Survey data gathered by the Sun Belt Conference during its first year of piloting the RealSportsmanship program reveals that SBC student-athletes arrive on campus with well-established personal values and that coaches hold the key to further shaping those values.

"We need to get the coaches to understand their role and the internalization of sportsmanship as well, and they may need to change what they are doing with their student-athletes," SBC associate commissioner Kathy Keene told Michelle Brutlag Hosick at NCAA.org. "We are still trying to learn more, and hopefully with additional data, we'll get a greater understanding of how student-athletes feel and act."

The program, which presents student-athletes with hypothetical scenarios before comparing individual responses against peer response percentages, was designed by Middle Tennessee State University's Center for Sport Policy and Research to be iterative, and Keene anticipates that it will evolve as it becomes a regular part of the Sun Belt's student-athlete experience.

It may, in fact, take years before behaviors change. One conclusion drawn from the first-year data that conference commissioner Wright Waters found "a little disappointing" is that sportsmanship awareness declines as student-athletes ascend from their freshman to senior years. "We need to remind them that athletics is still part of higher education, and it's not just about winning but also about learning how to win and how to lose," Waters told Brutlag Hosick. "We shouldn't be condoning behavior in athletics that we wouldn't condone in an English classroom."

Paul Steinbach is Senior Editor of Athletic Business.