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  • A Factor Structure Examination of Athletic Identity Related to NCAA Divisional Differences

College athletes face a difficult task of balancing their academic and athletic responsibilities while in higher education, which has only increased in difficulty in the recent past. In the past 20 years, the NCAA has passed numerous legislative acts increasing academic requirements to achieve and maintain eligibility, an effort to ensure better academic preparation from college athletes (National Collegiate Athletic Association [NCAA], 2016). Athletic departments have increased their expectations of college athletes; time commitments for athletes toward their sport have passed the maximum allowed by the NCAA (Wolverton, 2014). Athletic departments have also started creating academic support services to become more involved in their athletes' academic roles (Burns, Jasinski, Dunn, & Fletcher, 2013; Huml, Hancock, & Bergman, 2014), further intensifying the creep of athletics into academics. The academic development of student-athletes is often shepherded by the university's athletic department (Navarro & Malvaso, 2015). While most college students have access to academic advisors and tutoring, most institutions have recently implemented stand-alone athletic academic centers to provide full-time advisors and tutors available exclusively for student-athletes (Huml, Hancock, & Bergman, 2014). These recent changes, coupled with newer NCAA requirements increasing the academic expectations to maintain eligibility, have significantly improved student-athlete graduation rates. On the other hand, studies have found student-athletes tend to choose majors and courses that do not conflict with their sport schedule or on the advice of athletic department personnel (Hardin & Pate, 2013; Kulics, Kornspan, & Kretovics, 2015). This struggle over athletes' athletic and academic responsibilities impacts their self-concept of athletic identity.

Athletic identity has been defined as "the degree to which an individual identifies with [End Page 376] the athletic role" (Brewer, Van Raalte, & Linder, 1993, p. 237), a cognitive structure that "guides and organizes processing of selfrelated information" (Brewer et al., 1993, p. 238). Athletes' support teams, such as coaches, also shape their athletic identity (Feltz, Schneider, Hwang, & Skogsberg, 2013). Incoming college athletes have reported a strong athletic identity and often desire to be identified as athletes by their student peers (Woodruff & Schallert, 2008). This strong athletic identity is often difficult to change with college athletes maintaining this identity well beyond graduation. A direct connection between time commitment and athletic identity has been previously established: as athletes spend more time on their sport, their degree of athletic identity increases (Lally & Kerr, 2005). This time commitment is not exclusive for formal sport-related activities for their college team, but also includes sacrificing free time toward sport-related activities, such as individual work, instead of pursuing opportunities aligned with the student-athlete. Scholars examining the influence of athletic identity on academic success have consistently found it to be a negative contributor toward academic, personal, and social development (Brewer et al., 1993; Watson, 2016). There also is a direct, negative correlation between college athletes' athletic identity and their GPAs; as college athletes self-report higher degrees of athletic identity, they are more likely to possess a lower cumulative GPA (Beron & Piquero, 2016). When possessing a strong athletic identity, college athletes have sacrificed academic activities to focus on their sport, believing it is required to be a successful athlete (Hardin & Pate, 2013; Murphy, Petitpas, & Brewer, 1996). With athletic identity having a significant impact on college athlete development, a greater examination of how it is measured and differences between college athletes is warranted. Previous studies have focused on the degree of athletic identity and not whether the degree of athletic identity differs between groups. In this study I examined whether athletic identity is different for college athletes across NCAA divisions.


Participants and Instrumentation

From a targeted group of 17 different NCAA institutions, which were chosen using a stratified (by division) random sampling technique, 7,098 college athletes were invited to participate in this study, which yielded 576 active student-athletes who responded. After I reviewed the initial responses to the study scale, 30 were removed due to incomplete data or consistency concerns. The remaining 546 participants constitute a response rate of 7.7% with 217 college athletes from Division I institutions, 228 from Division II institutions, and 101 from Division III institutions. While this...


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