Friday, January 29, 2016

What is the NCAA's stance regarding freedom of speech for student athletes?

News from Iowa is that @RealDonaldTrump was "endorsed" by Iowa football and wrestling student athletes.  Regardless of your political affiliation or views, it prompts the question - "What is the NCAA's stance regarding freedom of speech for student athletes?"

Iowa Director of Athletics Gary Barta issued a statement saying that no NCAA rules were violated by the student-athlete attendance at the rally and the presentation of a "non-official" Iowa jersey to Trump.

NCAA rules regarding the issue of endorsement can be found in this June 2014 document.  The language regarding speech is pretty clear -  "Advocacy of viewpoints on controversial issues of public importance (e.g., religious beliefs, political beliefs)" is labeled as impermissible for student athletes.

Yet, no concern over NCAA rules was raised a couple of months ago when the Missouri football team rallied and threatened to boycott their game against Brigham Young University.  In fact the opposite occurred, athletic administrators widely lauded student-athlete activism and were supportive of athletes expressing their freedom of speech.  And recent NCAA governance changes have provided student athletes with a greater voice than ever in the NCAA legislative process.

Regardless of your views regarding either the presidential primaries or the protests in Missouri, it appears evident that student athletes are exercising their voices, and their opinions clearly have weight.

Whether coaches and administrators are truly comfortable with social and political activism, regardless of viewpoint, remains to be seen.  But it raises the question, "Does the NCAA have any standing to prevent student athletes from voicing their opinions regarding a political person or social issue?"   And if NCAA somehow has this ability, on what basis will decisions be made about which topics or forms of free speech are permissible and which are not?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

NCAA Baseball agent rule change finally arrives six years after Andrew Oliver case

The NCAA has changed its stance regarding prospective student athletes using agents in their negotiation with Major League Baseball teams and will now allow agents to actively represent their client's interests.  

The topic of agents and specifically the case of Andrew Oliver was first chronicled in March of 2009 by and has been among the most read series on this website.

Understanding the history and how we've arrived at this change is important. Six years ago, the NCAA aggressively fought Andrew Oliver and his attorney Rick Johnson.  The NCAA lost court battles and faced a contempt of court hearing before ultimately settling out of court for $750,000 over its conduct and denial of Oliver's legal rights.

Six long years later, the resistance is gone with the NCAA voting 72-2 in favor of allowing representation - chipping away another piece of the amateurism facade.

There is no doubt that this erosion will continue.  Its impossible to effectively argue that legal representation for one group of students should be permitted while preventing such representation for others.  Additional movement on the issue of legal representation is likely just another lawsuit or NCAA Legislative cycle away from further changes (if the Association wants to be proactive.)  

Oliver @drewoliver27 has 31 career innings pitched in Major League Baseball.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Athletics budget update #70

The Washington Post with a lengthy article about college athletics facility spending.  Clemson is looking to re-set the arms race bar with miniature golf, bowling lanes and laser tag for student athletes.  Some very noteworthy comments, including:
  • Graham Neff, Deputy AD at Clemson - "For the incremental cost of pouring concrete [for mini golf holes], we feel there is going to be big ROI [return on investment] for it being new and unique to Clemson." 
  • From a University of Colorado Regent on their $156 million football facility - "By the time we're done...we'll be right back behind them all again."  "It's a never ending arms race to build shiny objects that appeal to 17-year-olds, so they'll pick us instead of someone else."
  • From Joel Leider, the VP of SportsPLAN regarding why college facilities are nicer than some professional complexes - "When you pay a player, that changes the equation." and "It's hard to even recognize college athletics anymore."
Western Illinois announced it is cutting men's tennis at the conclusion of the spring season.  This is the 10th men's tennis program dropped in the past 18 months.

The Washington Post reviews the rise in severance pay for coaches who have been let go from their program.

Huffington Post with a survey of faculty regarding athletic budgets indicating that a majority of respondents are satisfied with their institution's financial commitment to college athletic programs.

Take a walk back in history and read this story about the Wichita State athletics budget in 1986. Different names and smaller amounts, but similar themes are still being discussed across the country 30 years later - television, student fees, cutting sports, how to pay the bills and winning as the primary solution.

A very Merry Christmas to you, your family and friends.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The front porch: Home buying and coach hiring

Recent coaching changes in high profile football programs, in some cases involving coaches with major career success, resulted in significant movement that will ultimately shape each team and athletic department for years to come.  The popular cliche' regarding college athletic departments is that they are the front porch of their university, and there is no more important feature on the front porch than the football program. Football is the front door - it needs to be inviting, secure, function well and complement the house or it is going to detract from the porch and by extension, the rest of the property.

In real estate, the number one rule is location, location, location.  Having recently relocated to State College, Pennsylvania, our family went through the process of searching for and ultimately buying a home.  And there were numerous parallels between purchasing a home and hiring a head coach that emerged, including -

  • You need to learn the neighborhood quickly and understand the market.  If you've lived in an area for a while you may have a good idea of homes that could entice you to move. Likewise, if you are an AD who has been attuned to the coaching market, you likely have a short list.  But if you are an AD from outside the industry, you are going to need a crash course about the coaching marketplace. 
  • Most people use an agent.  Whether a first-time or multiple-time home buyer, the market is set up for agent involvement.  Coaching searches are similar. Few AD's and almost no coaches decide to go it alone anymore, opting instead to engage professional help through search firms and agents.  Search firms know the market - who is interested in moving, as well as the financial and contractual situations of potential candidates.  And agents know what a reasonable contract is relative to the marketplace and can serve as an adviser to the coach.  
  • You can learn a lot on the internet.  Pictures, descriptions, dimensions, and location of your future home can help in screening.  But what about the coaching search?  Consider the recent search at Rutgers, undertaken by first-week AD Pat Hobbs.  By all accounts, the hire of Chris Ash from Ohio State is logical, plausible, and wins the press conference.  He comes with a good coaching pedigree.  But this after-hire analysis by the Asbury Park Press about what was going on behind the scenes shows just how common internet research and YouTube watching are.   
  • Cosmetics matter. Fresh paint, cleaning, de-cluttering, and staging all go into the home sale. Every coach candidate emphasizes their strengths and minimizes weaknesses in their presentation.  AD's are doing the same thing in selling the job opportunity.  Everyone puts forward their best impressions.   But the key is to figure out if the house has "good bones" - is it solid, dependable, no major mechanical issues (needing a new roof or furnace) that are going to cost you big money in the near future?  Envisioning what the house (and the hire) will look like 3 years after decision has been made is the real trick.  Unfortunately there are no guarantees.  
  • Turn-key or Fixer-Upper?  Some homes are move in ready and others require months of house projects.  Some houses are owner occupied while others are acquired in order to "flip" it - that is sell to someone else, with the hope of quick profit.  The same holds true with coaching jobs.  Is the opening move-in ready or in need of some work?  Is it a dream job or a quick hitter where success is possible but unlikely to develop a strong culture from stable long-term leadership.
  • Finances matter.  You're unlikely to make a more important financial decision than purchasing a home.  The same with hiring a head coach in a marquee sport. You need to know what you can afford.  How big is the contract going to be?  And for how long?  How much money do you plan to put down?  Taxes and insurance add to the bottom line of a house, just like salary pools for assistant coaches, perks such as country club memberships and vehicles, buyout clauses and possible bonus payments.  Understanding what you are able to spend, would like to spend and are willing to spend are three different things that can help avoid wasting time pursing the wrong candidates.  
  • There are lots of inspections to perform before buying.  A whole house inspection, radon, termites, title searches and other checks are common in a home purchase.  Coaching searches involve inspections too.  On- and off-list references, educational and criminal background checks, interviews, social and traditional media information will provide a good picture of who you are hiring.  But inspections won't find everything and while everyone does their due diligence, the coach is, for the most part, as is.   
  • There will be unexpected findings after you close the deal.  Some will be pleasant, some less so.  Strangely located light switches, outdated fixtures or a faded carpet can be more obvious after you move in than they were when you walked through.  Maybe some of the furniture from your prior home doesn't fit in your new place.  Your new head coach is going to find numerous things about your program that don't align with his view of the future and will need to be changed.  Images, catch-phrases, photos and furniture all need replacement to send the message that there is new leadership and to redefine what it now means to "Play (insert the name of your school here) Football." Hopefully the demands for change from your new coach can be accommodated with limited difficulty. 
  • Don't delay.  Once you've found the right home, acting quickly and getting an agreement in place is crucial or you may lose the home to a higher or quicker bidder.  Hiring requires speed as well.  Great coaches are in limited supply.  Unlike a home, you can't just build another one. Delay and your dream coach may be stolen out from underneath you.   
The right house hits you when you see it.  There is a feel of comfort, future happiness and endless possibilities.  Finding the right coach can be the same - comfort between the President, AD and new coach, all in alignment, can create endless possibilities for future success and a great front porch with curb appeal for your institution.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Athletics budget update #69

Montana Athletics will be facing significant budget cuts amidst a University plan to eliminate 201 positions across the institution.  The number of athletics positions impacted is not yet known.

Men's soccer is being reinstated at Ashland University in Fall 2016.  The sport was dropped prior to the 2013 season and a rationale for reversing the decision was not provided, but enhancing undergraduate enrollment seems a likely possibility.

Southern Illinois continues to take various approaches including a 10 point fund raising plan in response to a 10% budget reduction.  And numerous institutions in the Illinois State System have seen their credit ratings downgraded to "negative" status.  Views that one of the institutions may ultimately close are expressed in the article.

Four Division I tennis teams are being dropped.  Hartford is dropping both programs and adding women's lacrosse.  UMBC is also dropping both teams.   The loss of these teams increases the number of tennis programs dropped in the past 18 months to nine.   In addition, the loss of these two men's programs puts the Missouri Valley Conference's automatic qualifying bid to the NCAA tournament in jeopardy once again.  The MVC and America East joined forces for the 2014-15 to maintain the NCAA required minimum six teams to receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Championship.  The MVC will be left with five members (4 in all sports and 1 affiliate) after this season and the viability of the remaining MVC men's tennis programs will be further challenged.

Nicholls State plans to close its athletic training program amidst a difficult budget environment in Louisiana.

Wisconsin Oshkosh men's soccer, which will be eliminated after this season, reached the NCAA Division III tournament as an at-large selection.

And one non-budgetary item - Check out The Tao of Sports' recent podcast with Dynamic Sports Marketing President and Former Stony Brook AD Jim Fiore. Very insightful and interesting.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Tao of Sports Podcast

The latest Tao of Sports podcast is with .  The podcast covers a wide range of topics - new business development, branding, daily fantasy sports, my transition to a new position at Penn State and where the NCAA is heading in the future.  You can listen to the podcast via the web or download it for free and listen on Itunes.

If you aren't familiar with the Tao of Sports website, I encourage you to check it out.  It contains hundreds of information filled podcasts from across the sports spectrum.  This is a truly an amazing gem in the podcast landscape and is a very worthwhile investment of your time.