In a great look inside an athletic department, New Mexico’s Associate AD for Communications Frank Mercogliano wrote an article for the Lobos’ website outlining the value of senior student-athlete exit interviews. Not just outlining the various benefits of speaking with exiting seniors, Mercogliano pulled back the curtain a little in terms of how UNM conducts its interviews.
A couple very sound best practices emerged from the article. First, the promise of anonymity for all interviewees is presented as a must to guarantee candid feedback. To ensure this, notes taken by committee members are transcribed into more general reports that prevent specific individuals from being identified by anecdote or situation. Secondly, UNM’s use of faculty members from outside the athletic department as interviewers allows for a degree of objectivity otherwise compromised when meetings are conducted by AD members.
Mercogliano notes that the feedback received from these senior exit interviews help form policy within the athletic department and create real-world changes on campus in terms of facilities, policies, and practices. They are mandated by the NCAA and are generally an absolute minimum for any athletic department interested in what its student-athletes have to say. However, I’d argue that even with the excellent information garnered from this practice, schools need to do more.
I remember after my freshman year of college hearing about a couple hallmates who had left the football team after their first season. I don’t remember what their exact reasons were for quitting, but these weren’t soft guys who were ignorant of what they’d gotten into. They were recruited, and one would later deploy in the Middle East and the other would become a firefighter. Furthermore, the team was relatively successful; William and Mary would make the semifinals of the national championship playoffs during our time there, so I was always curious what about the program made these guys bail.
Nowadays, I’m less interested in the specific rationales of these two and more so in the systems that listen to and analyze disgruntled student-athletes in real time. It would seem exit surveys are a clear first step towards understanding what the average student-athlete is experiencing. However, waiting till senior year to discuss four, five, or even six years’ worth of athletics seems to be too little, too late. Furthermore, are schools meeting with student-athletes like my freshman hallmates that did not remain athletes through their senior seasons? What about student-athletes who transfer out of the school? If not, it seems like athletic departments are tapping into a skewed pool of respondents for feedback, leaving a significant portion of individuals with criticisms left unheard.
Senior exit interviews conducted anonymously by outside individuals are an absolute baseline for every athletic department interested in self-study. However, if athletic departments want to truly edit policy and practice in the most effective way possible, they need to be speaking with all student-athletes, especially the ones who are transferring out or are willing to sacrifice a scholarship partway through college to leave a team, and this must occur more frequently than after their college careers have closed.
Francis Giknis joins College AD as a contributor after seven years of teaching and coaching throughout the east coast. Prior to writing for College AD, Francis earned an English degree from the College of William and Mary and his masters at Columbia University. Raised in a cable television-free household, he remembers binge-watching ESPN while on vacations away from home, much to the chagrin of his parents.