ST. PETERSBURG BEACH, FLA. — Student-athletes experience isolation, learning disabilities and time-management issues at higher levels than the general student population. Some student-athletes also face additional challenges, such as being first-generation college students, lacking academic preparation, and being involved in misconduct.

Meanwhile, administrators face challenges helping student-athletes build campus connections beyond athletics as well as scheduling programming about conduct and other important issues.

That’s according to Derek Doughty, case manager, student services and athletics; and Patricia Cardoso, associate dean of students for student conduct and compliance, both at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. They spoke at the annual conference for the Association for Student Conduct Administration.

To promote help-seeking and healthy behavior among student-athletes and decrease recidivism in the conduct system, the university’s student affairs unit and athletics department partnered to create and fund a case manager position to coordinate campus initiatives addressing resources, services and programming for student-athletes.

If you’d like to develop a case manager position for student-athletes at your school, then follow these strategies recommended by Doughty and Cardoso:

  • Identify student-athletes’ needs. Use campus/department climate surveys and your own experiences and observations. Find out if student-athletes feel isolated, lack awareness of campus services/resources, or fear that seeking help would lose their spot on the team. Student-athletes often need help with campus connections, learning disabilities, time management, post-athletic career guidance, mentorship and life skills.
  • Ensure the case manager’s visibility, approachability. Choose someone who already has — or can easily build — a good rapport with student-athletes. It helps if the case manager has an athletics background and dresses to look like “one of them” (not in an intimidating suit); attends games, practices, workouts and team meetings; and has an office in the athletics department.
  • Clearly identify duties. Case managers should coordinate services, outreach and training sessions (Title IX, active bystander, healthy relationships, etc.), and ensure student-athletes get release time to access services. For example, case managers could ask financial aid to explain processes to student-athletes so they can learn how to handle such things themselves. Case managers should explain their expectations, and their role as a private, not confidential, resource, available to deploy services for them as soon as possible. Student-athletes are encouraged to meet with case managers as soon as they’re notified of conduct violations, not wait until they’re found responsible. And case managers can coordinate how to keep scholarships and handle appeals, etc.
  • Encourage participation and follow-up. Cardoso found that student-athletes who received sanctions in absentia were more likely to repeat the misconduct. When student-athletes are involved in misconduct, ask coaches to encourage student-athletes to attend meetings and hearings in person, instead of just receiving their sanctions via letter. If student-athletes don’t respond to emails from conduct officers, call their coach and ask the coach to tell the student-athlete to come to a meeting right away. In addition, ask coaches and ADs to send you their cut updates, so you can send outreach letters to those students who have been cut from the team to let them know you’re still there for them.
  • Collaborate to prevent misconduct. When high-profile student-athletes faced suspensions and housing removals for repeated conduct violations, tension built between conduct officers and coaches. So Cardoso invited athletics to collaborate to prevent student-athletes from engaging in misconduct in the first place. Develop a student-athlete handbook so student-athletes and coaches understand behavior expectations and the impact of misconduct on their college experience. Provide data to athletics department leadership so they’re aware of misconduct among student-athletes and can use that data to inform educational outreach.
  • Address negative images/gossip about unfair/special treatment. Find out if some coaches inconsistently enforce conduct codes and sanctions. Are some student-athletes suspended for minor misconduct while others stay on after committing serious misconduct? Encourage consistent enforcement. Consider merging individual team rules into one document outlining behavior expectations and reporting obligations of student-athletes and coaches. Have case managers report to student affairs, not athletics. Clearly communicate to the campus community that athletics doesn’t handle conduct for student-athletes and that the same services are available for student-athletes as for the general student population.
  • Establish a student-athlete care team. Include representatives from academic support services and counseling, athletic trainers, and the case manager. Meet weekly to discuss students facing impediments to success on and off the field.
  • Establish a student-athlete enrichment group. Include athletic trainers, the senior women’s advocate, the compliance director, a faculty athletics representative, the academic support services director, and the case manager. Use a tracking database. Meet twice a month to discuss departmental trends related to conduct and academic performance to inform programmatic interventions. If certain issues occur with a particular student-athlete or team, meet with the individual student-athlete, or require that team to attend educational programs on healthy relationships, violence prevention, decision-making, drugs or alcohol.
  • Promote services, resources on a regular basis. To reach student-athletes where they are, UMass Amherst runs educational programming on the big-screen, high-definition TVs in the athletics department. Student-athletes also receive a weekly “Minuteman E-blast,” containing information about upcoming games, and “Mental Fit Tips” and “Healthy Behaviors Tips.” The E-blasts are designed to fit on smartphone screens because students open emails on their phones more often than on computers. At new-student orientation, staff members promote the UMass Athletics Resource, which contains helpful resources for student-athletes. Student-athletes also receive luggage tags, which list resources for various issues they might face while they’re traveling for athletics purposes.

For more information, you may contact Patricia Cardoso at pcardoso@umass.edu or Derek Doughty at ddoughty@umass.edu.