On Athletics: Trends and Outlook for the MGA Knights

At a time of year when college athletics loom large—particularly in our home state—it is worth reflecting on one of the significant changes for Middle Georgia State over the past two years: our transition from a 2-year to a 4-year athletics program and the opportunity this creates for our students. In 2014, Middle Georgia State joined the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).

Our athletes are doing well, with our Women’s Soccer team becoming the first Knights to be nationally ranked in a Coach’s Poll and four of our athletes—Sam Silva, Micayla Crenshaw, Brooke Best, and Rasmus Arousell—currently ranked in points, goals, and assists. There is added excitement about athletics across the institution, with our Soccer teams now playing in Macon, and the announcement of expanding athletics with two more Women’s teams next year: Volleyball and Cross Country.

Our Knights provide a source of pride for MGA.  Having athletics on campus gives students events to attend, teams to support, and a common source of pride with the faculty, staff, and surrounding communities.  Moreover, by hosting family-friendly events on campus and through volunteerism, our athletes add to goodwill toward the institution, serving as ambassadors who strengthen our brand and name recognition locally, regionally, and nationally.

But what is the proper role for collegiate athletics? An appellate court recently upheld a landmark decision that struck down deferred compensation for NCAA college football and men’s basketball players, saying that allowing colleges to pay players the cost of attendance in the form of scholarships is sufficient.

In our own division, one issue discussed at length was whether to allow five seasons of competition for collegiate athletes. At a meeting in Kansas City earlier this month, the NAIA Council of Presidents opted not to fund research around the option of a fifth season. I agree with that decision.

While many students take more than four years to complete their baccalaureate degrees, our players’ full-time job is that of scholar-athlete.  I believe we should encourage them to stay on track academically, no matter what professional path they ultimately take.

The fact is that most college athletes end up pursuing professions outside of sports. According to an article in Inside Higher Ed earlier this year, in most sports, less than 2% of collegiate players go on to play professionally.  Baseball is the noted exception with approximately 9% going pro.

This rings true for MGA, with 125 of our baseball alumni having ascended to the pros since 1976. In fact, we currently have 14 former players in the pros—13 in the minor leagues and Josh Reddick of the Oakland A’s in the majors.

Yet, when we had a 2-year program, the majority of our athletes viewed MGA as a stepping stone to other collegiate programs.  Now, they can be with us for their full college careers.

This year, roughly 150 athletes are competing on eight MGA teams.  Of these, 20 are seniors, 11 of whom are playing their 4th year as the first class of students to be able to compete for four years at MGA.

If statistics hold true, three of this year’s athletes may be recruited to the pros.  So what of the other 147?

What MGA offers them beyond competitive play in the NAIA is what collegiate athletics is ultimately about—leadership, sportsmanship, service, character, and the ability to work well with others.  These are the skills that will serve our athletes, our university, and our communities well no matter where our players’ paths take them.

Here too, we can be proud of our Knights.  In our first season playing in the NAIA, the Knights earned the 5-Star Silver Award for the Champions of Character Program. Character is what they build by coaching rec teams, reading books to elementary school students, offering free player and coaching skills clinics, speaking at local schools, and organizing events like “Shoot Hoops, Not Drugs.”

Middle Georgia State is the most affordable state university in Georgia, and we are proud to offer the full college experience. Athletics are a significant part of that experience—both for athletes and for fans—and we could not be more excited about where our Knights are headed!