LAWRENCE — When most people think of college athletics, they picture large, Division I schools that compete in bowl games or fight for a spot in March Madness. But for thousands of smaller schools and their athletes across the country, college athletics and what they mean to the school are very different. A University of Kansas doctoral student has won a grant to study what athletic department success looks like at smaller schools.
Claire Schaeperkoetter, doctoral student and research fellow at the Laboratory for the Study of Sport Management at KU, has won the 2015 Graduate Student Research Grant Award from the NCAA to support her study. She’ll examine “alternative success theory,” a closer look at how notions of athletic success not only vary between small and large schools, but from one campus to the next.
A former basketball player at Division III Washington University in St. Louis, Schaeperkoetter noticed a stark difference in the schools she traveled to for competition.
“It was always interesting to me to see how different Division III schools were from each other,” Schaeperkoetter said. “People think they’re all one, homogenous group of 400 schools. But in traveling between them you notice their facilities are very different, and I realized the academic experiences of students at some schools were very different than mine.”
Schaeperkoetter will use the award’s $6,000 stipend to travel to 10 to 20 Division II and III schools in the spring. She will conduct in-person interviews with athletic directors and administrators at schools where student-athletes make up 20 percent or more of the student body. At many larger Division I schools, student athletes only represent about 5 to 6 percent of the student population.
She will ask interviewees about how they see the role of athletics in the larger scope of their school. As athletics departments and the larger university are often much more integrated at smaller schools, she’ll also explore how hands-on university administrators are, their view of the role of athletics and what both ADs and administrators feel would happen if the school no longer had an athletics department.
The project will also explore the notion of what makes for a successful athletics season at a small school.
“I think I’ll find out that the answer varies from school to school,” Schaeperkoetter said. “For some I think it will be, ‘Did we win national championships?’ For others, it might be, 'Did we have enough students here playing sports to fill the beds and help the university?’”
As she will be studying schools where student-athletes make up at least 20 percent of the student body, the idea of sports as a student recruitment tool, revenue source for the school and the balance between educating students and competing on the field of play will all be closely examined. Budget pressures, declining state support and how athletics can address revenue shortfalls will also be part of the study.
Schaeperkoetter will present her findings at one of the NCAA annual meetings in fall 2016.
“I’m excited to interact with the NCAA, and I think I can provide some practical insight into Division II and III schools and what athletic success means to them and to member institutions as well," she said.