Why Is Half the Football Team in My Class?

March 10, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

In the previous post, I quoted Ann Coulter’s scornful put-down of Keith Olbermann’s academic credentials – a degree in Communications from the agricultural college at Cornell.
“Communications” is a major, along with “recreation science,” most commonly associated with linemen at USC.*
Apparently Coulter’s column isn’t fact-checked, for in reality (maybe her column isn’t reality-checked either) those USC footballers are much more likely to major in Sociology.

Last fall, USA today published data showing the clustering of athletes (juniors and seniors only) into certain majors. At some schools, it was Interdisciplinary Studies (LSU, ASU). At USC, 57% of the football team (22 out of 38) were majoring in Sociology. Other football teams that clustered in Sociology included
  • Florida State (54%)
  • Hawaii (47%)
  • Oklahoma (44%)
  • SMU (48%)
  • Duke (40%)
Here’s a screen shot of the interactive chart USA Today published. The darkness of the blue shading indicates the degree of concentration of majors. That dark blue rectangle at the end of Social Science is the 80% of the LSU basketball team that are majoring in Sociology (four out of five players – a small N but a tall one.)

(Click on the chart for a larger view.)

At the actual site, as you drag the mouse over each rectangle, it reveals the information (school, sport, major, percentage, N).

It would be nice to have some more information how athletes make these decisions. Why does the basketball team cluster in one major while the football team prefers another? And why do jocks on some teams or at some schools go their own way?


* I guess Recreation Science is what used to be called Phys. Ed.

There’s an anecdote – it may even be true – about Joe Namath, who had come from Alabama with a huge (for its time) signing bonus on his dubious knee to play for the New York Jets. At a press conference, one of the New York sports reporters asks, “So what’d you major in at Alabama, Phys.Ed.?”

“Nah,” says Namath, “I wasn’t smart enough for Phys.Ed. I majored in journalism.”

1 comment:

mike3550 said...

At my very small Division I undergraduate institution, we had one academic advisor that was hired by the athletics department to advise athletes. The position for many sports was kind of a joke -- we had a number of true scholar-athletes who would go to meetings with her, politely listen, then go to their non-athletics academic advisor and major in things like mechanical engineering. But, for a couple of sports, athletes got A LOT of pressure to pursue certain majors. I think that current athletes would report how easy or hard certain majors were, report back to the athletic academic advisor (who also saw transcripts of currently enrolled athletes), and would guide younger athletes into the same majors.

My guess is that large Division I schools with well-established athletics programs, schools like LSU and USC, each team might have their own athletic advisor. Each of those advisors gets information based on what members of those teams have done before, so tends to send newer players on the same path. Thus, you have football players majoring in sociology, basketball players in kinesiology (our fancy name for P.E.), and baseball players in sports management.