Thursday, September 18, 2014

NCAA governance, autonomy and Star Wars

College athletics is awaiting the expiration of the 60 day override period that will formalize NCAA “autonomy” (a euphemism for nearly total control) for 65 schools (out of more than 350) under a new governance model.  

The NCAA’s governance structure is being changed to assuage media and legal perceptions of unfair treatment of athletes in two sports – football and basketball – and under threat that approximately 20% of the schools (those in the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12 and SEC) might break away from the other 285 schools in Division I and form their own athletic enterprise.  

This course has been charted by the five conferences mentioned earlier and the NCAA to maximize revenue generation through conference realignment, expanded broadcast rights, new television networks and ever growing corporate sponsorship.  But their enhanced economic strength has created extensive perceptions of inequity and a legal mine field.  As I've indicated in previous writing, I believe these institutions should be able to spend their resources as they wish and need dexterity to navigate the legal landscape, but the splintering of college athletics is rapidly approaching and also believe autonomy will be a major contributor to the breakup.       

There is a sense of resignation among those that believe the NCAA’s restructuring is the wrong direction for college sports. Unfortunately, a sustained public relations campaign about the compelling rationale for more discussion has been elusive.  Simultaneously there is impatience from those who have driven the autonomy agenda to expedite the process.  The alignment of agendas and messaging in support of autonomy while ignoring contrarian views has been politically masterful and well orchestrated.  Indeed, it is hard not to be resigned or impatient (depending on your perspective) when the NCAA’s official documents outlining governance changes indicate that plans for the January 2015 NCAA Convention, should include “a celebratory kickoff event” hosted by the Board and Steering committees (see page 43 of the linked document). 

Indeed the entire scenario is one where life imitates art in two short video clips from the movie “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.”

In this 90 second video clip from the movie, the Emperor makes his case that “in order to insure security and continuing stability, the republic will be reorganized......for a safe and secure society!”  As the emperor makes his speech, all of those that stand in the way of total domination and changing governance are slain.  


And after the Emperor’s speech, one of the disenfranchised senators perfectly summarizes the power grab in one sentence.


As the party unfolds in Washington DC in January at the NCAA convention, I’m sure the applause will be thunderous.  T-shirts for the celebration are available here.  

For those who aren't yet ready to celebrate the new world order, October 6 is the last day for institutions to cast an override vote, extend the discussion and work towards a more equitable, rationale and fair governance structure than what is currently on the table.   

Friday, April 11, 2014

Choose your demise - drowning or nuclear weapon: NCAA governance changes inevitably lead to the same place

The numerous problems facing the NCAA today – driven by record levels of financial support and commercialization - can be traced back to 1996 when the NCAA abandoned a “one school, one vote” governance system in which each member institution had an equal voice in NCAA decision-making legislation. A February 2002 NCAA News article written by then San Diego State Director of Athletics Rick Bay outlined many of the challenges that would emerge from the current governance model. Amazingly Bay’s article states that the primary driver of the change from one school, one vote "was to placate the big conferences and keep them from bolting the NCAA and establishing their own governance structure."  While there is no question that the environment today is far more challenging than nearly twenty years ago, the same negotiation stance - what some people are referring to as the "nuclear option" - is being used to once again obtain more governance power. 

Past is prologue and the current NCAA governance proposal further expands the power of five conferences with decision-making driven by: 1) disparate resources and 2) a mission to provide ever more financial resources, championship opportunities and television exposure for their member schools.  No question there is a need to permit the conferences facing the greatest legal threats to act in their own interests.  The decision to pursue a $2000 cost of attendance stipend which was rejected by the membership (including by institutions who come from the five power conferences) and the high level political arm twisting needed to permit by a razor-thin margin multiple year scholarships is being used as evidence that these institutions need more control. But giving additional power to the same institutions responsible for the current state of affairs is incredibly ironic.

Autonomy driven by resource capabilities at the campus level is an idea whose time has come.  But blind pursuit of this goal completely distorts the NCAA as a membership organization (labeling something compromise doesn't necessarily make it so).  The requisite inter-relatedness of the 350+ Division I members around important issues such as scholarship limitations and transfer rules will suffer when dictated by five conferences who will continue the consolidation of resources and power for themselves. The current proposal to change NCAA governance facilitates this consolidation via two paths:

1) Expanding disproportionate representation. Less than 20% of the institutions will have 37% of the voting power under the new model.  Keep in mind that these institutions already have the greatest power on matters that affect all institutions.

2) Providing “autonomy” to the same 20% of institutions. Under this change the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, PAC 12 and SEC get to do two things – establish the matters of greatest importance to them (decided from a process they already control in #1 above) and once those matters have been established, make decisions with no influence whatsoever from outside of this block of schools.

Choosing ONE of the two options above is barely palatable but one can understand why it is being sought.  Choosing both is gluttonous.  If autonomy is the desire then the categories where autonomy is important should be agreed upon and the remaining topics should return to a one school, one vote model.   If legislative power is the preferred route, then that should be adopted using a model derived from the current approach with more significantly weighted voting - not by carving out additional categories with no voice for all institutions.    

To use both models makes a mockery of any concept of NCAA shared governance (the upside is we can finally stop the “we are the NCAA” banalities) and creates a “go along to get along” model where everyone follows the dictates of the select few schools with high resources who will systematically impede the upward mobility of those who aspire to the highest competitive levels.  The choice should be between either expanded disproportional voting OR autonomy, not expanded disproportional voting AND autonomy. 

Obviously change needs to occur but it’s hard to imagine these governance changes will take us to the promised land and fend off the various legal threats facing the Association. 


Moses (you can decide who Moses is in this analogy) is parting the waters.  As soon as the schools in the five power conferences get to the other shore, the waters will return to their previous place leaving nearly 300 other institutions who are trailing behind as casualties.  No one (other than a maniac) wants to be accused of pushing the button for the nuclear option and ending it all.  Unfortunately death by drowning or death by nuclear option isn't really a choice.  But we will choose drowning - at least you can struggle and believe you have a chance of survival.  Unfortunately no one made it out of the Red Sea when the waters returned.  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

How to become an athletics director - Part 11 - Your network

     Who you know can be just as important as what you know.  Great ideas spread through social interaction. Reputations spread in a similar manner - built and torn down one interaction at a time. Representing yourself in an authentic but positive way - being your own brand - is important.  People who can guide your decision making when pursuing an AD position or can help provide entry to a search is important.  Who are those people?   

1)  Directors of Athletics - This is a crucial network and an exclusive club.  If you want to be a Division I AD, you are seeking one of approximately 350 jobs nationally.  It’s a very selective profession.  There is a huge supply of candidates with an exceedingly small number of openings each year.  AD's can provide tremendous guidance about the challenges of the position and are dialed into a high level of dialogue about the business of college athletics.  Make sure the relationship mutually beneficial.  Learn about them and try to make their world better.  Their time is valuable, but most will invest in those individuals where they see promise, and in those who make the relationship beneficial for both.

2)    Coaches – They move, A LOT!  Assistant coaches in particular are very mobile.  It’s not all about football and basketball, although it may seem that way.  Many search committees will have coaches from various sports and they can provide valuable entry to a search if they are on a committee.  Further, make sure coaches view you as a great resource at your current institution.  Be helpful.  Provide great service and counsel.  Doing a great job now, for all coaches, both head and assistant, benefits everyone and perhaps helps you down the road. 

3)    Your president – Presidents are very intelligent, hardworking and their time is extremely valuable.  If you are an asset to them, they’ll appreciate it.  When you reach the stage of pursuing an AD job, presidents like talking to other presidents when seeking references.  They have tough jobs and tremendous pressure.  Hiring an AD is not something they can afford to miss on because a mismanaged athletic program can derail a presidency very quickly.  A reference from a presidential peer goes a long way. 

4)    Conference personnel – Conference commissioners and their associates are very well connected nationally by the nature of their jobs and you want to make sure you are someone that brings value to them, is responsive, and contributes to the greater good of the conference.  We are in a competitive business.  Being likable is important, but being respected is even more so.  This can be particularly true at the conference level.  

I was invited to speak last year at the NACDA Convention in Orlando, Florida and present a talk entitled "Moving from the business office to the athletic director's chair." Since that talk a number of people have asked me for a copy of my comments and notes.  Since these requests keep coming, I have created a multi-part series that recaps and expands on the NACDA talk.  I am far from an expert, but I hope my experiences make this series valuable and thought provoking.  

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Bulletproof Branding

The October 2013 edition of Athletics Administration which is published by NACDA contains an article I wrote about the branding process Bradley Athletics just concluded.  The article entitled "Bulletproof Branding" provides a list of topics encountered as we went through the process and provides ideas for your organization to consider in a branding or re-branding effort.  The process at Bradley resulted in a complete redesign of our licensed marks and overall department presentation.  I hope this article is beneficial to your branding efforts.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

How to become an Athletics Director - Part 10 - Test your theories on stage

As a Director of Athletics you are in a highly public position where your comments are interpreted and scrutinized.  Preparing for this increased level of public attention isn't easy, but there are some steps you can take to be as well prepared as possible.  The easiest way is to test your theories and opinions "on stage."

You should identify opportunities for people outside your department – at your institution, in your conference, at the national level – to see your work and the value you bring to the table.  While doing this you are also going to be in situations where you have to present your views in a more public way than you encounter in your regular day-to-day position.  Going public with your views allows you to establish your own personal brand and this brand helps differentiate you from many other worthy candidates.  

My personal recommendation about a great way to do this is to write - for trade publications, for a blog - yours or guest write on someone else’s, or tweet (a 160 character limit challenges you to be interesting.  If you choose to do it, do it about things that matter to your profession, not about your cat or vacation).   There is nothing wrong with being provocative.  But aiming for sensationalism with each posting isn't a target to pursue.  

When you do these things, you open yourself up to criticism and dialogue and discussion.  So take the risk of putting yourself out there, risk the possibility of failure or criticism that comes with public statements.  This is a low risk but meaningful way to prepare you for the 24/7 public aspect of being an AD.   

I was invited to speak last year at the NACDA Convention in Orlando, Florida and present a talk entitled "Moving from the business office to the athletic director's chair." Since that talk a number of people have asked me for a copy of my comments and notes.  Since these requests keep coming, I have created a multi-part series that recaps and expands on the NACDA talk.  I am far from an expert, but I hope my experiences make this series valuable and thought provoking.  

Thursday, May 9, 2013

How to become an athletics director - Part 9 - Investing in yourself


There are many types of investments you can make - real estate, as well as stocks and bonds are common. But how about investing in something more sustainable and completely under your control – yourself? Not all personal profit is financial. Using some of your hard earned cash for something that yields dividends throughout your life is important, even if it requires meaningful financial sacrifices.

One of the leading excuses why people don’t go to conferences and meetings or advance their education is that their institution won’t pay for it. This approach can be revealing. You can and should invest in yourself.  If you aren't willing to, why not? And if you aren't willing to, what does this say to others about your commitment and belief in yourself? Compound interest is an amazing concept and it works not only in financial terms but in terms of investment in your skills, knowledge, and professional connections. If you aren't willing to invest financially and with your time outside of your job to advance your career, how hungry are you? Have you made any financial sacrifices recently?

Take this needed step to advance your education. Enroll in the Sports Management Institute. Register for a webinar. See a motivational speaker. Subscribe to the Sports Business Journal. Purchase a new book (preferably something outside of the sports biography genre) or borrow one from the library. Obviously it’s ideal if someone will pay for all of your costs or at least assist with your costs. But if they won’t, are you investing your own capital and building your brand, your base and your future?