Valuing the hustle, grit and determination of the student athlete
• BY LEE MAXEY
March Madness is upon us. Each year at this time, the annual NCAA Division I college tournament determines which men’s and women’s basketball team will be crowned national champions. After the celebrations end and graduations pass, what happens to the athletes?
According to the NCAA, last year, there were 492,000 college student athletes across Divisions I, II and III; fewer than 2 percent go on to compete in professional sports. In 2018, the graduation rate for NCAA student athletes ranged from 72 percent among Division II to 87 percent among Divisions I and III — that’s a rate, on average, says the NCAA, higher than the general student body.
These statistics and my own experiences as a college athlete got me thinking about the potential a college student athlete brings to the workforce. For starters, college student athletes know what competition and overcoming adversity are all about. They also understand what it takes to manage competing priorities in pursuit of a goal, which for more than 98 percent of them is a professional life other than sports.CLOs and talent officers are always looking for great sources of talent. In no way am I saying that college students who are not athletes are somehow lesser candidates. Most companies understand the importance of diversity, so they’re already selecting from a broad swath of talented individuals. I’m simply saying that the college student athlete brings a background and set of skills that employers may want to value purposely.
One company that recognizes this is InXAthlete, which Cody Ferraro and Max Wessell founded as an online job search site and community with tools for colleges, current and former college student athletes, and employers looking to fill jobs and internships. Ferraro and Wessell met in college and are former student athletes themselves. Ferraro suffered an injury during his last year of NCAA eligibility. As he contemplated his next steps, he and Wessell came up with the idea of finding an opportunity with a company that would value everything that a student athlete puts into competing.
Student athletes know what competition and overcoming adversity are all about.“You don’t always have the time for career events and internships as a college athlete, and it can be a struggle to do the transition,” Ferraro said.
“Student athletes have an incredible set of skills,” Wessell added. “They often take failure and turn it into success. We’re not bashing someone who wasn’t an athlete, but employers say they love the personal discipline that student athletes bring.”
Wanting to help student athletes connect with employers and vice versa, Ferraro and Wessell launched InXAthlete in a market they say is largely untapped. Other sites that compete with InXAthlete are Athlete Network and GradLeaders, though the latter doesn’t focus on student athletes per se.Anthony Zito, founder and president of Novus Surgical, a Pennsylvania distributor of medical products and services to surgeons, is an InXAthlete client.
“I’ve been in business for 14 years and hired over 100 employees, more than half student athletes,” said Zito, who was an NCAA Division I-AA student athlete. “Student athletes have a commitment to their sport, diet, health and training. Whether they’re part of a team or in a sport like tennis or golf, they’ve engaged in deliberate practice over thousands of hours; they know what it takes to succeed.”
It’s those qualities that Zito looks for in a new hire. He said he’s been almost universally happy with the results from hiring college student athletes.
As an aside, through my research and interviews for this column, I learned that in 2017, 40 percent of Division I NCAA student athletes received no athletic scholarship. Many of the remaining athletes are on partial athletic scholarships, some quite meager. And 80 percent of the Division III student athletes receive some form of academic grant. While this information wasn’t what I expected initially, the result would seem to confirm that the experience and qualities of college student athletes, regardless of the level at which they compete, is more similar than different.
That’s good news for CLOs looking for college student athletes to join their team.