Thursday, September 15, 2016

The importance of mission

There are numerous and significant "elephants in the room" across college athletics.  1) the seemingly endless parade of stories about unethical or illegal behavior happening at a too-long list of universities across the country; 2) student athlete exploitation concerns, particularly in football and men's basketball; and 3) a never-ending discussion about the need to find more financial resources coupled with criticism over how they are spent.

The common response to unethical or illegal behavior is to create more policies and procedures, call for additional oversight, and suggest we can regulate our way to better morals.  Committees and external reviewers are empowered to make recommendations and provide the appearance of action. Carefully wordsmithed statements of outrage coupled with steadfast assurances nothing similar will happen again are part of the process too.  Yet impropriety repeats itself as sure as the sun rises.

The unfortunate by-product of these incidents is additional bureaucracy, expense and lost time for the 98% of the people who do things correctly.  And there is little evidence behavior actually improves with increased regulation because when everyone becomes responsible, no one is responsible.  The elephant sneezes, and everyone else catches the cold.

I've been fortunate to have some excellent mentors throughout my career.  One in particular consistently reinforced the importance of mission in successful organizations.  The mission is fundamental for aligning action, avoiding problems and properly addressing problems that do arise.

Every athletic department has a mission.  It's your reason for existing.  It provides purpose.

Do you know your department's mission?  Have you and your staff memorized it?  If not, why not?  Most likely it's because your mission is far too lengthy - perhaps paragraphs long - for anyone to remember or recite in a meaningful manner.  A mission that long probably needs to be redone - reduced to one meaningful paragraph, or better yet, a sentence.  Stringing together lofty but meaningless word-salad phrases is a recipe for eye rolls and glazing over.

Direct, specific, unambiguous and narrow are good traits for your mission.  If you list 15 things can you really expect to do all, or any, of them well?  Simplicity of purpose radiates and makes important decisions easier - hiring and evaluating staff; accountability for performance; strategic decisions with limited resources are made easier with a clear mission and philosophical grounding.

Accountability to the mission is important.  From top to bottom, everyone should understand how their role and decision making relates to the mission.  Does everyone in your organization fully embrace your department's mission?  If not, why not?  And what are you doing to change that situation?  If someone isn't furthering and supporting the reason you exist and doesn't act accordingly, you have problems and those problems left unaddressed corrode your department from the inside. And double standards can be just as damaging.

So much of this really comes down to walking the talk, which is hard to do if you aren't clear what the talk is.

Your department, your teams and you can benefit from a mission that is memorable, simple and repeatable.  You know the elephants in your room, and so does everyone else.  Re-establishing your mission could be your first step to helping the elephants out the door.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Athlete Viewpoint Launch

In March 2015, after five years as a Division I Athletic Director, I started on a new path. For the first time in a long time, I had time to stop moving, reflect, and think deeply about our profession and the student athletes that we serve.

College athletics is a relentless existence regardless of your position. Student athlete time demands have never been greater; head coaches face unending scrutiny and the expectation of instant and permanent success; and athletic administrators spend their days putting out fires and answering to everyone - University administrators, Trustees, coaches, staff, students, parents, and the media - while barely seeing their own families.

I spent several months developing numerous ways to support friends and colleagues in intercollegiate athletics. My goals with each endeavor are to address the unrealistic and relentless demands on senior athletics administrators; mitigate risk; save financial resources; reduce staff time and frustration; and enhance the student athlete experience. While some concepts are still in production, others are already adding value to my colleagues in this field.

Through my consulting, I've been able to assist a number of coaching friends achieve their first head coaching positions. It has brought me immense personal satisfaction seeing good people with great values join the ranks of the coaching elite. They are individuals who will help student athletes excel - in sport, the classroom and life - and will make headlines for our field for all of the RIGHT reasons.

In addition, we developed and launched Athlete Viewpoint. Athlete Viewpoint is your student athlete survey turbocharged and designed to yield maximum data to make your life easier. In addition, you can compare the views of your student athletes to those of student athletes across the country. I'd encourage you to click on the link and check it out for yourself. And if you are reading this as one of our early adopters who have already signed on, thank you! We are excited to see the impact you can make on your campus with this valuable information.


Author and entrepreneur Seth Godin writes frequently about building a tribe of like-minded individuals. If you are reading this blog on a regular basis, you are part of that tribe. Thoughtful, philosophical, curious and dedicated to providing every student athlete an opportunity for both a distinctive education and a championship experience.

Like many of you, I've been in college athletics a long time and I've seen many changes to our field - not all of them good. Through the Ultimate Sports Insider and these other new initiatives, I hope to continue the conversation with you all about how to best support each other, and enhance the good work that is taking place in athletics today.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Man in the Arena

Excerpt from the speech "Citizenship in a Republic", delivered by Theodore Roosevelt at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April 1910.  

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place will never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Athletic budget update #74

Dowling College (NCAA Division II) is closing effective June 3, 2016.  The college had been in existence since 1968, offered 14 sports and won 2 national championships (men's soccer 2006 and men's lacrosse 2012) as part of a lengthy list of championship successes.

Alaska Fairbanks may have to petition for a waiver of NCAA rules if it drops below the minimum number of sports required for membership.

Idaho announced it is moving its football program from the highest competitive level (FBS) to a level that requires less financial commitment (FCS) and better institutional and conference alignment.

Morehead State announced they are dropping their men's and women's tennis programs in order to save about $400,000 while add adding women's indoor track and beach volleyball.  The elimination of men's tennis makes it the 12th program dropped in the last two years.

Arizona State is reinstating men's tennis following a $1 million donation from their Director of Athletics Ray Anderson and a $4 million donation from adidas.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The sorting hat and your career

I had the opportunity to speak at The Head Coach Training Center (@HeadCoachTC) earlier this week as part of a panel discussion about what directors of athletics are seeking when hiring coaches. While I was there I was reminded of the The Harry Potter series.

The first installment, "Harry Potter and Sorcerer's Stone", has a scene that involves a "sorting hat," - a magical hat that assigns each student into one of four "houses" where they will live, make friends, attend class and compete against the other houses.  The decision is based on the sorting hat's impression of the talents, abilities, attitudes and values of the student wearing the hat.  If you aren't familiar with the scene you can watch below.


The sorting hat is fictional.  But your daily actions are the sorting hat of your professional career. 

I'll be attending the National Collegiate Recruiting Conference on June 11 speaking about career development.  Summer is a good time to invest in yourself and advance professionally and this conference is one opportunity among many you should consider.  

At some point the hat is going to be on your head.  Will it be yelling your name for the house of your choice?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Athletic budget update #73 - Five teams dropped

Western Kentucky is reducing athletic spending due to budget constraints. Comments from the WKU track coach and information about their 50% budget cut to the sport. 

The University of Illinois is preparing to lay off staff due to the on-going stalemate over the state budget.  Cuts to athletics, if any, have not been announced.  

Lake Superior State (Division II) announced they are dropping their softball team at the end of the year due to budget concerns.

North Dakota announced they are dropping their baseball and men's golf teams at the end of the spring season, saving approximately $720,000 annually.

Tulsa announced they will drop their men's golf program at the end of this season to meet a mandate to reduce expenses by $500,000.

Albany is dropping women's tennis at the end of the 2016 season.