Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day is a special one in college athletics

If you are a fan of college athletics, Memorial Day is a special one.  Lacrosse enjoys its annual crowning game and this year's event featured a dominant performance by Bill Tierney's Denver Pioneers.  Tierney won his seventh national championship, after winning six during his tenure at Princeton (I was fortunate to be on the sideline for his sixth title).  The title blazes new ground for the sport with the Hall of Fame Coach winning a title well outside the Eastern seaboard, and gives hope to the ideal of nationalizing a sport that is growing at tremendous rates across the country.

Interestingly, lacrosse's growth comes at a time when people are questioning the popularity of the national past-time - baseball.   But the drama of baseball was on display just before the lacrosse national championship game during its NCAA selection show.

The Bradley Braves, which hadn't been to the NCAA championships since 1968, had a strong RPI yet were considered a bubble team.  Bradley waited throughout the entire bracket announcement at a local restaurant with the public and media in attendance to learn their fate.  And in true baseball form, the game wasn't over until the last out.  With 63 teams already in the field, Bradley was announced as the 64th and final team in the field, heading to the Lousiville Regional to face Michigan - the Big Ten tournament champions.  This short video shows the incredible angst of the student athletes as the final bracket is unveiled and the unbridled joy that comes from having ones dreams achieved when victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat.

On a day where we all gave thanks to those who served and sacrificed so that we could enjoy the freedoms that come with living in this great country, seeing the benefits of hard work and dedication provide rewards to good people made it a Memorial Day that will be remembered by the young men of these teams, and many other student athletes for a long, long time.  College athletics gets it right sometimes - more times than it gets credit for. And every year, Memorial Day is one of those days.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The distraction of amatuerism in intercollegiate athletics

Cost of attendance stipends are at the forefront of athletic administrators' minds these days.  The questions of affordability, equity, recruiting advantages and a host of other factors make this one of the more anticipated changes in the history of student-athlete welfare reform.

At NCAA Division I colleges and universities, the ability to offer these payments varies widely due to disparate financial resources on each campus.  Significant analysis is occurring at cash-strapped colleges and universities to identify ways to cover these additional expenses.
Advocates for these changes come from a number of powerful constituent groups including:
  1. The media - The media (traditional and social) has effectively controlled the narrative that student-athletes in football and basketball are exploited and that they should be further compensated for their skills, fame and institutional revenue generation.
  2. The courts - Lawyers of all types, recognizing that there are deep pockets in some areas of college athletics have adopted the "Robin Hood" stance looking to take from the rich and give to the poor.
  3. Athletic administrators - The economic leaders in college athletics, primarily in the Power Five conferences, continue to enhance student-athlete benefits to respond to media criticism, legal challenges and unfavorable optics regarding a variety of student-athlete welfare issues.    
Which leads us to the group with the most to gain or lose: student-athletes themselves, who hold an increasingly powerful voice in NCAA governance matters.

Recent research indicates some student athletes spend more than 50 hours per week on their sport and are too exhausted to study.  The demands also extend to out-of-season student athletes who report the time commitment to be similar to their in-season expectations.  Considering how little time student athletes have to shape their educational experience, an experience that by their own accounts mirrors or exceeds the time demands of a full-time staff member, it is little wonder that compensation is being sought and lawsuits filed in lieu of a more well-rounded collegiate experience.

Most athletics administrators and college and university leaders will argue that the amateur model is the correct one and a requirement for intercollegiate athletics to continue to exist on college campuses.  But there will be little difference between amateur and professional athletics by August 2015 when cost of attendance stipends become permissible and are paid to thousands of student athletes across the country.

Consider the definition of amateur - a person who engages in a study, sport or other activity for pleasure rather than financial benefit.

Contrast it to the definition of a professional - a person engaged in a specified activity as one's main occupation rather than as a pastime.

Are student athletes amateur or professional?  Consider the following list of benefits:
  • Tuition and fees
  • Room and board
  • Books
  • Medical insurance and care
  • Clothing and apparel
  • Travel for family to post season competition
  • Cost of attendance stipends
  • Dedicated medical staff
  • Psychologists and counseling services
  • Strength training and fitness
  • State of the art facilities
  • Nutritionist supervised and chef prepared meals that are virtually unlimited
  • Travel throughout the United States and the opportunity to travel internationally once every four years
  • Academic support, tutoring and advising
  • Laptop computers and iPads
  • Four year guaranteed grants-in-aid
  • Insurance against career ending injuries
In addition a series of legal challenges against the NCAA and its member schools may soon necessitate additional benefits for student athletes including:
  • Royalty payments of no less than $5000 per year following the conclusion of a student athlete's career as compensation for the use of a their name, image and likeness
  • Minimum wage payments for participation
  • Unionization
  • The possibility of open bidding and a free market economy for the services of individual student athletes
The list of benefits and payments a student-athlete receives in exchange for 50+ hours of athletic engagement clearly makes their participation more than a pastime.

I recently conducted a very informal survey of seven Division I athletic departments (four public universities and three private universities) to compare what a full grant-in-aid student-athlete with a cost of attendance stipend will receive contrasted with the salaries of full-time staff members in their athletics department.  Most of these staff members have degrees and in some cases graduate degrees, are "exempt" (salaried) employees and work significantly more than a 40 hours per week.

At the private institutions I surveyed, between 45% and 67% of the professional staff in the department received a salary that was less than the value a full grant-in-aid student athlete receives. At the public institutions between 20% and 50% of the professional staff received salaries less than the value of an out-of-state, full grant-in-aid student athlete.  Student-athletes - while indeed students - are making an athletic commitment in exchange for benefits that are on par with the salaries of the staff employed in their own athletics department.

There is no question that professionalized collegiate athletics is contrary to the historical model of amateurism - but most Directors of Athletics including Craig Littlepage (Virginia), Jack Swarbrick (Notre Dame) and Bernard Muir (Stanford) recognize that the tides of professionalism are creeping up around the sides of the amateurism boat.

Amateurism has value because it can help emphasize education as the primary and central part of a student-athlete's compensation for participation.  But the on-going debate about the increasingly minor distinction between amateurism and professionalism is in fact a distraction from the most important but more difficult to address core value of college athletics - the educational and academic emphasis that should be at the heart of the student-athlete experience.  As Northwestern AD Jim Phillips appropriately points out, the focus needs to return to education.  And once that focus is restored, college athletics' relationship to higher education will be enhanced and student-athletes will be viewed as students not professionals regardless of what they receive for athletics participation.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Athletic Budget Update #64

Coaches and administrators at Georgia are concerned about the impact their low cost of attendance stipend for student athletes will have on recruiting.  Men's basketball coach Mark Fox is seeking a way to "protect a level playing field" and calls the differential a "massive issue."

The Chronicle is reporting that NC State has discussed using its student athlete assistance fund as a means to enhance their cost of attendance stipend in order to make it on par or better than other institutions' stipends.

Cleveland State reinstated their wrestling program after students supported a referendum that will see them pay $1 more per credit hour to retain the team.

George Washington is cutting their budget by 5% as mandated by the University.  The department will close some of the gap through a 70% increase in external revenue and by not filling some positions.

Western Kentucky is increasing its athletic fee to counteract enrollment declines and help reduce an athletic deficit.

Shippensburg University student senate increased funding for athletics and also granted the athletic department greater control over how it spends the funds.

Criticism continues over Rutgers Athletics budget deficit, this time from Joe Nocera of the New York Times.  

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Athletic Budget Update #63

Pat Forde looks at concerns that the number of schools sponsoring Men's Olympic Sports could continue to dwindle as more and more resources are absorbed by men's basketball and football.

UT Arlington added women's golf.

The Horizon League committed to full cost-of-attendance stipends for men's basketball and an equal number of female athletes.

Cardinal Stritch (NAIA) announced they are dropping five athletic teams including baseball, men's and women's bowling, dance and cheer.

The Vermont Cynic (a student run paper) is calling for the reinstatement of baseball and softball, which were dropped in 2009.  They reference support from the student government and Vermont legislature as well as the presence of club programs as part of the rationale to reinstate the program, although there doesn't appear to be any funding associated with desire to reestablish the programs.

The Ohio State University - Newark is dropping their entire athletic program.

Three-time university president Peter T. Mitchell presents a plan to save Sweet Briar College, that he believes should be applied to many other liberal arts colleges to save themselves from a similar fate. The proposal includes the elimination of intercollegiate athletic programs, suggesting it would save $1 million dollars annually.  Omitted from the article is an acknowledgement that the student athletes - who make up 10% of the student body - would likely leave and take with them their academic interests, diversity and intellectual contributions as well as their tuition revenue (approximately $2.5 million annually using his estimate of a $25,000 fixed tuition price) when they depart the Division III non-scholarship institution.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The One-Day Contract by Rick Pitino - A Book Review

Jim Fiore, president of Dynamic Sports Marketing, recently sent me a copy of Rick Pitino's book "The One-Day Contract: How to add value to every minute of your life."  The 260 page book reads easily and takes about as much time to consume as a book half its length.  It presents a good opportunity to pause (in a busy industry that never seems to have pauses) and gain some some meaningful insights that can indeed make a difference in your productivity and performance.

I've not personally met Coach Pitino but he is obviously a driven, motivated and intense person.  His book covers ten areas that can make a difference in both your short term and long term success. The themes that emerge, by chapter, include:
  1. It begins with humility - Underscores the importance of being humble in a profession filled with egos.
  2. The force of focus - Reiterates how crucial it is to focus on your objectives and eliminate what doesn't contribute to that focus.
  3. The trap of technology - Expands on the concept in the previous chapter and points out how truly distracting technology can be if it isn't harnessed and utilized to achieve your goals.  
  4. When adversity strikes - Looks at his personal situations when he and others close to him faced adversity and what he learned from those situations.
  5. The one-day contract - I found this to be the best chapter of the book.  Act as if you are on a one-day contract.  If you don't produce that day and meet the desired expectations, you won't be back the next day.  A powerful concept that can help you get more from your day.
  6. The power of the positive mind-set - Makes the point that positive thinking is more than new-age navel gazing and telling yourself you're good enough.  You embody a proper mindset because you are prepared.  It's far easier to be positive when you are prepared and know that things have a better chance of going your way because you've done the work.
  7. Heeding the signs - Be observant and listen to those who are invested in your success.  Be coachable and surround yourself with people who won't simply tell you what you want to hear. 
  8. Meaningful distraction - Find places in your life that are outlets that are not work related where you can rest and recover.  Balance and meaningful healthy escapes are important and help your creativity. 
  9. Prospering from pressure - Use pressure as an avenue to concentrate and execute, and become aware of the effort necessary for success.  
  10. Building your bridge - Success is all about making personal connections and helping the people around you achieve their goals and dreams.
These ten simple concepts, especially those in Chapters Five, Six, and Ten, can make a big difference in your ability to focus and achieve at the highest levels.  They can help you overcome inertia and get started, or move you closer to fulfilling your short and long term goals.  While I'm not sure the book can add value to every minute of your life (only you can do that), it can certainly make your hours and days more productive with some easily implemented ideas and give you the feeling that you're valuing your time and elevating your decision-making to a higher level.  


Friday, April 10, 2015

Athletic Budget Update #62

Wisconsin legislators and University leadership have discussed the possibility of selling the University's golf course to help address a $300 million budget cut to public higher education in the state.

Also in response to the Wisconsin state budget, Wisconsin-Oshkosh is dropping men's soccer and tennis and eliminating two cross country and track coaches in order to help the campus close a $7.5 million budget gap.  

Additional budget news from Southern Illinois as they consider the possibility of dropping 1/3rd of their graduate assistants and having the football team move from charter aircraft to bus travel to reduce expenses.  


Glendale Community College dropped their wrestling program.