For years, athletic departments have committed to preparing students for life and career after sports… 2020 is here to collect on that promise.
In a year without college sports, athletic departments need to implement ways to add value for student-athletes that don’t require a playing field… and fast. That’s why many programs across the country are doubling down on commitment to career preparation— to show prospective athletes that their programs are committed to preparation for LIFE rather than merely eligibility.
In other words, 2020 is calling ADs’ bluff on these promises and commitments.
The 5 Levels of “4 for 40” Commitment
In our experience, there are 5 levels of the “4 for 40” commitment and how departments fulfill that commitment:
Level 1: Buzzwords - “Give us some credit”
ADs offer a vague commitment to preparing athletes for life after sports— they mention “career,” “leadership,” “events,” and hope to get credit simply for not talking exclusively about sports
Level 2: University Brand - “Great schools rub off”
ADs talk about how going to a great university that, in general, prepares its students for career will trickle down to athletes— mention university-level placement rates and rely on the academic prestige of the university
Level 3: Jobs & Fairs - “We have the job boards🤝”
ADs mention exclusive job boards the department has access to. Don’t forget the various career fairs hosted by the department throughout the year. “If you know exactly what you want to do (besides play football forever), then you’re set!” The problem is, there’s almost no consideration for athletes who are not ready to look for jobs:
Level 4: Dedicated Life Skills Team - “Our team is knowledgeable”
These departments have a dedicated career, leadership, or life skills team for student-athletes. The career services experience is tailored to athletes, and this team is athletes’ source for info.
The truth is: the athletes who want career help can usually find it here—but even a dedicated staff isn’t a diverse enough body to assist and equip every athlete.
👉 The truth is: the athletes who want career help can usually find it here—but even a dedicated staff isn’t a diverse enough body to assist and equip every athlete. For these interested athletes, career community (spoiler alert: Level 5 ⤵) explodes the boundaries of their possible network, reducing the friction and churn they would experience patching together their own network.
Unfortunately, Life Skills teams at Level 4 can rarely scale beyond the athletes who want the help to the ones who most need it. Grafted uses community to encourage these athletes to start to want career help. As they interact with an alumni community as diverse as they are, the spark is lit— we call it “career exploration through emulation.”
Oh, by the way, one of the largest Life Skills teams in the country uses Grafted to build career community.
Level 5 (ALMOST NO ONE): Career Community - “We’ve built a network”
We’ve leveraged our vast, diverse network of Letterwinners to prepare athletes for career. Our dedicated team is not the source of career info— instead, we will connect each athlete to the most relevant and credible alumni partners. We’ve created a space for each athlete to learn what they want to do, explore options, and then pursue high-percentage opportunities.
Alumni Engagement: The “4 for 40” Force Multiplier
In short, if you leverage your department’s social fabric and pull alumni into the career prep process, you can fulfill the “4 for 40” promise better than you ever could alone.
Here’s what I mean.
Let’s look at an average D1 football program and consider the paths the AD may choose to prepare students for career.
For our purposes, we considered the schools in the ACC. Based on 2020 rosters, there are 1502 football players currently active in the ACC. Of those, 199 are seniors. Let’s talk exclusively about this subset.
The average ACC school has 14 seniors this year (highest is Duke with 21; lowest is Miami with 5). How will you prepare these 14 students for a successful career after sports?
In our experience, here’s how ADs at each of the 5 levels are preparing their seniors:
@ Level 1: “We’re here for you”
You schedule team meetings to talk about the challenges these seniors face. Your department doesn’t have the capacity to seriously prepare athletes for anything other than sports, and you hope that reiterating good intentions preserves otherwise healthy relationships with students (who will soon become alumni who need to be engaged😉).
@ Level 2: “Our graduates do well!”
You lean heavily on the understood value of a degree from your school— emphasizing that a pandemic doesn’t change the value of that degree. Never mind the fact that, by and large, your athletes don’t engage the university’s career service department. Never mind the fact that, unfortunately, many of your athletes have no idea what they want to do when they graduate. Plus, placement rates don’t reflect the reality that employees today will likely have 10-12 jobs in their lifetime— it’s not enough to prepare for the first one. We need to prepare students for a lifetime of career discovery.
Plus, placement rates don’t reflect the reality that employees today will likely have 10-12 jobs in their lifetime— it’s not enough to prepare for the first one. We need to prepare students for a lifetime of career discovery.
@ Level 3: “Don’t forget our virtual career fair”
You emphasize that, between the job boards and the career fairs, athletes have everything they need…as long as they already know what they want to do and who they need to talk to. Never mind the fact that the US is headed into a prolonged period of unemployment and job loss— job boards can’t insulate entry-level employees from that.
@ Level 4: “We’re not ready for the surge”
Your department has not yet invested in scale— you don’t have a solution to reach every single athlete with programming and the concierge-level care your Life Skills team provides to the students who do use their services. Sans sports, the Life Skills office is about to become extremely busy… and they are not ready for the influx of desperate seniors. Not to mention the fact that the staff are the source of info for athletes, and many have never worked outside of academia, let alone in the middle of a pandemic. Scalability is crucial.
(If you haven’t figured it out yet, Level 5 is where it’s at😎 )
Sans sports, the Life Skills office is about to become extremely busy. And they are not ready for the influx of desperate seniors....Scalability is crucial.
@Level 5: “We’re leveraging our alumni network to set each athlete up for the best career outcomes”
Using your branded career community built by Grafted 😉, you have a designated space for each of your 14 football seniors to learn about career options, connect with the most relevant alumni, and establish key relationships with your employer partners.
- This is completely scaled— your Life Skills staff are the vector between athletes and alumni (rather than the source of all career info), and, as a result, they’re able to help every athlete that comes to you.
- Athletes can connect with the most relevant and relatable alumni. You tap into the diverse experiences of your alumni and dramatically expand the number of students likely to interact with your team. These are former athletes who have walked the same path as your athletes, and there’s an inherent trust and connection there that your staff simply can’t replicate.
Tap into the diverse experiences of your alumni and dramatically expand the number of students likely to interact with your team.
- Athletes can access high-quality content on-demand, meaning they’re not limited by unpredictable 2020 schedules.
- This community builds lifetime bonds to the U. As you prepare students for a LIFETIME of career fulfillment rather than their first job, you build trust and satisfaction in their relationship with the department.
So back to our ACC example. You’ve got 14 seniors on the football team. You could propel that class to success by engaging just the last 10 years of football alumni.
Here’s what we mean:
- Engaging alumni from just the last 10 years (2010-2019) creates a base of at least 140 relatable career experts
- That means 140 chances for each senior to connect with someone who can help
- Even if only half of those alumni respond, that’s still 70 different diverse career professionals to choose from
- That’s at least 10 Letterwinners per student without any overlap
And that’s just football. Imagine expanding the available network for athletes to all Letterwinners across all sports— similar to other social networks, the order of magnitude increases with each sport and its potential first- and second- degree connections.
And, remember, it takes significantly less effort to build this community than you might think. Why?
- Alumni love to give back in ways that expand their own network and brand
- Athletes don’t need an army of supporters— they need 1-2 key connections that they relate well to
- As athletes are served through community, they want to serve through community— the community scales itself!
What’s your plan to fulfill career commitments?
In 2020, AD’s need to get serious about career preparation for athletes. AD’s need to be able to deliver on the “4 for 40” promise.
Without sports seasons, athletes will be poised/anxious/frantic to think about life after graduation in ways that a full schedule simply doesn’t permit. It’s time to invest in scalable career community for the future of your athletes.
In this way, you can continue to add value as they graduate and look to the next stage— and you can bank trust and credibility long into the future.
After all, it’s about time that the “4 for 40” student-athlete commitment generated similar returns for athletic departments.