Thursday, December 10, 2009 moving to Peoria

The home office for is moving to Peoria, Illinois as of January 1, 2010.  The reason for the move is that I have been named Bradley University's Director of Athletics. 

There is an incredible amount of closure that needs to happen at Princeton and even more preparation that needs to happen before my arrival in Peoria.  Because of this, the frequency of my posting will decrease in the near future as I transition between the institutions. 

I appreciate your readership and patience during the transition and look forward to continuing to provide updates when possible.  I encourage you to become a subscriber to the site (using the easy sign up box near the top of so that we can continue to discuss the national issues related to intercollegiate athletics.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Hofstra University Dropping Football

Hofstra University has just announced the decision to drop football.  The decision was made after a unanimous vote by the Hofstra Board of Trustees.  The program had been in existence since 1937. 

The following link provides more information about the decision.

ESPN also has coverage of the decision.

The savings will be allocated to academic initatives and need based financial aid. 

Thursday, November 26, 2009

One year anniversary and a Happy Thanksgiving

The vagaries of the calendar created an alignment of Thanksgiving Day with a slightly less important event, the one year anniversary of  One year ago, I wrote my first blog entry "College rankings and the athletic solution".  I'm sure it stands as one of my least read postings.  Each day after it was written, I would check my Google Analytics to see if I had achieved ESPN-like readership.  I was part of the global conversation and of course Google would have thousands of people reading my postings in short order.  Reality check - it took nearly 45 days, and another 9 postings to reach double digit readership for a single day.  Needless to say, growth was slow. 

In the last 365 days, an additional 113 postings have focused on a variety of topics with the economic environment and athletic budgets serving as the primary issue by a wide margin.  My favorite topic is the RPI.  And the posting that I most enjoyed writing also received the most attention - Sports Leadership by the Stadium Lights.  The result has been steady growth.

Today, USI (some friends like to refer to the blog this way, but the domain name is already owned by a phone company) has achieved a level of readership that I would have laughed at had someone suggested it during the paltry numbers of USI's early days.  The most recent statistics include:
  • 27,232 visitors (includes individuals who return to the site more than once);
  • 14,984 unique visitors (counts each individual person once, regardless of how many times they visit);
  • 820 visitors in a single day (October 7, 2009); and
  • Readers in 84 countries (United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, India, Belgium, Brazil, Netherlands, and Philippines are the top ten countries). 
So on this Thanksgiving evening, after the turkey is gone and everyone has gone to bed, I thank you for your readership, critical comments, article suggestions, and notes of support.  While still surpasses my readership by a wide margin, I believe USI is filling a niche.  I thank you for the opportunity to learn so much about college athletics through the countless connections that we have developed in the last 12 months through  I hope you've received some value along the way and I look forward to the next 12 months.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Northeastern Dropping Football

Northeastern University Director of Athletics Peter Roby announced that the football program will be discontinued, effective immediately.  The press release announcing the move stated, "The decision is consistent with the university’s strategic approach to prioritize programs and invest in signature strengths."

Northeastern was averaging fewer than 1600 fans per game and the program needed major infrastructure investments in order to maintain competitiveness.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Athletic Budget Update #55

New Orleans Chancellor Timothy P. Ryan indicated the University is evaluating the possibility of the moving from Division I to Division III due to their dire institutional and athletic budget situation. 

Boise State has announced that they are selling shares of stock that provide ownership in Boise State Athletics, Inc.  The non-profit corporation will allow shareholders to vote for board members and provides an influx of financial support similar to what the Green Bay Packers experienced in the 1997 when they went public.  Shares are $100 each and 1,200 have already been sold.

Boise State's football team is also seeking a home and home series to fill out its schedule, but having little success finding a game.  They are also willing to accept $900,000 to $1 million to play a guarantee game.   

The Chair of New Mexico's Student Fee Review Board intends to reconsider the $1.5 million the athletic program receives in light of a number of recent high profile incidents surrounding the program. 

Stanford's continuing budget situation has reached the stage where there is dialogue about the possibility of cutting sports on The Farm, although it is still considered a last resort.

California Chancellor Robert Birgeneau indicated that he will be working to develop a plan that removes all institutional support for athletics.  

USA Today has done an in depth series of articles about the salaries of college football coaches.  A database of the salaries was developed as well as a number of articles.   Inside Higher Education has also looked at the issue.

Alaska Anchorage's attempt to increase their student fee was rejected by the student government in a 10-1 vote.   

Media guides have yet another twist.  Jayda Evans who writes the women's hoops blog for the Seattle Times posted a fascinating article about Florida State women's basketball in which "Players are depicted in silky, metallic-colored, sleeveless dresses either stepping out of a limo or leaning beside one in artistic glam shots."  It's an article that is sure to spark discussion about the depiction and approach.  The Florida State site can be accessed here.

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Athletic Budget Update #54

The pressure on Cal's athletic department continues to mount following a faculty resolution calling for the end to subsidies for the athletic program.  Athletic Director Sandy Barbour was strong in her defense of the program stating, "I object vehemently to the notion that athletics is not part of the educational mission." 

Elsewhere in California, Cal Fullerton balanced its budget in part by mandating that gymnastics and wrestling fund a large portion of their budgets through donations.  Gymnastics needed to raise $90,000 in just a few months to keep the program afloat. As the state budget situation worsens, there is concern that the programs may not last beyond this year.  Wrestling will need to raise $200,000 in order to save their program.

Meanwhile a faculty member at Louisville is taking a page out of the Cal faculty's playbook and doing his own research about athletic subsidies at his institution, finding various payments to athletics in the previous few years. 

Central Florida allowed Marcus Jordan, son of Michael Jordan, to wear Nike sneakers, instead of adidas.  As a result, adidas will not renew the deal with UCF.  It will be interesting to see if Jordan rewards the Golden Knights with a Nike sponsorship.

Cal Poly has cut three staff positions, including one fund raiser, to help close their budget gap.  They have also eliminated printed media guides and may look to reduce scholarship allocations.  
The Detroit News has a detailed article about the financial situation at Michigan and Michigan State, indicating that despite the overall budget environment in the state, that they are maintaining robust athletic programs.  At Michigan, major construction continues at Michigan Stadium with additional changes coming for basketball in the form of a practice facility as well as renovations to Crisler Arena.  The Detroit News also has a smaller article about the financial situations at Central, Eastern and Western Michigan who have much less robust budgets than Michigan and Michigan State.

Kentucky spent $300,000 to host its "Big Blue Madness" promotion to kick off the first day of basketball practice. 

Boston College is not going to pay for their band to travel to away contests this year, which will save approximately $30,000 for the Eagles. 

Hawaii Pacific has cut an athletic trainer in order to help with their budget situation.

Nevada coaches have seen their budgets drop significantly and the details of those cuts can be found here.  

Inside Higher Education is reporting that 26 states are anticipating another $16 billion budget shortfalls. The impact from these mid-year cuts on higher education and athletics remains to be seen, but this is obviously not a good sign.

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Digging deep into the Knight, Part 2 - Academic Integrity

The watchdog of college sports, The Knight Commission, celebrated its 20th anniversary with a major study about how college presidents view the current state of intercollegiate athletics. I encourage you to read the report in its entirety as there is a mountain of interesting information, much of which will serve you very well as you discuss, support and defend athletics on your own campus.

This is the second of a multi-part series examining the just released study. As in part one of the series, I examine the current study using the recommendations in the Knight Commission's 1991-93 reports. These reports established four primary areas of importance in order to "reform" intercollegiate athletics, which was perceived as out of control in the early 1990's. The four primary areas were: Presidential Control (examined in part one of the series), Academic Integrity, Fiscal Integrity and Certification.

The Commission's second recommendation from its 1991-93 reports called for Academic Integrity: "No Pass, No Play".  Twenty years later, the academic health of college athletics, although still having significant room for improvement, has changed in meaningful ways and the goals of the commission have largely been achieved.  In 1989, the graduation rate among all student athletes was 58%, one percentage point better than the graduation rate of the student body in general (57%).  Division I men's basketball was at 44% and football's rate was 56%.  The 2008 rates showed that the student athlete rate had risen to 64%, compared to 62% for non-athlete students.   Men's basketball has moved to 49%, while football remained at 56%. This data reflects the changes in NCAA eligibility requirements that were adopted from the Commission's recommendations.

Since that time, under the leadership of NCAA President Myles Brand a new era of accountability not previously seen in college athletics arrived with the implementation of the Academic Progress Rating.  Since establishing the rating, athletic eligibility rates have continued to rise while transfer rates have decreased, including in the sports of football and basketball.  Although six year graduation rate data is not yet available, it would seem reasonable to expect further graduation rate improvements from improving eligibility and decreasing transfer rates.

Despite these improvements, the presidents who were surveyed do not believe all is well with respect to the educational experience of student athletes. The concerns center around two issues: the cultural impact of athletics on the institution and the effect of athletics on the educational experience of the individual student athlete. 

From a cultural perspective, the concerns reflect the "overemphasis" of athletics.  Stated one president: "There’s too much identification of a university with non-academic aspects, distracting from values of higher education and from desirable values in society."

Said another: "We’re in a situation right now in which the athletic association has more money and disposable money than it has ever had. On the academic side there is less flexibility at any time since World War II. This
creates very disparate cultures. Athletics can spend and do whatever it wants to do, and the academic core of the campus, which is operating under much greater constraints, sees that. The rationalization of those two cultures is one of the most difficult things we face."

What is interesting about these sentiments is that they are as much a reflection of the academy's cultural shift as they are a criticism of athletics.  Consider the first quote which cites "non-academic aspects".  While athletics is certainly a contributor to this shift, it is hardly the sole one.  The values of higher education are increasingly bottom-line oriented.  And as the resources for higher education become increasingly scare and tuition moves ever higher, non-academic concerns that focus on revenue generation, branding and marketing shape the academy in ways not previously seen.

For example, institutional marketing materials all tout academic quality supported by references to faculty/student ratios, departments that have won acclaim in a particular discipline and ratings in various publications of the best colleges and universities.  But the ability to make meaningful academic distinctions is blurred when comparing across literally thousands of colleges and universities, necessitating other marketing approaches. Institutions attract students by building lavish residence halls and recreation facilities while institutional traits such as diversity, religious affiliation, affordability, personal attention, and student life enhancing activities such as athletics are emphasized.  So while athletics certainly represents the most public aspect of this cultural shift in marketing and branding, it is hardly the only shift as institutions increasingly pursue prestige and compete for students and funding. 

Turning to the educational experience of student athletes, concerns from the initial Knight Commission report that focused on graduation rates and admission credentials no longer appear to be the presidential focus.  Instead, the presidents are concerned about academic engagement and educational experience.  Said one president, "My biggest concerns about the current pressures have more to do with the academic experience of athletes. I think we are, but I’m not sure that we’re doing right by our students. Pressure on athletes to use time for other things rather than academics is huge."

Another stated: "We’re drifting away from the intent of intercollegiate athletics, which is to give students a chance to compete in athletics in college and get a good education. We’re undermining the public’s confidence in the integrity of intercollegiate sports."

These concerns appear to have some basis.  In the 2009-10 academic year, college football started preseason practice in late July or very early August, in part to accommodate a 12th game (that was added 3 years ago).  College hockey played its first official games this year on October 8, and won't conclude the season until April 10, making the season at least a month longer than college basketball's season.  Meanwhile basketball's lengthy season is shaped by ratings friendly television scheduling and creative promotions such as ESPN's 24 hour tip off marathon on Tuesday November 17 that will have teams tipping off at 6 am, 8 am, 10 am and noon as well as 11 pm in their local time zones while other teams compete throughout the day.  The publicity and national exposure for some of the schools is significant.  But the season-long travel and non-traditional game times certainly have some academic impact on individual student athletes.

These types of changes didn't happen overnight.  They evolved as part of the explosion of televised sports along with other creeping, incremental changes, including: 1) attempts by each sport, using the NCAA governance structure, to "grow the sport"; 2) institutional and NCAA revenue generation; 3) accommodation for Olympic and World Championships; 4) attempts to improve training methods and 5) opportunities to enhance competitiveness, winning and professional opportunities. 

These changes coupled with financial opportunities and pressure to win demand increasing levels of athletic commitment by coaches in order to be successful.  The fear of being outworked, out coached, or not fully prepared is real.  Add in a transactional relationship between the coach and athlete where one-year renewable scholarships defray college tuition that has surpassed $50,000/year at nearly 60 institutions and the result is an environment where the student athlete's academic and non-academic activities are almost completely directed.  Colorado Football Coach Dan Hawkins's description of a letter he received from a parent provides a colorful example.  Hired to resurrect Colorado's football fortunes, Hawkins expectations as he looks to improve the program are for the student athlete to either buy into the vision or move on.

All the parties involved - coaches, parents, presidents and student athletes - understand the deal even though it has shortcomings.  It is a deal that everyone agrees to in the form of salary (coaches), institutional benefits such as exposure, branding and marketing power (presidents), competitive experience (student athletes) and paid tuition (parents).  And I suspect it's a deal many non-athlete students would make if it were offered and covered their skyrocketing tuition bill.  But the trade-off comes at a cost - a corresponding loss of freedom to experiment, grow and learn in the manner that occurs for most of the student body.  But with the expectation of proper off-field behavior from athletes and high levels of on-field performance demanded from coaches in all sports, a controlled educational experience is understandable. What's a coach to do?  What's a president to do?  What's a student athlete to do?  I suspect almost no one will choose intramurals.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Athletic Budget Update #53

Cal reduced its 2009-10 budget by eliminating eight staff positions, cutting international team travel and trimming the operating budgets of all department sports teams by six percent and the football budget by 12 percent.   Inside Higher Education also has an in depth article about the financial situation at Cal

A member of the Iowa Board of Regents is questioning the viability of scholarship football at Northern Iowa. UNI receives $4.6 million in general funds and student fees.  By comparison Iowa State receives $3 million.

Iowa received approval for $26 million in bonds to renovate Carver-Hawkeye Arena. 

Western Kentucky Athletic Director Wood Selig had his contract extension and pay raise delayed after a small group of faculty and students protested at a meeting of the school's Regents.  The decision on his extension will be deferred until January in order to build better working relationships with faculty.  The deferral was not related to performance, but rather to budgetary concerns.

The NCAA's governing board approved a 130,000 foot, $35 million expansion to their headquarters with construction slated to begin next year.  The expansion is to accommodate the NCAA's 500 staffers and leave room for growth.  In 1999, the NCAA staff was approximately 350.  

St. Louis Community Colleges will be cutting 7 of their 22 sports next year.  

The Orlando Sentinel examines budgetary issues in Florida, taking particular issue with Central Florida for cutting a number of academic programs while raising tuition 15% and charging a $12.68/credit hour athletic fee to fund nearly half of the athletic budget. 

The Washington Post cites a new study estimating the amount of money cut from high school sports at $2 billion.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Digging deep into the Knight, Part 1 - Presidential Control

The Knight Commission's 20th anniversary brought with it a major study and associated media attention as the watchdog of college sports published their findings about how college presidents view the current state of intercollegiate athletics.  I encourage you to read the report in its entirety as there is a mountain of interesting information, much of which will serve you very well as you discuss, support and defend athletics on your own campus. 

This is the first of a multi-part series examining the just released study.  My intention is to examine the current study using the recommendations in the Knight Commission's 1991-93 reports. These reports established four primary areas of importance in order to "reform" intercollegiate athletics, which was perceived as out of control in the early 1990's.   The four primary areas were: Presidential Control, Academic Integrity, Fiscal Integrity and Certification.

The Commission's first recommendation from 1991-93 reports called for the clear establishment of presidential control.  It is clear that the leadership structure desired by the presidents has developed since the commission called for this action.  Presidential leadership can be found throughout the NCAA's organizational chart and most Division I athletic directors report directly to the president.

But despite the presidents and the Commission achieving their goal, the findings of the current report indicate presidents feel as sense "powerlessness" (the Commission's characterization) related to changing the system.  They individually express interest in reform, but don't believe that their own individual actions would make much difference and that the political consequences for acting autonomously would be significant. Further, many don't believe the problems exist on their own campuses, but that collectively the enterprise needs repair. 

Said one president - "The real power doesn’t lie with the presidents; presidents have lost their jobs over athletics. Presidents and chancellors are afraid to rock the boat with boards, benefactors, and political supporters who want to win, so they turn their focus elsewhere."

Said another - "Presidents of big schools aren’t listening and don’t want to."

Further, the presidents appear conflicted about the entire athletic enterprise -  wishing the world were different while readily acknowledging the benefits in admissions and fund raising that their campuses receive from athletics.

Said one president about the undergraduate admission benefits of athletics - "I believe intercollegiate athletics has had positive effects on enrollment, student engagement, and the like. The 2006 football season, for example, dramatically increased student interest in [the university]. The next summer there was a 65 percent increase in number of students and parents visiting campus. The number of applications went up and the quality of students increased as measured by GPA and test scores."

And another president about fund-raising - "Even in this recessionary year, last year was a record [for fundraising] and this year topped that record. . . . I have a donor who gave $500,000 to athletics and then turned right around and endowed a chair in an academic program for $3 million."

And others - "Strong athletics gives you the ability to get on center stage in the spotlight, and if you’re smart enough to leverage that to help the academic side of the university you can be even more successful than if you treat academics and athletics as separate worlds."

"It gives huge brand identification."

"No other topic gets as much coverage [as athletics does]. I spoke to a group of 30 high-rollers, half well-placed people in the judiciary. In the Q and A, first question was about medical school, but second was about the quarterback for the football team."

It reminds me a little of global warming.  Many people think is a problem that needs to be addressed, lest the planet collapse.  But while everyone contributes to the problem to some degree, eliminating contributing factors reduces individual benefits and rights at the local level.  Reformers call for everyone to sacrifice for the collective good and to save the planet.

"Planet college athletics" doesn't appear to be a whole lot different and if given a choice to think globally or locally, local actions will win almost every time because the possible political consequences of tough decisions outweigh the will to change. Most people think reform is necessary, but there sure are some nice benefits to driving a big car. 

The powerlessness of presidents is also reflective of a certain reality - that control of an athletic program takes time, energy and attention, but it is just one area on their very complex college campuses - campuses that are in some cases billion dollar businesses with little resemblance to "Good Will Hunting" or "The Paper Chase".

The presidential job description is nothing like it was twenty years ago and fundraiser in chief is often first on the list of important priorities.  In addition, enrolling increasingly talented classes and demonstrating greater admissions selectivity improves your US News and World Report ranking, demonstrating the success of your leadership, which leads to more successful fundraising.  Why do anything that might make your largest donors less inclined to give and prospective students less likely to enroll at your institution?

Said one president in the report - "You raise money where you can and play the game. Raising money for athletics doesn’t take it away from academics."

What presidents have demonstrated by their comments and in their actions on individual campuses, is that they are competitive - for students, faculty, rankings, research funding, donations and government support.  And if they want to be successful, they have to compete in athletics.

Part 2 of the series will examine Academic Integrity

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Leadership Behind the Stadium Lights

This posting was authored by Tony Weaver, Assistant Professor of Leisure and Sport Management at Elon University. Tony has agreed to occasionally provide research summaries.  Prior to teaching at Elon, Dr. Weaver was an athletic administrator at Iona College, Siena College and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

After reading the following post,  Sports leadership by the stadium lights, discussing the recent public relations dilemma at Binghamton University, and paying close attention to Florida State’s Head Football Coach Bobby Bowden and the chairman of the Board of Trustees publicly discuss the coach’s future, it becomes clear that the layer of people involved in successful (or unsuccessful) athletic programs goes far beyond just those working in the athletics department.  In fact, one layer of the leadership team that usually goes unnoticed, by the general public but is vitally important to any athletic program is the role of upper administration in higher education, specifically the university president or chancellor. 

The NCAA has implemented numerous committees and task forces consisting of Division I presidents and chancellors to put into action “top-down control” for areas including but not limited to financial, constituency, and academic control.  Critics can argue whether some presidents, chancellors and/or boards have actively responded to the task.  Certainly, if one was expecting that increased presidential involvement should lead to sweeping major reforms, then perhaps these efforts have failed.  However, since the Knight Commission’s report called for more presidential involvement in 1991, university leadership has been more involved in athletics. Over the last two decades, the call for presidents to be more active in athletic decisions has lead to conversation, debate and good scholarship. 

Perhaps the most significant presidential involvement since the Knight Report was the hiring of former University of Oregon and Indiana University president Myles Brand in 2003 to lead the NCAAA recent NCAA News article highlights the significant changes and increased presidential involvement during his tenure.  It was during his time that presidents and chancellors became visible and were required to take control of intercollegiate athletics. 

It is also important to note that those in college athletics and other areas of higher education need to understand the responsibilities of the presidency.  One good book that presents an unfiltered examination in a question and answer format is Francis L. Lawrence’s Leadership in higher education: Views from the presidency.  Lawrence, who served as president of Rutgers University from 1990 until 2002, interviews presidents of colleges and universities across the country and allows the reader a snapshot into the life of a higher education leader.  In addition to many other areas including balancing the personal and the professional life, higher education costs, understanding the student population and working with faculty, each president also addresses the role of intercollegiate athletics.  

More presidents are publicly getting involved and sharing their opinion of college athletics in higher education.  Below are some personal works from presidents about their role in Division I athletics:

First, a look back at two articles in which presidents recommended change based on the philosophy of increased presidential involvement:

Read Former Texas A & M President Roy Bowen’s thoughts on his role and the role of the Board in college athletics.  Bowen raises some interesting points, highlighting both the good and bad of board and presidential involvement in college athletics.  Most importantly, Bowen suggests additional policies that would support presidential oversight of college athletics 

This article from Tulane University President Scott Cowen (log-in required) takes a very personal view of the influence of presidents in college athletics.  In the article, President Cowen suggested many changes that he believed needed to be made in college athletics.  One can debate if those changes have occurred over the last 4 years, however, there is a greater point to his article.  He strongly encourages the campus community to take responsibility for their own athletic programHe states, “If each president and institution -- one by one -- works to establish the right direction locally and within its own conference, and the NCAA remains a forceful voice for change, academics and athletics can become a winning combination for us all.”

Finally, also consider reading Intercollegiate athletics and the American university: A university president's perspective by former University of Michigan president James Duderstadt.  A frustrating read if you are expecting answers about how to “fix” college athletics; however, Duderstadt does offer insight into some of the difficult decisions presidents face.  Below is one quote from the book that I thought was incredibly insightful, and perhaps surprising, regarding the hiring of an athletic director.  While discussing his search for an athletic director while president at the University of Michigan, Duderstadt states: 

“A president is required to recruit and appoint people to fill dozens of important positions in a large university: executive officers, deans and directors.  But no search is more difficult to conduct than one for a new athletic director, at least at a university with big-time sports such as Michigan.” (p. 236)

Although the athletic director is in charge of the athletic program on a day-to-day basis, the long term direction of the athletic program will be a result of the support (or lack of support) by the leadership team of the university.  The president or chancellor is ultimately responsible for the direction of the university, including that of its athletic programs. Over the last two decades presidents are becoming very active in athletic department decisions.   Therefore, it is important for future and current intercollegiate athletic leaders to appreciate the complex relationship between the institution and athletics.     

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Athletic Budget Update #52

Quinnipiac's volleyball team may still face elimination after a court injunction prevented the school from dropping the team.  It appears that the addition of "competitive cheer" has exceeded expected participation numbers and that the school may still consider dropping the team since compliance with Title IX may no longer be in question.  Particularly noteworthy are the comments of the University's president, John Lahey "Volleyball, you can look at it as just a volleyball and athletic program as most people have done. For me, its five additional full-time professors that we can add or retain here at Quinnipiac, and I still believe students come to Quinnipiac to get an education," he said. "While sports, I understand, are important, we still have 18 remaining sports. I do think making reductions in sports athletic programs is an appropriate thing and helped us last year, and in the future will protect the academic institution and have more faculty for our students."

Demonstrating the difference between the "haves" and the 'have-nots", Idaho's football coach has their team bowl eligible after reaching their 6th win and will now receive a bonus for the achievement - $11,923.20. 

Harvard's budget cuts, which eliminated hot breakfasts for students and cookies for faculty, have also hit student athletes more directly with the elimination of sweatsuits and gear for student athletes and a reduction of individual competition opportunities for athletes from teams such as tennis. 

Elsewhere in the Ivy League, Cornell is dealing with a $915,000 budget cut on top of a two-year, $1.3 million endowment payout reduction.  Cornell has eliminated 15 staff positions, reduced travel and cut media guides.  Cornell also anticipates further budget cuts in the next fiscal year. 

The Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (Division III) is changing its scheduling format in football.  Effective in 2011, each conference member will play a second game against a WIAC member.  The second game will be considered a non-conference game.  The arrangement will reduce travel costs.  They also plan to establish later start times to eliminate overnight travel and are freezing officials fees.

Central Florida is trying to negotiate a compromise with adidas over their $3 million apparel contract. Freshman Marcus Jordan (son of Michael) is refusing to wear school issued shoes in deference to his father's longstanding ties with Nike. The adidas deal had been in place at UCF years prior to Jordan's arrival on campus.

I'm not sure how the Jordans missed this when choosing a school after dad's prior experience in this area.  The elder Jordan needed to conveniently drape an American flag over his shoulder during the medal ceremony at the 1992 Olympics to hide a Reebok logo on the Team USA sweatsuits.  And in an age where sneaker money (funnelled through AAU basketball) influences where many prospective student athletes go to school, how someone whose father is so aligned with Nike went to an adidas school is hard to figure out.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Athletic Budget Update #51

Moving into the second half-century of budget updates from, here is the latest from around the country:

The NY Times has a must read article about the use of helicopters to enhance football recruiting

Oregon State has taken the elimination of teams off the table to close their budget gap and will instead try to increase fund raising and consider freezing or reducing pay for staff throughout the department. 

Wisconsin coaches will be required to take furlough days that have been ordered for all state employees. 

Portland State has cut the salaries of their football staff, including head coach Jerry Glanville. 

Maryland eliminated $22,500 in funding for the marching band.

USA Today has a review of the California state budget situation and the perception that athletics is not sharing in the budget pain.

Delaware State picked up two football losses on Saturday in exchange for a $550,000 check.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Content and Communications World and its sister site were my focus as a panelist discussing "Online Digital Success Stories" at the Content and Communications World Exposition (CCW Expo) that wrapped up today in New York City.  CCW Expo is a trade show that is primarily focused on the technology necessary for television and internet broadcasting.  Fellow panelists included leaders from, horse racing ( and TV Desi, a television distribution company from southeast Asia.  Chris Wagner from Neulion served as the moderator.

The key messages from the session were:

  • Anyone can become a broadcaster and their own media company. 
  • Supporting the passion of individuals with a niche interest works well in the sports environment, particularly for those sports that do not have extensive television exposure.  
  • The displaced fan (those who have moved to another part of the country and can no longer follow their team or school in person) can be a huge target for subscription-based internet video. 
  • Your department's internet and video offerings can be financially beneficial to your department's bottom line and likely offer untapped potential. 
  • Its all about video.  While there will always be a place for great printed material and the traditional college sports website, video consumption continues to grow and shows no signs of abating as the ability to produce video increases and costs drop.
  • The tens of millions of dollars of equipment at the show was enough to make the technologically phobic collapse and the technologically savvy drool.    If you don't think the world has changed from the days of basic cable and  rotary phones, the picture provides some idea of what I saw and heard there.  Its a television satellite system small enough to mount of the roof of a BMW Mini.  
Indeed, we can all become instant mobile television networks.  You're little more than a camera and satellite dish away.  You just have to take it out of the back seat. 

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Athletic Budget Update #50

Wisconsin is considering ticket price increases in revenue sports for the first time in 2-4 years (depending on the sport). The increases will be in addition to a directive from Athletic Director Barry Alverez that all teams cut their budgets 5% for the 2010-11 fiscal year.  Administrative offices had reduced their budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year, and will be expected to do the same again for 2010-11.

Maryland has "restricted all coaches’ spending to team travel and recruiting, refrained from hiring replacements for almost a dozen administrative staffers who left for other jobs and even cut basic amenities such as water service to its Comcast Center offices" according to a recent article in Maryland's student newspaper The Diamondback

The Omaha World Herald has a review of the Big XII conference's financial situation.

Harvard student athletes are experiencing the Univeristy's budget cuts first hand with the elimination of hot breakfast.  Harvard faculty are also experiencing the crunch (or lack thereof) as well with the elimination of cookies at faculty meetings. “This is the first time in modern times with no cookies,” said Harry R. Lewis, a member of the faculty council. “We are sharing the pain with the undergraduates.”

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Andrew Oliver case settled: Agent genie back in the bottle

The case between Andrew Oliver and the NCAA has come to a conclusion.  As predicted by, Oliver was presented with an offer that required him to weigh a substantial financial payment vs. the possibility of becoming the Curt Flood of college athletics.  Oliver decided to accept $750,000 to drop his suit, which was scheduled to go to a jury trial in two weeks. While all signs pointed to Oliver receiving a favorable verdict at trial, he and legal counsel Rick Johnson would have likely faced years of NCAA appeals before reaching a successful conclusion and receiving payment. 

The settlement means NCAA Bylaws and 19.7 are now back in full effect for prospects, student athletes and NCAA member schools and temporarily removes the possibility that agents will become a permissible part of college sports.  However, knowing that the NCAA has paid a significant sum to settle the case and that the judge in the case ruled against the NCAA at nearly every step of the legal process will likely require the Association to seriously examine its ban on the use of legal counsel by prospective and current student athletes who are considering professional contracts.  "The NCAA can continue to act with its typical arrogance and try to continue to deny student athletes the right to counsel, or it can realize that it will lose 100/100 of any such future lawsuits over this rule, since no court is going to allow the NCAA to prohibit nonmember student-athletes from retaining counsel..." said Oliver's lawyer Rick Johnson.  Since the settlement the NCAA has not commented about the Bylaws in question. 

It's hard to know if Bylaw will move towards extinction, but the significant legal and financial ramifications of enforcing a Bylaw that a judge ruled had denied basic legal rights to a student athlete is going to be expensive to maintain.  While the agent genie may be back in the bottle, its not clear how long it will stay there.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sports leadership by the stadium lights

About once a week, I am contacted by a sports management graduate student to discuss possible internships, career paths, specific aspects of our department operations or some other angle on college athletics.  I enjoy the conversations and in fact welcome them.   The most recent version of this exchange occurred over the weekend.  A graduate student asked me to define the exceptionally vague concept "Sports Leadership". I can envision the class discussion now - a three hour seminar sorting out what it means to be a leader in sports with no clear answers.  Here's my attempt at defining the concept in college athletics.

Sports leadership isn't a thing but is a person.  It is individuals making a difference everyday in the lives of student athletes.

It's head coaches working to get the most from their athletes while keeping their eyes on a prize that is part championship, part graduation and part growth and maturity fostered from their mentoring. It's assistant coaches spending long hours on the road recruiting finding individuals who will fit into a championship culture in the hope of someday becoming a head coach. 

It's alumni, recognizing the transformative experience they had during their college years and donating to their alma mater to improve facilities, endow scholarships and provide annual support that is crucial in today's economic environment.

It's equipment and facilities staff working very early and very late, usually in the shadows, to make sure that the soccer pitch is like a billiard table and helmets are properly fitted to prevent a concussion.

It's compliance staff following the rules and finding a way to protect an institution's integrity while simultaneously wanting to win and asking good questions to help make it happen.   

It's travel administrators and business office staff making sure the buses arrive on time, that teams have enough hotel rooms, that all the meals are scheduled properly and the bills are paid on time.

It's custodial staff who take pride in their facilities, making sure the garbage cans are empty and the venues sparkle. 

It's academic advisers demanding success and rejecting excuses from student athletes, some of whom are pushed to their limits in the classroom, so that each one can achieve a diploma and maintain their eligibility.

It's strength coaches who find the physical limits of an athlete and work to make them stronger than they thought possible so that they are as fresh in the last minute of a game as they were in the first. 

It's athletic trainers and team doctors treating and rehabilitating injuries that leave athletes separated from the on-field activities of their sports and struggling through the hard work of physical therapy. 

It's athletic communications, event management, ticketing and marketing staff getting people to the games and doing their best to make sure the coverage and support of each team is positive and robust.

It's athletic directors making a difficult decision to back a coach who is going through a rough stretch, because they know that the coach still has command of the locker room and that success is close at hand, despite what the media and fans may think. 

It's all of these people, in these roles, along with countless others too numerous to list here doing their best every day to make their programs the best that they can be.
A football game under the lights on Saturday night with a full stadium is one of the great environments in college sports.  It's different from a day game.  There is an added buzz from a full day, or week, of anticipation.  Driving to the stadium, there is a glow that you can see from miles away, drawing you in.  Sports leadership has a glow that attracts you like stadium lights in the distance.

Once you're in the stadium, you look up at the lights above the top of the stadium and there is a sharp contrast between the white hot lights against the pitch black sky, like the difference between right and wrong.  Seeing that distinction and having the courage to make the right choice, that's sports leadership.

And when you look at the banks of stadium lights, one light by itself won't let you see much.  Collectively, they illuminate the field.  But when you look at the bank of lights and one is burned out, you notice.  Usually the other lights effectively compensate, but too many lights without power diminish the environment.  Working collectively, never letting your light go out and making sure that you cover your area of responsibility with intensity that shines so that your student athletes, teams and university are the best they can be -that's sports leadership.   No matter what role you have in college athletics, shine on.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Athletic Budget Update # 49

Yale has reduced equipment costs and recruiting budgets in an effort to trim its budget, which was cut as part of a University-wide 7.5% reduction.  In addition, teams have been given a geographic area they are required to stay within for competition, unless they are able to secure guarantee payments from their opponent. 

Elsewhere in Connecticut, UCONN is leaving some positions vacant to help reduce its budget, has printed fewer media guides and is distributing them at games rather than mailing them to save postage.  Southern Connecticut, Hartford, Fairfield, Sacred Heart and Central Connecticut have reduced or eliminated the guides as well.  Southern Connecticut is also having its men's and women's basketball teams travel together to conference games to reduce travel expenses.

The America East Conference conducted a six month cost reduction study and has recommended the suspension of team banquets, limited travel party sizes and decreased the number of in-person conference meetings. 

Stanford is lowering the price of basketball season tickets for students from $65 to $35.  In addition, attendance at ten games or more will earn an additional $20 rebate. 

Nevada has lost $1.2 million in state funding and is looking to increase revenue from concessions, pouring rights, video streaming, merchandising and other areas to enhance their budget.

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Recruiting entitlement

Recruiting is the lifeblood of any athletic program and coaches' recruiting styles take many forms in the relentlessly competitive pursuit of talent.  There mare many examples of coaches who are unscrupulous, manipulative or bend rules in order to sign a prospect.  But it can be a two-way street and the approach and attitude taken by some prospects and their parents aren't always pure either.  They just don't get as much attention.  Consider two examples: 

In a recent edition of the Sporting News, Dietrich Reilly, a Top 100 football prospect who has scholarship offers from most of the PAC 10 including USC, Cal and UCLA stated: "I'm still telling people I'd like to get interest from Florida, Texas, LSU, Ohio State, Georgia and like a Penn State....I want to rack up as many offers as possible, so I don't plan on narrowing it down any time soon." 

The second example was written by a prospect's parent on a soccer recruiting questionnaire and forwarded to me by a coach who reads  I've changed the identifying information, but the opening paragraph of the note follows below retaining the tone and typos in all their glory:

"Coach: i am highly biased against [your state's] Olympic Development Program and anyone afffiliated with its highly dysfunctional system(and by association your program. Nevertheless, my daughter has interest from your betters, the " little Ivies" none of which are in [my state], so I am reaching out to you because: 1) [Your school is in my state] and i'd like to see my daughter play in college (even though you just lost to [an inferior opponent] this week) and 2) [your school] has something of a reputation ( although somewhat weak in the non-scientific liberal arts)."

It's hard to know why either individual would believe they are entitled to be recruited by as many schools as possible or to send an introductory note that says in effect, "I guess I'll think about talking to you".  This is, after all, the search for a potentially free college education while furthering a sports career.  There are some collective systemic issues that may contribute to these approaches including -
  • internet and media coverage that can make minor celebrities out of high schoolers; 
  • specialization by prospects and the corresponding investment by parents in order to win an athletic scholarship to defray the skyrocketing costs of tuition; 
  • a defensive mechanism for handling pressure filled recruiting pitches from coaches that manufacture deadlines and attempt to secure earlier and earlier recruiting "commitments" (the worst examples being ridiculously premature scholarship offers to individuals as young as 8th grade.)  
I believe that an entitlement-based approach by prospects is the exception rather than the rule just as I believe that most coaches are professional and honest in their recruiting approach.  But the extent to which steps can be taken to develop a less public and more deliberative recruiting process would serve all of college athletics well.

An additional side note

This marks the 100th posting on  USI appreciates your readership, comments and the information that so many of you forward. The site has seen a steady growth in readership and subscriptions since the initial posting in November 2008.  I look forward to continuing to provide you as much content as possible in an effort to help make your athletic program the best it can be.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Athletic Budget Update #48

The University of Nevada has added a $5 surcharge to all of their season ticket packages and $1 surcharge to all individual game tickets in football and men's basketball to support the the band, which was going to be eliminated due to the budget. The surcharge is expected to bring in $50,000 in revenue.

Iowa has been able to complete a number of projects including construction of a new boathouse and installation of field turf in the football stadium in spite of the athletic program's budget challenges.  They also hope to begin a $47 million renovation to Carver-Hawkeye Arena in the near future. 

Coaches at California State Universities are trying to figure out how to take 24 mandatory furlough days in the coming year so that the competitiveness of their programs is not effected. 

Maryland has released a five year plan for its athletic program that suggests they would consider cutting sports if they faced severe economic circumstances.

Fresno State's previously gloomy budget situation has become somewhat brighter due to increased revenue from a deal with Learfield Sports and $228,000 more in revenue from the WAC and the NCAA.  

There is a series of proposals being debated in NCAA Division II that would make 10% reductions to the number of contests played, ban practice and competition between Christmas and New Years Day, and move preseason practice a week later than the current starting date for many sports. 

Washington State is considering moving another game to Qwest Field (this time against Oregon) in order to help generate additional revenue

Odds and Ends

Following up on the post "Should we be more concerned about the golden throne or the ivory tower?", the Seattle Times posted an article about the rising costs of higher education generally, with a telling  quote on why higher education costs so much.  "Our sole goal is to find cookies and stuff our mouths," says Ehrenberg, who directs the Higher Education Research Institute at Cornell University. "Colleges and universities like to grab as many resources as they can. We want to make ourselves as good as we can. We want the best facilities, students, resident halls and labs, so there's this tremendous drive to be better, and that costs money."

The Doonesbury of sports, Tank McNamara has been running a series of jokes related to the secret football coaches poll that has been criticized by

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bono from the cheap seats

Wednesday night ended four months of waiting when joined three college friends to experience one of the great spectacles in stadium concerts - U2 live and their 360 degree tour. As an almost three-decade U2 fan, seeing them in concert is a spectacle like few others.  The band's ability to put 80,000 people in Giants Stadium with over-the-top music, lights and energy that blends politics, history, nostalgia, the present and the future is visionary.

The show also provided me a rare chance to experience the event as a fully invested fan that had no ability to get special seats, a luxury box, free food, good parking, or any of the other benefits that you receive from working in college athletics or as a major donor.

Attending the concert as a regular Joe (or better yet a regular Mike, along with Joe, Larry and Pete) provided a great reminder of how logistics are crucial to the fan experience.  So many aspects of the concert were incredibly memorable, but a number of operational aspects also stood out and not in a positive way:

Transportation - We took the train to the show but arrived too late to see the opening act, MUSE, because there were not enough trains running to take the throngs of people - who had been encouraged over and over via emails from Ticketmaster to use mass transit - one station stop from the main line to the stadium.

Food - Limited selection.  Average quality.  Hefty prices. 

The time and date - As I mentioned above, the show was a spectacle.  But the crowd was slightly subdued relative to what you would have expected.  I believe this was due largely to the date and time of the show - Wednesday night at 9 pm.  The show was originally scheduled to be Friday night at 8 pm, but was changed when the N.Y. Jets changed their game time from 4 pm to 1 pm Sunday - which then necessitated shifting the concert two days earlier in order to have sufficient time to dismantle the stage.  The announcement of the change was less than 2 weeks prior to the show and resulted in significant inconvenience for all who had been planning a huge start to the weekend and were instead faced with a late night in the middle of the work week.
As we look to attract and retain fans, expand season ticket bases and sell luxury seating and suites, the three areas mentioned above, and many other seemingly "minor" aspects are part of those efforts.  The ability to move smoothly in and out of parking lots, quality public transportation (if necessary/available) and well conceived traffic plans may not be glamorous, but they are a huge part of the fan experience.  If its not tolerable and the headaches too great, that will impact purchasing decisions.  If food is too expensive, of poor quality, or offers limited choice, that can have impact additional sales in the venue.

Lastly, changing game times and dates is a regular occurrence in college sports and usually happens for television purposes.  It seems that in many cases schools will accept any time or day of the week to get a game on television.  If you've purchased tickets for a specific game and a schedule changes significantly, the fan's experience is altered.  And the next time they're asked to buy tickets, they may think twice - especially if such changes happen regularly.  It's a small test of their loyalty.  Hopefully schedule changes are considered in a broader context and not just reflexively made because television requests it.

I look forward to seeing Bono, The Edge, Adam and Larry in concert a few more times.  They never disappoint.  And the aspects of the experience last night that could have been better will be a distant memory because they only happen once every 5 years or so.  But as you try to attract fans week after week in a tight economy, examining seemingly secondary and mundane items are probably more important than ever and might make the difference between increasing a fan base, eroding it, or losing it altogether.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Two examples why the football coach poll needs to be public wrote an in-depth article back in May that was critical of the decision by the American Football Coaches Association's (AFCA) to allow coaches to keep their votes in the national poll secret.  The poll is 1/3rd of the formula that is used to determine the teams that will compete in the BCS championship game.  As I wrote back in May, secrecy increases the possibility of the poll being manipulated by coaches who have a vested interest in the outcome of the rankings. 

Two examples of poll manipulation have come to light recently one related to the coaches poll and another in a parallel setting.  The first example is the preseason voting of South Florida football coach Jim Leavitt. His preseason rankings placed his own team 18th. He also ranked Oklahoma #1 (he and Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops worked together in the 1990's), didn't rank Ole Miss anywhere in the top 25 and ranked four other Big East schools in the Top 25. Granted, preseason rankings are harder to accurately gauge since no one has played a game and they are based largely on reputation, but it seems unlikely that all of his rankings were coincidental.

The second example comes from a recent article by describing the manipulation of peer ratings that are used by US News and World Report to determine the best colleges and universities in the country.  Inside Higher Ed reveals Clemson University engaged in an institutionally coordinated effort to have administrators rate "all programs other than Clemson below average".  Clemson's stated goal is to become a Top 20 public institution in the US News rankings.

Inside Higher Education believes a secret poll is a bad idea because "the reputational survey is subject to problems, such as haphazard responses and apathetic respondents, that add to the lingering questions about its legitimacy."  

Haphazard and apathetic responses.  Institutional gain from manipulating ratings.  That's not exact how you want the best academic schools in the country determined.

Individuals with the potential for personal gain who are voting with their own self-interest at stake will struggle to be objective in their evaluations.  Secret rankings increase the possibility of manipulation if these judgements can occur without public scrutiny.  If Clemson's academic administrators are willing to engage in a concerted effort to improve their US News ranking, is it all that far-fetched to think that a football coach might do the same, especially in a circumstance where his voting is secret and his team, his recruiting and his paycheck stand to benefit?

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Athletic Budget Update #47

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm is considering an array of tax increases including taxes on athletic ticket sales.  The tax increase could mean up to $1.2 million in lost revenue for Michigan State if the athletic program decides to absorb the tax increase within current ticket prices, rather than passing the tax hike through to ticket purchasers.    

Wright State is considering additional options, beyond staff reductions that have already occurred, to close a $1 million budget gap - 10% of their entire budget.  

South Carolina State is considering eliminating teams and implementing roster management to close some significant budget gaps after enrollment at the University was over 500 students short of projections.

Brown University was unable to fill two vacant staff positions in marketing and game management and has cut back on travel in response to their budget shortfalls.

Bemidji State's men's track team will be spared for the coming season after fund raising targets to support the team were attained. 

In the midst of significant budget cuts, the Associated Press has written an interesting story about institutions that are adding sports teams in order to improve their institutional budget.  The primarily Division II and III institutions use the teams to increase student enrollment and receive the benefit of tuition dollars that more than cover the cost of sponsoring the team.

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