Leveling the playing field: a nonprofit helps student athletes rate schools

The APCA ranks schools on 25 factors, including how well they take care of their athletes, to help prospective student athletes choose wisely.

Courtesy of the APCA
Mike McGuiness founded the APCA to collect data that can help student athletes make an informed decision about which college or university to attend.

Every year, thousands of new student athletes enter the world of college sports. All are talented, competitive, driven. Each athlete, whether a football linebacker, waterpolo player, or long distance runner, is expected to perform well, commit a large amount time and effort to the team, and represent the school in a positive way.

These are high standards for collegiate athletes to meet. So shouldn’t the schools they attend be held to similar expectations?

Mike McGuiness began asking this question two years ago, when he hatched his idea for the Association for the Protection of Collegiate Athletes (APCA). Mr. McGuiness, who owns his own marketing firm, describes himself as always having loved college sports. But he also says that something hasn't felt quite right.

“I found myself really frustrated one day,” McGuiness says. Mistreated college athletes, he realized, needed help. Though there was a lot of talk about issues like injuries not receiving proper care, lost scholarships, or being cut from teams, no one was doing anything about it, he says.

Enter the APCA, a group trying to even the playing field and create a more equal relationship between student athletes and their schools. In an effort to increase transparency and keep prospective student athletes well informed, McGuiness and his volunteers are assembling athletics-based reports on colleges and universities in the United States.

Eventually McGuiness plans to have reports on every collegiate sport across the three NCAA divisions, for both genders. “We do not discriminate,” he says. “We want to stress that there aren’t just the 30,000 athletes you see on TV.”

Since the APCA website went up in August, reports for football and field hockey have been completed for all divisions. They have been assembled using historical data from previous seasons collected in a way that allows the APCA to rank the schools.

“No one else is doing this,” McGuiness says. “No one is really ranking schools by sports.”

McGuiness bases the APCA rankings on 25 factors in three categories: how well the school does athletically, how well the school does academically, and how well the school takes care of its athletes. Looking at things like a school’s graduation rate, how many championships a team may have won, or how a school responds to an athlete’s injury, McGuiness then determines if the school is a good choice from a student athlete’s perspective.

“We want to help student athletes before they commit to a school,” he says. Though the reports are available by individual sport right now, eventually McGuiness would like to have student athletes be able to search for a school, pull up a report, and be able to compare it side by side with other schools they are interested in.

All of the APCA’s services are free of charge.

In addition to helping students before they enter college, McGuiness is also interested in helping athletes who run into trouble. He plans on having a lawyer and doctor on hand to provide a second opinion to any athletes who feel they’ve been mistreated. He would also like to have a 24-hour hotline, hold roundtable discussions across the nation, and have an APCA board of advisers composed of current and recently graduated collegiate athletes.

Down the road, McGuiness would like to provide services for student-athletes when they leave school. “I’d like to help student-athletes transition into the professional world,” he says, whether they become professional athletes or enter other fields.

For now, though, McGuiness is working to establish the APCA as a viable and useful tool for student athletes. His team of young volunteers – who are still collegiate athletes at, or are recent graduates of, schools like Williams College, Columbia University, and Emory University – is continuing to gather data and get the word out through social media.

“We’re going to just keep rolling and pushing out,” he says. “The response has been very positive.”

The goal, McGuiness says, is "to be a bat on the shins” of colleges and universities. Athletic programs are not worth doing "if you’re not going to take care of these kids like you should,” he says.

• To learn more about the Association for the Protection of College Athletes (APCA), visit www.apcanow.org.

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