By Adam Cook, Campus Ink
Never have I ever.
Never have I ever thought I would see the day that professional development opportunities for college students would be so polarizing.
I used to work in the Career Center of a great university in downtown Chicago. A large part of my role was to develop relationships with employers across the city to create talent pipelines for our students to get hired into those companies. It makes sense, right? A big part of going to school is to learn skills and gain experiences that help you become a better educated, well-socialized, contributing member of society. And if you’re lucky, you get to do that in a job that you’re passionate (or at least interested) about. At this university, we had wonderful institutional support in accomplishing our goals of preparing students for career readiness by the time they graduated. One of the most important metrics for success, and the largest value-add to career readiness, was the number of practical career experiences we were able to provide for our students. Internships, micro-internships, part-time or full-time job opportunities, and project-based partnerships were all ways we offered students a chance to gain that experience in real-world roles.
Unfortunately, not all of my colleagues at other university Career Centers felt the same support from their institutions.
Seems a bit counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Alongside the academic initiatives, career education and services would seem to be strong candidates for priority in institutional vision and mission.
It’s not a long logical leap to conclude that professional experience should be a foundational element to the educational journey.
This is exactly what baffles me about so much of the pushback around NIL. Isn’t this a part of what NIL opportunities are? The opportunity to learn by doing. The opportunity to gain real-world experience in negotiation, marketing, e-commerce, branding, and business. The opportunity to continue growing in those professional competencies that are so valuable, and transferable, to post-grad and post-playing life.
According to NCAA’s website, two of the top values of college sports are:
- Exposure and Experiences: “Student-athletes have the opportunity to travel across the country and around the world for regular-season contests, NCAA championships, and foreign tours. These experiences can open doors for the few who will compete professionally and for the majority who will go pro in something other than sports.”
- Preparation for Life: “Increasingly, the business world is focusing on creating a team environment with employees. By competing in college sports, student-athletes learn important skills such as leadership, time management, and how to work with others toward a common goal.”
Those soft skills are incredibly valuable and benefit student-athletes. However, it’s increasingly important to bring hard skills and tangible experiences to the labor market. According to LinkedIn, some recent in-demand hard skills are:
- Business analysis
- Affiliate marketing
- Analytical reasoning
BusinessTech adds marketing and budget management.
The problem is that it’s difficult to develop hard skills through professional experiences as a student-athlete when the time you would devote to an internship or part-time job is dedicated to your craft on the field or court.
When the majority of student-athletes “go pro in something other than sports”, it should be easy for us all to celebrate the fact that there is now an accessible and practical way to gain valuable business experiences while supported in an educational context that still provides all the of resources, support, and advocacy that a university can offer through their academic and athletic student services.
My thoughts on this are not a disparagement to the NCAA, specific universities or athletic departments, or even individuals. Merely, reflections on how the national conversation around NIL is being shaped and my attempt to offer some additional perspective on the valuable opportunities beyond money this creates for burgeoning professionals, in whatever industry they choose, to be better prepared.
The opportunity to leverage and monetize your Name, Image, and Likeness as a collegiate athlete is the exact real-world, professional experience that is needed to further prepare students for the next stage in their professional life, as an athlete or not.
Meet the Expert Contributor
A former D1 athlete and coach, Adam Cook is now the Director of Athlete Development & Partnerships at Campus Ink where he helps professional and collegiate athletes build and leverage their personal brands. He has a passion for growing global sporting opportunities at all levels and throughout his career has developed sport and community impact programs in more than 20 countries. In addition, he is a professor of Sport Management at Northwestern University.