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.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Notre Dame to the Big Ten - Ultimate Sports Insider Radio Interview

Ultimate Sports Insider was interviewed about Notre Dame joining the Big Ten Conference in men's ice hockey.  The interview can be heard here.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Athletic Budget Update #72

The State of Illinois budget situation is impacting Southern Illinois athletic programs.  SIU men's basketball will not participate in a post season tournament despite a 22-10 record due to funding concerns and men's and women's tennis could be on the chopping block as well if a 20% budget cut from the state occurs.

St. Cloud announced they are cutting six sports (men's tennis, cross country, indoor and outdoor track  and women's tennis and nordic skiing).  They also intend to institute roster management by requiring minimum size rosters in some women's sports and roster caps in some men's sports to comply with Title IX.  The result should be savings of about $250,000 annually.

Fresno State is adding women's water polo, and reinstating wrestling which was dropped in 2006.

SIU Edwardsville is dropping men's tennis and women's golf in response to the University's budget situation.  This is the 11th men's tennis program cut in the past two years.  They also decided to leave their band and cheerleaders home from the OVC basketball tournaments.

Alaska Fairbanks is facing elimination of general funds support to athletics, which would be approximately half their budget ($2.8 million).  Their athletic director believes it would be the end of their athletics program were the cut to occur.

The budget situation in the state of Louisiana continues to be scrutinized with a recent report that the public universities in the state (other than LSU) increased their athletic spending by 57% while reducing their spending on academics by more than 4% over the last eight years.  Here is some additional information with more graphics.

Grambling suspended its search for an athletic director due to its uncertain budget situation.  And then less than a week later, reinstated it.

LaSalle is adding men's and women's water polo and women's golf to its sport offerings in an attempt to curb enrollment declines at the institution.  This raises the number of teams they offer to 25.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Student athlete time demands: Part 3 - The lost keys

When thinking about reducing student athlete time demands, I am reminded of the story of the drunk looking for lost keys under a lamp post.  A police officer stops to help him and asks if this is where he lost them.  The man says "no." The officer, confused, asks him why he's looking there if that isn't where he lost them.  The man says "because this is where the light is."

Early discussions about student athlete time demands have primarily focused on shaving some hours or days from the schedule.  This is where the light is shining.  But the fundamental causes of time commitments are structural - conferences with poor geographic proximity; televised games played seemingly at any time, date and place; schedules that continue to expand and start earlier; and rules that are contorted through numerous exemptions to fit whatever new scheduling concept emerges to provide more television content or unique match-ups at a neutral site (because no one wants to schedule a true road contest.)  The result is student athlete commitments have exploded over the past two decades.

Most coaches follow Parkinson's Law which states "Work expands to fill the amount of time you have available for its completion."  In a coaching and administrative reward structure that is heavily weighted towards winning, a mandated day off and a 20 hours per week athletic activity limit are no longer sufficient to address what everyone knows: student athletes are spending more time than ever on athletics.

Modest rule changes outlined in part two of this series that return a few hours and a couple of weeks each year to student athletes can be helpful but more meaningful changes are needed, and will be even more difficult for coaches, administrators, and even the athletes themselves to embrace. These changes have the best chance of restoring balance to the non-athletic side of the student athlete experience because they will address decades of unrelenting athletic expansion.  These areas include:
  • Reduce the number of contests in all sports by 10%.  Baseball and softball could go from 56 to 50 games; soccer would reduce from 20 to 18 games; swimming would be reduced from 20 dates of competition to 18; tennis would move from 25 to 22 dates; track and field would move from 18 dates to 16; volleyball would move from 28 dates of competition to 26.  This pattern would occur across all sports. Many coaches and athletes will resist such a change.  Indeed contests are one of the best parts of the athletic experience.  If competition is the principle of the athletic time commitment, then preparation and travel related to the contests are the compound interest that is impossible to pay down. The number of games that are packed into a season increases the intensity of the experience, increases missed class time and dilutes the educational experience.  
If you are not convinced reducing games is possible, consider the following example - John Wooden's UCLA basketball teams that won 10 national championships in 12 years never played more than 31 games in any season, including all post season contests.   Today, the number of games played by the basketball championship participants regularly exceeds 40 games - a 33% increase. Wooden's teams are no less revered, the lessons learned are no less compelling and the men who played for him received an incredible education because of who Coach Wooden was, but also because they could experience other aspects of college beyond Pauley Pavilion.
  • In the sport of football, reduce the schedule by one game.  As recently as the early 2000's and in nearly every year prior, the FBS national champion was crowned playing 12 or fewer games including a bowl game.  In 2014 and 2015 the national champions played 15 contests, a 25% increase.  Obviously money and television are the driving factors in this expansion.  But at a time when concussion concerns are at an all-time high, can a 25% increase in the number of contests from a little more than a decade ago be justified? (There is no question it can be rationalized.) In addition, the "Spring Game" has turned into a 16th contest with large crowds on many campuses and preparation expectations only somewhat less than during the regular season. Further, it is now permissible to take one of the windows of time that student athletes could realistically look forward to - spring BREAK - and mandate countable athletic activity as Michigan will do this year during a team training trip to Florida.  Reducing the number of football games is unlikely to happen but if planned well into the future (five to ten years?) it could be accomplished and budgeted for appropriately.  
  • Require meaningful regular season performance in all sports in order to be eligible for post-season play.   A conference's worst teams shouldn't have an opportunity to win a tournament championship and a trip to the NCAA's.  Unfortunately, the regular season for many sports has become largely meaningless with the sole outcome the establishment of seeds for a three or four day tournament.  Conferences should evaluate the number of teams in their post season tournament and consider requiring a .500 record. 
  • Sub .500 football teams should not be allowed to go to bowl game.  Ironically, basing bowl participation for sub .500 teams on academic performance (to provide teams for all the bowls) is one notable example of a reward for academic performance.  But the bowl structure has become college athletics' equivalent of everyone getting a ribbon.  The games can't be justified based on revenue opportunities since the schools involved in many bowls lose money.  Just because a bowl has been approved, the NCAA shouldn't be concerned about a bowl not being played because there aren't enough teams with .500 records - an incredibly low threshold.  Bowls are business ventures and television exposure opportunities and they shouldn't be guaranteed to be profitable or have participants that aren't post-season worthy.  
  • Reduce or eliminate competition in non-traditional seasons.  Teams that have traditional fall or spring seasons should evaluate whether competition in the non-traditional season is appropriate and the number of contests should be very limited.  Clearly there are athletic benefits.  But there are also costs in student athlete time and institutional finances.  
  • Evaluate whether it is more appropriate to count competition opportunities by the number of games played or dates of competition.  This is an area that has significant impact on student athlete time demands, and is easily manipulated when the competition day only accounts for three of the countable 20 hours. Consider the sports of tennis and volleyball.  Both sports frequently engage in multiple competitions in a day and these commitments can easily create days of 8+ hours of athletic commitment.  Any sport that uses dates of competition is likely engaging in NCAA permissible, but significantly inaccurate, accounting of hours on that date of competition.  
  • Consider using a date of competition AND contest limitation counting method. Limiting the number of permissible contests and the number of days in which they can occur could provide a significant reduction.  For example, baseball and softball are currently permitted to play 56 games, which can occur across 56 days.  Adding a dates of competition limitation (for example 48 dates) would allow coaches the opportunity to evaluate whether playing a double-header, which is common in the sport, would be desirable in order to reach the maximum permissible number of contests.  The result in this case could be 8 additional days on campus without almost no effort.  Similar reductions could be found in other sports and have little impact on the number of contests played. 
  • Examine the length of every season.  There was a time when football didn't start competition until after Labor Day and basketball didn't start competing until after Thanksgiving.  The traditional start of basketball practice was October 15, until a plan was devised to allow coaches the same number of days spread out over a longer period of time in order to start in September. The concept was sold on reducing student athlete impact.  Instead it does the opposite, making the season longer, increasing the pressure to perform at an "in-season" level of effort earlier, and reducing the time available to realistically pursue other endeavors. 
  • Establish travel squad limits.  Potentially a way to reduce time demands for those who aren't going to see competition. Although unpopular, they can work if adopted by all schools so that there are no disadvantages competitively.  The NCAA and some conferences already do this as a cost containment measure at championship events.  If it can occur in a championship environment, it can certainly be done in the regular season. 
  • Consider measuring and regulating time commitments over a longer period of time. Twenty hours of engagement in a single week is arbitrary.  Looking at the time demands on a monthly or season long basis would require better planning by coaches and an understanding that time used now may not be available later as teams approach their season long maximum and possible post season play.  
  • Eliminate the ability to travel outside the local geography for practice purposes.  Practice should be an educational and teaching environment instead of a booster engagement or recruiting opportunity.  Taking student athletes on the road for practice is the athletic equivalent of holding class on the quad when the weather turns nice - providing great pictures for the admissions brochure and a nice way to break up the monotony.
All of these ideas will be hard to implement and most will be dismissed as naive or unworkable. But time remains a zero-sum game - an hour used for one purpose cannot be used for another purpose. The benefit of reducing in the areas suggested above is that while simultaneously returning time to student athletes, it keeps teams in each sport on a level playing field because everyone has the same amount of time available to prepare.

In a speech by William Deresiewicz to the graduating class at West Point, he spoke about the disadvantages of an elite education.  It's worth spending 20 minutes to read the transcript as there are many parallels to today's student athlete experience.  College athletics provides access to education and is still a teacher of life and leadership skills.  But these benefits have eroded.  The elite education of college athletics has become sheltered and controlled.  College athletics has become too big to fail in an economic sense with no opportunity for exposure or revenue ignored.  And it is too big to fail from a political standpoint with few presidents or directors of athletics able to withstand anything short of exceptional athletic performance.  Unfortunately this pressure compromises the student experience.

College athletics needs to regain its elite educational aspects and find its lost keys.  They've set a goal to do so by January 2017.  Time will tell whether the search occurs where the light is shining or where the keys were actually lost.   

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Student athlete time demands: Part 2 - The hours

At the January 2016 NCAA Convention, the leadership of the autonomous 65 institutions tabled three proposals intended to reduce student athlete time demands and passed a resolution to address the topic in the next 12 months.  

It is well known that the time demands for a student athlete are significant, with student athletes indicating they spend in excess of 40 hours per week on their sport (yet NCAA rules permit a maximum of 20 hours per week) in addition to their academic expectations and the desire to have a personal life.  It is widely recognized the system has tilted too far away from a model that values the student experience.  But, as I described in part one of this series, the current compensation structure rewards athletic performance and under values educational outcomes.  The result is the maximum permissible amount of time that can be spent on athletics becomes the minimum.  And the minimum amount of time that can be devoted to other pursuits such as academics becomes the maximum.

To address the imbalance in student athlete time commitments a number of changes can be made, including:  
  • Time limitations should be sport specific.  Every coach will tell you their sport is unique - establishing a permissible number of athletic activity hours for a sport should be no less specific. This concept is already evident in the number of contests played, season lengths and a host of other areas.  There should be no expectation that the number of permissible hours should be the same for all sports. 
  • Acknowledge that 20 hours per week in-season may not be enough to allow appropriate preparation and the permissible number of in-season hours should be increased by sport to reflect this reality. 
  • As compensation for increased in-season hours, reduce out-of-season time demands from eight hours per week to four or perhaps even fewer and reduce the number of days these activities can occur.   At eight hours per week, student athletes can be required to participate in 90 minutes of athletic activities five days per week or two hours four days per week.  The logical opportunity for student athletes to regain time is out of season when extensive direct preparation for competition is not necessary. 
  • Hours should be counted accurately.  The current "20-hours per week" rule is laughable because numerous activities are not counted (e.g rehabilitation, travel, recruiting assistance, training meals, fund raising and community appearances, etc.) but do in fact utilize student athletes time and are without question mandatory.  The accounting of hours needs to reflect reality and include:
    1. Increasing the estimated amount of time that is used to account for a competition day - current rules count all activities on game day as three hours, regardless of the amount of time spent.  When factoring in pregame meetings, warm ups, post game, and the contest itself, the hours spent in most sports are likely double the accounted for three hours.    
    2. Counting all activities that involve coaching and sport specific staff, whether mandatory or voluntary, towards the new hours limitation.  If there is seriousness about emphasizing freedom to pursue personal opportunities, part of this is recognizing that time spent on one activity cannot be used on another.  By accurately counting hours and establishing sport specific limits, it should be evident when a student athlete has reached a point of diminishing or negative returns and engage in other activities.  
    3. Counting activities under the safety exception - Workouts that are supervised by coaches for safety purposes should be considered countable hours. 
  • Travel time should count in the permissible number of hours as four hours, similar to the current manner of accounting for a day of competition.  Travel that is less than four hours should be recorded accurately to represent the actual time spent.  While not a perfect solution, it is a step towards accurate representation of travel demands.  The obvious criticisms are that this is unfair to institutions who are geographically remote, that travel is unpredictable, and that many conferences are geographically disbursed.  All of this is true, and it's exactly why travel should be counted. None of these concerns change the fact the burden of travel directly impacts student athlete's lives.  Providing no accounting of the hours lost due to travel is yet another example of inaccurate counting that should be addressed. A benefit of this approach may be coaches scheduling more geographically favorable non-conference contests and conferences scheduling in creative ways that develop travel partner arrangements, neutral site scheduling and other mechanisms to reduce the travel burdens that student athletes face. Schools that have their athletes continually playing "buy games" on the road to fund their athletic programs will need to adjust student athlete hours in other ways to compensate for never playing at home, or schedule more home contests.  
  • Establish a minimum expectation for academic engagement.  If a student athlete is taking 15 credit hours, at a minimum they should expect to spend 15 hours per week attending class. In addition, it seems reasonable to expect one hour per credit hour each week to study, prepare, research and read for their courses.  Mandatory academic engagement already exists in athletics through supervised and mandated studying.  Establishing a minimum baseline should be considered.  This may be viewed by many as unworkable, unnecessary or a further infringement on student athlete time.  But imagine the compound effect of 100+ hours each semester spent on academics - grade point averages and graduation rates should skyrocket.  
Finally, as the debate heats up regarding how to return time to student athletes, I'd encourage decision makers to use a simple litmus test to determine whether they are on the right track in returning those hours to students.  Assume for a moment you are required to record athletic and academic engagement as suggested above.  When determining whether something should "count" toward the academic minimum or athletic maximum hours, find a corresponding example in the other area and see if you would count a parallel activity in the same manner.

For example, rehabilitation from an injury does not count in the current NCAA permissible 20 hours. If you were counting academic hours, would you say the same thing about tutoring, which is a form of academic training?  If a three credit hour class meets for 50 minutes three times a week, would you count this time as 2.5 hours or three?  On the athletic side when trying to avoid hitting a maximum, it would be counted as 50 minutes per practice. Would it be counted similarly on the academic side? While not a perfect test, these parallel examples help sort out what should and should not count and will help move toward greater accuracy.

Ultimately, the challenge of solving student athlete time demands will be only partially addressed by the above ideas. Tweaks around the edges to give a week or two back to students and letting them reclaim their sleep time between 9 pm and 6 am is only effective if it occurs within a larger adjustment of the structural aspects that truly drive time demands - length of season, out of season requirements, practice and competition start dates, exempt events and the number of contests among other things.  In part three of this series, I'll move past accounting for hours and examine ways to provide even greater reductions in student athlete time demands.