Date Approved


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Leadership and Counseling

Committee Member

Raul Leon, Ph.D., Chair

Committee Member

James Barott, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ronald Flowers, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Brenda Riemer, Ph.D.


This study is concerned with the fact that numerous Black student-athletes that play football at Division 1 predominantly White institutions (PWIs) are graduating at the lowest rates of all student and student-athlete groups on college campuses nationwide. An intercollegiate athletics system acts as the commercial arm of the university and is designed to ensure the sustainability and viability of football by creating contradictory athletic and academic pressures that the student-athletes must navigate. Despite the intentional obstacles that Black student athletes encounter, there are many that do graduate from their institution and transition into a professional career. Therefore, the guiding research question was: How did Black male football student-athletes manage to graduate while being part of a Division 1 team at a research-intensive institution?

Purposeful sampling was used to select participants who met the criteria defined by the researcher. This study utilized a qualitative case study method to examine the experiences of the selected participants. Primary data were collected through interviews from five Black football players and seven current and former university faculty and staff members. Secondary data were collected from participant questionnaires and cross-referenced with media guides and player profiles.

The study revealed three central findings. First, the data disproved the common notion that Black football student-athletes are from inner city, poor socioeconomic backgrounds and attended failing high schools that did not adequately prepare them for college. Second, the participants in this study navigated contradictory athletic and academic pressures when they utilized their strong social support network of people who provided advice, guidance, and a safe space to process feelings. The function of the support was to strengthen their motivation to graduate. Last, the organizational system which these student-athletes had to navigate, influenced all facets of their lives and dictated the degree programs they pursued. The student-athletes that managed to graduate from the institution did so from a degree program that was accommodating to their football related schedules. Implications and suggestions from the author for future research are also discussed.