advise (1,200+), students assuming the advisor is always available, and the academic advisor and faculty advisors not communicating properly (Khalil, 2014). These issues are likely similar for AAAs, but more research needs to be done to determine this.

Defining roles within academic advising
Multiple studies have focused on the roles of academic advisors and what the students perceive those roles should be; however, those roles are not always universal or congruent (Belcheir, 1998; Chan, 2016; Khalil, 2014; Knox, 2003). Belcheir (1998) surveyed 890 students at Boise State University to understand if students’ academic advising needs were met and who academically advised those students. Roughly 46% of students were advised by a faculty member, 14% by advising center staff, 8% by peer advisors, and 30% responded they had no advisor (Belcheir, 1998). The study concluded that “Over 75% of students who were assigned to advising centers felt that their advising needs were adequately met, while about 70% of students who had faculty advisors felt that way. Less than 60% of students who had peer advisors were satisfied with the advising process, and a similar percentage to students with no advisor at all” (Belcheir, 1998, p. 4). The previously mentioned research by Khalil (2014) similarly focused on the regularity students met with their advisors. The leading category was once per semester, followed by never meeting (Khalil, 2014). These studies show the importance of having an academic advisor and meeting with them regularly.

Job roles for academic advisors were also investigated by Knox (2003) and Khalil (2014). The common tasks were: help with course study plan and what courses to take, assistance with registration, various system over-rides, career choice, conflicts with a professor, and being a mentor (Khalil 2014; Knox, 2003). These two studies had congruent job roles, but again solely focused on non-AAAs.

Theoretical framework

Academic advising constructivist theory
The current research was grounded in the academic advising constructivist theory proposed by Musser (2012), designed to create a philosophy of academic advising. Musser (2012) created this theory by using Crookston’s theory of developmental advising, which stated that there should be defined roles for the student advisor relationship (Crookston, 1972). Musser then utilized Vygotsky’s (1978) zone of proximal development theory to further the academic advising constructivist theory. Vygotsky’s (1978) theory is defined as: “each student operates within a range of ability and that educators would best facilitate learning by presenting students with work that challenges without overwhelming them” (Bohonos, 2013). Since defining roles and working with challenges was the background of the theory, this paper focused on these topics.

The academic advising constructivist theory argues that advisors need to do two things. First, intercommunication between academic advisors must be present to understand current strategies and techniques used advisement (Musser, 2012). By doing this, advisors can identify the current issues in student advisement and share with other advisors how to solve these challenges. The present research used this theory to test if there are currently any strategies, backgrounds, or other areas of preparation that help AAAs in their jobs. The second part of the theory states advisors must communicate and understand their student’s academic abilities. Advisors can then help students to be placed in the correct major and classes based on their abilities and interests (Musser, 2012). This part of the theory applies directly to the present research, since SAs have different challenges than others, and according to the theory should therefore be facilitated differently.


The current research focused on studying the preparedness levels of AAAs and the challenges they encounter, specifically advisors that manage college SAs at the Division I level. Through previous research, it was understood that advisors had more challenges with athletes than they do with the general student population; however, this is currently untested (Hollis, 2001; Johnson, 2013; Linnemeyer, 2010; Lyons, 2015). Other research has covered academic preparedness and concluded that workshops, training programs, academic degrees, and academic outcomes yielded positive results on preparation (Brown, 2008; Goodman-Scott, 2015; Knox, 2003; Smith, 2004).

The current study was accomplished through a quantitative survey from the perspective of the advisors and covered demographics, preparedness, job roles and the challenges faced by AAAs. This research was taken from a post-positivism viewpoint because the questions within the survey are opinion based (excluding the demographics). Post-positivism is described by Jones (2015) as a style of research that doesn’t conclude with objective results because of the inherent limitations and biases. The advisors that participated in the survey were asked to answer honestly, but the answers are still inherently subjective due to the AAAs’ individual perspectives. To increase reliability, the survey was first piloted by AAAs at Gonzaga University. These AAAs took the original version of the survey and commented on questions they thought were relevant, irrelevant, needed to be changed, taken out, or added. The final draft of the survey took their comments into consideration and made necessary changes.

The targeted population was academic advisors who work with athletes at the NCAA Division I level. All types of academic advisors that work with athletes were included. Email addresses for participants were collected through athletic department websites that had publicly listed contact information. A list of all 347 Division I colleges was obtained through the NCAA website. Contact information was found by searching the athletic faculty directory of each individual Division I college and collecting publicly available email addresses. The collected emails consisted of 510 personnel, and 115 of them partook in the survey. If a school had multiple AAAs than all contacts were gathered. In cases where there was no AAA listed on the directory, the individual in charge of academics for SAs was contacted instead. This was done to assure a high volume of participants and to guarantee all DI colleges were contacted.

Data collection
A 34-item online questionnaire was disseminated and presented to the target advisors using an online survey platform. The survey yielded quantitative and qualitative data, with four different sections. First, the demographic section covered topics that categorized the advisors and their backgrounds; this was accomplished via multiple choice questions. The second section reviewed what prepared the advisors to do their jobs and the level to which they were prepared. This section utilized multiple choice questions, and a Likert scale with 1 being “not prepared” and 5 being “extremely prepared”. These questions were derived from previous research regarding academic background/curriculum/coursework, identifying advisor roles, and asking how they were trained for their profession. The third section asked how much the AAAs agreed with job role descriptions that were generated by reviewing hiring ads for AAAs in the 2017-2018 academic year. This was done by using a Likert scale with 1 being strongly disagree and 5 being strongly agree. The last section researched the challenges advisors encounter when advising athletes, and was achieved by asking open-ended questions. This was done to eliminate any biases from the researcher. All the questions were grounded in the academic advising constructivist theory.

Data analysis
The multiple-choice questions were analyzed by pulling the data from Baseline SRS, an online service tool, and importing it into Microsoft Excel. Equations were used in Microsoft Excel to find the mean and standard deviation for several questions. Demographic data was used to determine any correlations between the advisor’s background and their preparedness by comparing each question to their self-given score on preparedness. To determine job roles, AAAs were asked their level of agreement on a Likert scale with various roles that were generated through previous studies and observing AAA job hiring ads. The challenges AAAs withstood were determined by searching through the open-ended questions regarding challenges and creating common themes based on their answers. An analytical semantic approach was used to find the themes in the open-ended questions. This approach suggests that as “a progression from description, where the data have simply been organized to show patterns in semantic content, and summarized, to interpretation, where there is an attempt to theorize the significance of the patterns and their broader meanings and implications” (Braun, 2006, p. 13). This format of analytics has been proven effective, and by using this system the research remained quantitative (Braun, 2006; Gartley, 2016; Kim, 2013).


The purpose of this study was to further understand three job-related areas regarding AAAs at the Division I level: defining and developing career backgrounds that helped prepare AAAs, defining job roles for the AAA position, and understanding the challenges AAAs face when advising athletes. The categories were formed from previous research regarding general university academic advisors and the limited AAAs research available regarding the position.

The survey was sent to 511 AAAs with 115 responses (108 of which completed every portion of the survey), which yielded a response rate of 23%. The AAAs represented various DI programs in 38 states across the United States. The average age was 37, with 67% of respondents being female. Most held a master’s degree (83%), and the most common degrees were education (35%) and sport management (31%). The advisors were most commonly assigned to 101+ athletes (67%) and had been in the profession 0-6 years (61%).

Job roles
Data was collected to determine if there were any disagreements between the AAAs on their typical job roles as defined by research related to academic advisor job postings (Belcheir, 1998; Chan, 2016; Khalil, 2014; Knox, 2003). There was little discrepancy between each advisor’s answers on job roles. All participants responded agree or strongly agree to all job role questions. Table 1 represents these job roles:

Table 1

This portion of the survey asked the AAAs questions regarding how they prepared for their jobs. Due to the gap in research on AAA preparation, the questions asked used previous literature regarding general university academic advisors, counselors, and other similar jobs (Brown, 2007; Brown, 2008; Habley, 2004; Knox, 2003).

AAAs were asked what training or instructions they received at the start of their employment that aided them in their jobs. The most common themes are listed in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1

The advisor was then asked if they had ever worked with SAs in their previous job, to which 68.42% responded that they had. The next topics related to preparedness covered seminars, college courses, and workshops attended. Of the responding AAAs, 18% had never attended a workshop that focused on academic advising, while 48% of AAAs had been to 4 or more. The results showed that more than half of advisors (53%) had never researched any advising strategies specifically related to working with SAs. AAAs were asked how prepared they felt when they first began their career. The average self-given score was a 3.18, using a Likert scale with 1 being not prepared, and 5 being extremely prepared. Table 2 provides the layout of the scores.

Table 2

The self-given scores of how prepared the AAAs felt were then compared with various background details to look for any correlations. The correlations are in Table 3 below.

Table 3

Challenges for athletic academic advisors
Two open-ended questions were asked related to the challenges the AAAs encountered when working with SAs. These topics were not pre-determined; themes were created based on the popularity of each topic being mentioned within the answers. To keep the analysis consistent, if a single AAA mentioned the same topic multiple times, it was only tallied once. However, if the AAA mentioned something in more than one topic area, they were tallied in all relevant topics. After reading through and categorizing all the answers, several themes emerged and were then grouped into categories. For example: faculty, athlete and coach communications were categorized together under “communications issues”. Class offerings, practice times, travel schedules, and fitting in major specific classes were all categorized under “Class scheduling and availability”. The results of the two open-ended questions regarding AAA challenges are listed below in figure 2 and 3.

Figure 2

Figure 3

Both open-ended questions resulted in several common themes, including scheduling/class availability, lack of academic desire and preparedness, NCAA eligibility issues, and athlete attitude/attendance issues. While scheduling and class availability was the most mentioned theme it cannot be controlled or changed due to SA practice schedules and when classes are offered. Because of these uncontrollable factors, the discussion will stray from this topic. The other results will be discussed further in the next section.


This paper explored the profession of AAAs due to the large gap in research related to the importance of this position and the success of the SA from an academic perspective; therefore, three different areas were studied. The first was to search and define strategies that prepared AAAs for their job. The second was to further describe job roles specific to AAAs (Belcheir, 1998; Chan, 2016; Khalil, 2014; Knox, 2003). Finally, the third focus was to explore any challenges that AAAs face while working with SAs that are unique to their job. The importance of the current research was to further understand key factors for the job of AAA, which will help develop a more efficient service, while also helping AAAs prepare themselves and overcome the likely challenges they will encounter.

The following discussion is broken into the three topics of the study: preparation, job roles, and challenges. It was formatted to reflect that the current study took a broad approach to study the career of AAA.

Athletic academic advisor preparation
The results provided qualifications that may aid AAA job preparation. Previous research suggested that advising workshops, researching advising practices, individual advisor training programs, risk assessment tests, being trained by previous advisors, and goal-oriented outcomes were key factors in preparing academic advisors (Brown, 2007; Brown, 2008; Habley, 2004; Smith, 2004). However, according to Brown (2008) only 33% of advisors felt they had been properly trained. The current study found that most AAAs responded that they were self-taught, which goes against the format of training Brown (2008) found that advisors most suggested, which was being taught through a training program. A small percentage of advisors responded that they were put through a mentor/training program, which previous studies suggested was not sufficient (Brown, 2008). AAAs showed that they were unprepared by their response to the current survey. This suggests that AAAs are not prepared, therefore the system of how they are trained was not accomplishing its purpose. According to the survey, AAAs that were self-taught or learned through a manual scored lower on preparedness than those who were personally trained. Again, this is congruent with the style of training previous literature suggested (Brown, 2008), and shows the importance of putting AAAs through a training program.

Education also played a factor in the preparedness of AAAs. Most obtained their master’s degree, and these advisors also generated the highest preparedness score, while advisors with only a bachelor’s degree scored significantly lower. The additional education appeared to further prepare AAAs, likely by gaining more relevant academic and field experience (Goodman-Scott, 2015). Another education factor was the type of academic degree that AAAs received. The most common answers were sport management, education, and other. The advisors that answered “other” most commonly had a more specific degree such as Higher Education or Counseling. When the AAAs score on preparedness was combined with their degree focus, certain focuses correlated with a higher score. The answers on degrees that ranked high were other, psychology/sociology and sport management, and the degrees with a lower ranking were education and administration. This data represents how academic backgrounds can have an impact on the preparedness for AAAs, similar to what Goodman-Scott (2015) found with school counselors. When topics taught in academics align with real job roles, AAAs are more likely to feel prepared (Goodman-Scott, 2015). The previous research, combined with the current data, suggests that degree programs in specialized topics, such as counseling, higher education, sport management, and psychology/sociology, provide academic courses and experiences that give AAAs the information needed to be better prepared.

Another key factor that correlated with AAAs giving themselves a high preparedness score was previous work with SAs. This can be connected to a past study by Smith (2004), which found that further understanding the specific population aided in advisor preparation. Previous experience working with the SAs helps to further understand the population, which helps AAAs easily relate and develop connections with the SA (Smith, 2004). Going forward, it is important for AAAs to have former involvement with SAs, as this allows the advisor to feel better prepared for their line of work.

The most distinguishing preparedness topic was whether the college had a known written set of job roles. AAAs that had a written job role ranked themselves higher on preparedness, which was congruent with the previous study by Smith (2004). Smith’s research found that academic counselors who had outcomes and written goals had more success. It would prove useful to AAA’s preparedness for colleges and universities to have written expectations.

Challenges dealing with student-athletes
The challenges encountered during job-related activities has been researched previously for professions comparable to AAA, but there was a gap in research for this career. According to the current survey, multiple themes emerged that were challenges specific to the AAA and their relationship to the SA. The most common theme was class scheduling and availability, however this has too many unmanageable factors to allow for stable conclusions to be drawn. The following discussion is set up to cover the other common themes individually.

Student-athlete lack of academic desire or preparation
A common theme was SA lack of academic desire or preparation. One response that illustrated this was: “The biggest challenges I have been encountering lately is the lack of independence and the level to which our student-athletes are independent learners.” In previous research, academic advisors discussed a similar challenge by explaining that freshman students had a lack of willingness and lacked adaptation to the new collegiate academic level (Chan, 2016). The rationale behind why SAs lack academic preparedness could vary. Some SAs come from at-risk backgrounds, while others may have been accepted to the school even though their previous academics were not up to standard. An example of this was shown in the following survey response: “Most of our male student athletes are minority and from lower socioeconomic backgrounds which presents confidence issues, learning disabilities and general college preparedness.” While the cause of the academic preparation for SAs cannot be extensively defined, it was evident that it exists.

The AAAs commonly expressed a lack of academic desire by the SAs, highlighted in comments that the SAs were more focused on athletics than academics, looked for the easiest classes, or simply were not prepared academically. One AAA responded, “They are less focused on their academic career and focused more on their professional career in athletics.” These types of challenges cause difficulties for AAAs. SAs that are not engaged in academics will not seek the help from AAAs that they might need, similarly to what Watson (2005) found when researching student compliance. This can create a large difficulty for AAAs, especially when attempting to help SAs take and pass classes that will help them in their future careers outside of athletics. Chan (2016) found that students become more passionate about academics when they have a grasp on their future careers, but in this case, SAs have a focus on an athletic career, which generally creates a lack of passion for academics. Literature suggests that if the SA was made aware of careers outside of professional sports, it would help them gain academic desire, which would relieve some of the challenges AAAs face (Chan, 2016).

NCAA eligibility rules
Another common challenge for AAAs was navigating through the NCAA eligibility rules. The rules cannot be controlled by the school or advisors, but AAAs expressed difficulty in keeping up with rule changes and keeping the SA eligible for sports competition, while also still helping them academically. The eligibility rules include keeping a SA’s GPA above the school’s standards for graduation, commonly a 1.8, completing 40% of coursework within their major by the end of the second year, and 60% of the coursework within their major by the end of the third year (NCAA, 2018). While a non-SA must also typically keep a minimum GPA, the percent of coursework completed applies exclusively to SAs. AAAs expressed that the degree completion rule was hindering their advising services. They explained that there were multiple SAs that had academic aspirations and wanted to switch the major they were currently in; however, letting the SA switch majors would sometimes cause them to fall below the 40% or 60% rule, and therefore make them ineligible. This rule also applies to transfer students, as one AAA mentioned: “Transfer students…come in unprepared for their new school, especially in not knowing majors that they can complete and retain their eligibility”. Another AAA commented, “Working with student-athletes that decide to change their major late in the process – it is difficult for some of them to meet the % rule in the new major.” According to the current research, AAAs typically did not have difficulties with the GPA requirement, but the degree progress was often recognized as the larger challenge.

Student-athlete attitude and attendance issues
The third theme was SA attitude and attendance issues. This can best be described in a response to the current survey when an AAA mentioned “(student-athletes) identity issues, and sense of entitlement make them MORE challenging.” This is congruent with previous research done by Tinsley (1982) and Watson (2005). Both studies found that SAs had lower help-seeking attitudes towards counseling or development programs (Tinsely, 1982; Watson, 2005). Watson (2005) took this a step further and found that SAs scored significantly lower on behavior and willingness to seek help from counselors. Data from the current study showed that this was also true for AAAs. A lack of SA attendance at meetings with the AAAs prohibits them from doing their job.

SAs having attitude issues was a unique discovery in the present study. AAAs suggested the SA have issues with identity, being entitled, and being mentally and physically exhausted from their daily routine, which can cause poor attitudes. Typical responses from the AAAs included that the SA seemed entitled, which caused them not to respect the AAA or have any intentions of listening to them. Two responses on the written section of the survey that highlighted this, stated “many student athletes are entitled and have things handed to them at a high level” and “the stereotype threat of being a ‘jock’ (internal and external)”. This entitlement challenge is unique to SAs likely because of the recognition and glorification SAs receive as Division I athletes. However, the specific cause of their entitlement has not been fully researched.

Stressed student-athletes
The fourth theme was athletes being stressed. When this was expressed, AAAs generally seemed worried about the well-being of the SA, as one such advisor commented: “Time constraints and high expectations academically and athletically create a lot of anxiety for student-athletes.” They commonly expressed the toll of the physical activity needed for sport preparation and competition as something overbearing that caused the SAs stress. Another issue causing SAs to be stressed was a negative outside influence, such as negative parents, coaches, or teachers. More research needs to be accomplished to determine the specific cause of SA stress, but AAAs understand that the SA is indeed stressed, which negatively impacts their services.

Communication issues
The last common theme was communication issues. This topic was also found as a challenge among advisors that deal with athletes in a previous study done by Thompson (2011b). The previous research focused on communication privacy dilemmas and challenges on dealing with sensitive information (Thompson, 2011b). The current survey, however, found that AAAs mentioned this topic occasionally, but more often talked about a lack of proper communication between the faculty, coaches, and SA themselves. This is a currently under-researched topic when specifically looking at AAAs. The most common challenge discussed regarding communication was a lack of the coach’s understanding. Within this theme, nearly half of AAAs mentioned something about having to work with difficult coaches, or the coach not being understanding of the players’ academic pursuits. The second most common sub-theme was teachers not being understanding of the SAs schedules. These two challenges, based on communication, makes it difficult for AAAs to fulfill their jobs because the faculty and coaches they attempt to work with were not always understanding.

Job role congruence
Previous research has focused on academic advisor’s job roles (Belcheir, 1998; Chan, 2016; Khalil, 2014; Knox, 2003), but this topic was unexplored for AAAs. The AAAs were asked their agreement level with various job roles. Some of these roles were pulled from recent research on academic advisors, and others were found through hiring listings. Previous literature suggested job roles for academic advisors including being a mentor, navigating programs, supporting students, and creating a trusting relationship with students (Chan, 2016; Knox, 2003). There were some discrepancies on roles for advisors in previous literature, which included if they should help with career plans, professor conflicts or working with another faculty, information disclosure, and the amount of communication that should happen with students (Chan, 2016; Khalil, 2014; Knox, 2003).

The data from the present research was unexpected. AAAs answers averaged “strongly agree” on every job role presented in the study (see table 1). A previous study by Knox (2003) suggested that academic advisors take on too many job roles and tasks, which makes it difficult to define what they truly need to accomplish. AAAs strongly agreeing with all job roles listed examples that their roles are extensive, and shows they are willing to take on nearly any tasks that are plausible in their position. The current data shows that AAAs likely have a written set of job roles; however, research suggested that they are expected to go beyond those roles (Knox, 2003). AAAs frequently go beyond their job duties, even if there was a different campus department designed for that duty. One example of this was that AAAs strongly agreed that their job including helping students with careers, even though most Division I colleges have career counselors. This suggests it is possible that the current written set of job details is not sufficient to meet the needs of SA and should be re-adjusted. As Brown’s (2008) research suggests, there needs to be new research to identify what the advising needs are for students, or in this case SAs.


Much of the academic (and even athletic) success of the SA relies on the AAA. A gap in research was identified when it came to understanding AAAs career preparation, job roles and duties, and the challenges they face when advising NCAA Division I student-athletes. Therefore, the purpose of this paper was three-fold. First, to review many of the current roles and responsibilities of the AAA; second, to distinguish what was helpful in preparing AAAs; and third, to identify the specific challenges AAAs currently face.

The current research determined that AAAs are not adequately prepared, in congruence with what Brown (2007, 2008) found with academic advisors. However, the findings contribute to the current literature by suggesting that the most prepared AAAs are those who have worked with SAs previously, obtained a master’s degree, had a defined set of job roles, and were mentored. While having a defined set of job roles was important to AAA preparation, the findings established that AAAs often accept all job roles that could be remotely close to their position (see Table 1), even roles out of their scope of practice. This was congruent with previous research on academic advisors’ job roles, which found that few agreed on what the defined job tasks should entail (Belcheir, 1998; Chan, 2016; Khalil, 2014; Knox, 2003).
Lastly, the current study generated the common themes that AAAs mentioned as difficulties specific to advising SAs. Previously, Watson (2005) reviewed differences between SAs and normal college students on help-seeking attitudes and found that SAs scored lower. The previous research aligned with the two of the top themes found in the current research: lack of academic desire and preparedness of SAs, and athlete attendance and attitude issues. The survey also found new findings on AAA challenges through the themes of struggles with NCAA eligibility issues, communication problems, and stressed athletes.
This paper makes a considerable contribution to the previous literature, with the first aspect being job preparation. While non-SA advisors and AAAs have similar jobs, the differences between the two suggest other means of preparation might be in order. The current research provided the necessary information on what impacts the preparation of AAAs. Another contribution is the challenges AAAs face. As mentioned, there are multiple tactics previously studied that are thought to aid AAAs in their challenges, but nothing has defined the challenges themselves. The current research defined these challenges, which accompanies previous literature and informs the public which tactics may be relevant according to the AAA perspectives.

Research surrounding AAAs has only scratched the surface, particularly considering it is a rising profession in collegiate athletics. This research was a wide scope study of their position, but more research is needed to further understand their job and challenges. The first limitation correlated to the AAAs that had worked with SAs previously. The current research showed that AAAs who had worked with SAs previously recognized themselves as more prepared, but the extent to which they worked with SAs was not documented. Further questions about the amount and the arrangement they worked with SAs would have produced a further understanding. The second limitation pertained to the job role section of the survey, which listed roles generated by looking at hiring athletic directors for AAAs and drawing from previous research. Survey respondents were asked about their level of agreement with each job role on a scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree, and each question averaged strongly agree. While these findings are significant, further insight could have been accomplished through utilizing more open-ended questions. Using this format could have led to uncovering more aspects of the job tasks AAAs take on.

The most prevalent area of future research resides in the challenges AAAs undertake. Several common themes were found within the current research findings, but to get a deeper understanding each individual theme should be researched. For example, a common theme was lack of SA academic desire and preparation to succeed academically. This theme was also similar in other studies from the point of the SA or various faculty, but no research exists on how AAAs are dealing with this challenge or if there are any current strategies being used that are effective. Future research could aim to develop ways to combat the challenges AAAs manage. The findings from future research related to these challenges could prove instrumental to AAAs and continue to improve their services.

The second area of future research relates to the aforementioned limitation on job roles. It is important to develop a standard definition of job roles for AAAs. Since this is a newer and rising career field, it is important to look at how their job aligns with other services offered to college athletes, and what AAAs need to accomplish to align with those other services. This paper highlighted that these advisors manage a wide range of roles, which leads to the question, what roles are essential for them to fulfill their job responsibilities? According to the survey, the more job roles are defined for AAAs, the more likely they are to be prepared for each of those roles.

Applications in Sport

The current research concluded with results that impact three major parties. The first, and most prevalent, is the AAAs themselves, but standard academic advisors who occasionally deal with SAs can also benefit from this research. Understanding the challenges faced when dealing with a SA will greatly benefit advisors. With these new themes established, advisors can have a better sense of what to expect when they advise SAs, which will prepare them further. Using the now known themes, advisors can research and create strategies to help negate the challenges.

Administrators looking to hire AAAs will also benefit from the research by understanding what a AAA needs to be prepared. Multiple topics were found that correlated to a higher score on preparation, so hiring administration could use these criteria as they employ AAAs. They will be able to also create more accurate job postings by using the preparation research, job descriptions, and roles developed in the present research. The combination of these factors should lead colleges to hire AAAs that will provide better services to SAs. This leads to the last beneficiary of the current research, the SAs themselves. With AAAs being more prepared and knowledgeable on challenges, they will be able to provide a better service. This will likely lead to SAs being more accepting of advising services, and the outcome will be a better relationship between the two. With this stronger relationship, the SA will be able to benefit greater from the use of their services.


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