College Athletes and Their Transitions Out of Sports

by Donna J. Menke (Author)
©2020 Monographs X, 164 Pages


For most college athletes, the end of their athletic career comes when their college eligibility runs out. While some college athletes will move seamlessly from being a college athlete to a career professional, many others struggle to adjust to life without sports. This book fills a gap in the sport retirement literature and adds to our understanding of what it means to leave sport. Steeped in scholarly literature and narrative inquiry research, the book reveals the complexity of a strong athletic identity developed over years of sport participation. Through narratives of former college athletes readers gain a deeper understanding of the emotions and challenges caused by leaving sports participation behind. The final chapters of the book provide strategies to improve the transition out of sport for college athletes. This book is useful for graduate programs that prepare academic advisors to work with college athletes or sports management programs with a course on intercollegiate athletic environments. The book is also useful reading for counselors, academic advisors, coaches, and parents of athletes at all levels of sport participation.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of content
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Part One: College Athletics
  • Chapter One: The World of College Athletics
  • Chapter Two: Athletic Identity
  • Chapter Three: College Athletes and Sport Retirement
  • Part Two: Narratives of Former College Athletes
  • Chapter Four: Bruce
  • Chapter Five: Dave
  • Chapter Six: Kimani
  • Chapter Seven: Carlie
  • Chapter Eight: Jessica
  • Chapter Nine: Tony
  • Chapter Ten: Eric
  • Chapter Eleven: Elizabeth C.
  • Part Three: Preparing to Leave Sport
  • Chapter Twelve: Leaving Sport: Mental Health Implications
  • Chapter Thirteen: Easing the Transition Out of Sport

←vi | vii→


This work would not be possible without the prodding and the assistance of many people along the way. The first of which were former college athletes who ran across a brief article on the transition out of sport which I wrote in 2013. This article appeared in an online publication and was found by former athletes who ran across the article with a simple Internet search. These former athletes saw themselves in the narratives expressed in the piece. One by one they reached out to me wanting more information, wanting more to be done to ease the transition that they—and some of their friends and teammates—struggled through. They were the impetus for this project. I also must thank the other former athletes who allowed their stories to appear in this text. Some chose pseudonyms, others kept their names. I hope they all know that sharing their story helps others understand the process better.

I was further encouraged by colleagues in the Department of Leadership. Drs. Eric Platt and Edith Gnanadass provided guidance and encouragement through all stages of the work. Finally, I owe a debt of gratitude to the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Memphis. Director, Wendy Griswold, offered unwavering ←vii | viii→support for this project. I am especially grateful for the Center’s assistant, Leslie Vanelli. Her impressive attention to detail, and her time and efforts editing this manuscript, made the final work much improved from its original form.

←viii | ix→



Athletic Identity Measurement Scale, survey designed to assess an individual’s level of athletic identity.


Academic Progress Rate, a measure required of member schools by the NCAA to indicate that athletes are making academic progress.


Bowl Championships Series, a college football championship series made up of five post season bowl games matching ten top ranked teams.


Historically Black Colleges and Universities, indicates colleges that were originally chartered to serve black college students.


Major League Baseball, professional baseball competition league.


National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics provides governance structure and championships for small colleges offering intercollegiate sports teams.


National Basketball Association, professional basketball competition league.


←ix | x→National Collegiate Athletic Association, governing body overseeing many college and universities intercollegiate athletics who choose to be members of the association. NCAA member schools are made up of three divisions, Division I, Division II and Division III.


National Football League, professional football competition league.


National Junior College Athletic Association governs junior and two-year college intercollegiate athletic programs, and championships.


Predominately White Institution, a term indicating that a college or university is comprised primarily of white college students.

←2 | 3→

Chapter One

The World of College Athletics

A recent online blurb read: “He was an NBA legend, now he’s working 9–5” (Castoral, 2019). This teaser is meant to arouse the curiosity of the reader. It may sound shocking or scandalous to the average sports fan. As someone who studies higher education and college sports, I find this incredulous. After finishing college, most students, athletes included, go into the regular workforce. Some college athletes move on to a professional sports career, but for those lucky few (2% in men’s basketball) their professional sports career will last on average 4.9 years (Chalabi, Nov. 2015). If the player left college at 22, his or her professional basketball career is over by the time they are 26 years old. At that young age, a second career is a logical next step.

This is not, however, the reaction of most college sports fans. College sports—and most notably, college football and basketball—are tightly nestled into our American culture. The athletes who play sports are celebrities if not heroes. Fans plan weekends around college football games, and college basketball tournaments are major events (Clotfelter, 2011; Dunnavant, 2004). Annually, Americans spend billions of dollars on college sports. Sales from college athletic merchandise alone, ←3 | 4→“including everything from T-shirts to coffee mugs to calendars to prints, generate about $5 billion annually” (Gaul, 2016, p. 150). College sports has become a big business, bringing in billions of dollars at some universities, which then raises questions about rising tuition costs and where the money goes. In turn, this has raised questions about the place of intercollegiate athletics in academic institutions. As former University of Michigan president, Duderstadt (2003) writes, “Big-time college athletics has little to do with the nature of objectives of the contemporary university” (p. 11).


X, 164
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (January)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2020. X, 164 pp., 2. b/w ill., 1 tables.

Biographical notes

Donna J. Menke (Author)

Donna J. Menke (PhD, Kansas State University) is an N4A Research Award recipient and teaches at the University of Memphis. Her research appears in the NACADA Journal, Journal for the Study of Sports and Athletes in Education, and Journal of Loss and Trauma.


Title: College Athletes and Their Transitions Out of Sports