Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Are fines further evidence of student athletes as employees?

The recent revelations that Virginia Tech and Cincinnati considered reducing cost of attendance stipends for violations of team or department rules has brought significant media discussion that "fines" are further evidence student athletes are essentially employees.

Ultimate Sports Insider has previously described  the amateur vs. professional debate as a distraction from a more important topic - the education of student athletes.

"Stipend" is the commonly used term  regarding the additional monies student athletes receive.  A stipend is defined as "a fixed and regular payment such as a salary for services rendered or an allowance."  Those who describe student athletes as employees will focus on "services rendered."  Those who view athletics as part of an educational experience will likely consider these payments similar to an "allowance."

Consider the analogy of a parent who provides an allowance to their children. There are many reasons to provide an allowance (stipend): to learn the value of money, to make personal spending decisions, to learn about saving, and/or as payment for work around the house (e.g. mowing the lawn) are some obvious examples.  All of these reasons have educational value and teach different lessons.

Withholding allowance is a common form of discipline (among many options such as grounding, no television, taking away a cell phone, etc.).  If you use allowance as payment for services, failure to do your work means you don't receive your payment, yet no one would suggest that the child is an employee if a parent made such a decision.  Other families might never withhold allowance, or only consider doing so if they believed it was the most appropriate or effective way to improve behavior.

As parents of two boys, my wife's and my personal philosophy is that withholding an allowance is not a form of discipline we have chosen because we have more effective means for discipline and because allowances for our children are not tied to work.  Our boys regularly and freely contribute to the family because all of our gifts are required for our family to be cohesive and successful.  They have a responsibility to help our collective good.

As an athletic administrator, I don't view withholding a stipend as a valuable form of discipline for the same reasons - the stipend isn't tied to work and I believe there are more effective means.  But to completely eliminate the possibility that a student athlete could ever receive a smaller stipend - especially a nominal amount that would have hardly any impact on their financial situation but would help make them have better personal discipline or advance towards graduation and a degree - is no more thoughtful than posting a series of "one-size fits-all" fines on the wall and reducing stipends without any creative thought.

Ask any coach and they will tell you that each student athlete has different personalities and motivations.  Some people are intrinsically motivated and respond to positive reinforcement and some people respond better to disciplinary approaches.  Both types of reinforcement have value when used appropriately.  To ignore this reality is doing student athletes, coaches and administrators a disservice.  Coaches frequently increase financial aid for student athletes who perform well athletically, do the right thing academically and are good teammates.  Take a minute and watch the video of Stanford, walk-on linebacker Craig Jones being awarded a scholarship in front of his entire team.  When is the last time your "employees" reacted to anything the way his teammates did?

Interestingly, no one ever suggested that awarding the previously voluntary efforts of a student athlete was now evidence that he suddenly became an employee - perhaps because it didn't fit a simplistic or predetermined narrative about college athletics.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Ultimate Sports Insider on the move

Ultimate Sports Insider is moving its home base to State College, Pennsylvania.

I've accepted a position at Penn State as Assistant AD for New Business Development effective August 24.

My family and I are very excited about the opportunity to move to such a dynamic community and become part of One Team at Penn State under the leadership of Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour and Deputy Athletic Director Phil Esten.   Here is the complete press release about the move.

Ultimate Sports Insider will continue to publish as topics and opportunities present themselves. In addition, my career guidance and executive coaching practice which accepted a number of new clients in the past few months will be continuing as well.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Survival and the concentrated mind

"When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."

Samuel Johnson's quote (he's got a number of them) seems particularly appropriate in light of some of the significant budgetary challenges facing college athletics and higher education.  UAB football, Sweet Briar College and Cleveland State wrestling all faced down their mortality in the past few months, avoiding being cut or closed.  Each has emerged and will hopefully flourish in the future, serving as great examples of focusing the mind and in the process, staying alive.   

Akron Baseball is now facing the same fate and no doubt other programs will soon have similar challenges to their survival placed in front of them.

The future strength of Sweet Briar, UAB football and Cleveland State wrestling remains to be seen - perhaps they emerge stronger (indeed, "that which doesn't kill us, makes us stronger" - Friedrich Nietzsche, not Kelly Clarkson) - or perhaps these are temporary revivals where the damage from near death cannot produce sustainable rebirth.

The challenge we all face is figuring out how to have the focused mind - and perhaps more importantly, the focused supporters who are willing to contribute their time, talents and treasure to our programs - so that the threats of closing and panicked last minute appeals become unnecessary.  

There are many powerful and motivating emotions in the situations referenced above - love, hate, anger, and regret among them. But indifference provided the initial death sentence, until the perceived loss was so real that emotion emerged again to save the program.

If you were to have an in-depth conversation with your key supporters and ask them, "What would happen if our program didn't exist anymore?", what would they say?  And if you had the same conversation with potential or lapsed supporters who have been sitting on the sideline waiting for the right time to engage, what would they say?

Concentration that produces engagement, motivation and passion without the threat of hanging is a worthwhile challenge that may not seem very urgent.......until it is.  

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Lessons from the Shark Tank

One of the more popular shows on television is Shark Tank.  It is built around the premise of entrepreneurs pitching their product or service to five billionaires who have the opportunity to fund the business in exchange for an equity stake in the company.

In college athletics, we are similarly seeking all kinds of investors to take an equity stake in our teams. There are numerous lessons to take from this show that apply to your team, department and institution.  Five that come to mind include:
  1. You are always on the carpet - Each entrepreneur stands on an ornate rug and pitches their concept to the five investors.  You are doing this every single day at macro and micro levels with season ticket holders, media contacts, donors, recruits and a host of other potential supporters. 
  2. You have to know your product - Each episode, there inevitably seems to be someone who isn't well educated about their own product or doesn't have a clear understanding of the business.  If YOU don't know your own product or aren't passionate about it, how can you expect others to believe in what you are selling?
  3. Simple but creative often works - Some of the best selling items on Shark Tank are remarkably simple, including the #1 seller, a smiling sponge called the Scrub Daddy.  
  4. It's important to move towards closing - As Dan Tudor points out in his recent post about recruiting and Shark Tank, knowing the right time to close the deal, and the right tone to close the sale is very important.
  5. Repeat business is crucial - Two of the common questions on Shark Tank are "What is your cost of acquiring a customer?" and "What percentage of your sales are repeat customers?" Keeping your current customers is crucial, yet we often spend more time and effort on acquisition over maintaining the supporters we currently have and letting them tell our story for us through word of mouth and social media where they tout their satisfaction to the market. 
Are you a fan of the show?  I invite you to take a moment and share your additional observations in the comments section.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Trust over Price was a recent guest author on the intercollegiate athletics recruiting website  I'd encourage you to head over to his site to read my thoughts about the importance of valuing trust over price.  Do you have a great example in your world where you value trust over price?  Feel free to share it in the comments section.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Athletics budget update #66

Approximately half of Wichita State's Athletics staff was facing the possibility of furlough due to the inability of the Kansas state legislature to pass a budget.

Western Illinois is examining men's and women's basketball scheduling to enhance revenue for the athletic program through guarantee games.

South Carolina State continues to undergo massive athletic cuts, yet Director of Athletics Paul Bryant remains optimistic about the future of the program.

Clemson and South Carolina student fees are part of an in depth article analyzing the fee structures at various public institutions across the state.

In depth article about Louisiana Monroe and the financial challenges it faces as the school with the lowest revenues and expenditures in FBS football.

Very interesting article about $9+ million in state appropriations to IMG Academy in Florida and the businesses that are being attracted to the area due to the Academy's engagement with high profile athletes. recently spoke at the University at Buffalo during an alumni leadership event.  This short 2 minute video gives some of the flavor of this very engaging and robust 90 minute panel discussion.