Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Athletic recruiting: Have we reached the lowest common denominator?

Recruiting is the lifeblood of any college athletic program. Coaching careers are made or broken, in large part, on the ability to attract better talent than the competition. Its importance cannot be overstated. But it is a cut-throat, relentless and competitive business with three unfortunate trends emerging: 1) earlier commitments between prospects and schools; 2) increased influence by AAU type organizations that operate primarily for financial gain; and 3) NCAA violation cost/benefit analyses - weighing the sanction for a NCAA violation against the possible advantage gained.

Recently some coaches spoke about these trends in a number of different contexts, and their observations are notable.

Earlier "commitments" between prospects and coaches - Many coaches are playing on the fears and inexperience of high school prospects in an effort to secure an early commitment, regardless of what's best for the prospect. The rush to identify and secure the best talent has many coaches manufacturing artificial deadlines - forcing a prospect to "commit" to the institution at the risk of losing the opportunity on the table.

Many commitments are made before it is permissible under NCAA rules for the coach to call the prospect on the phone or pay for the prospect to visit campus. For a limited number of prospects, they've done their research about institutions and programs and are mature enough to make a decision. But most prospects are not nearly so prepared. Their knowledge about the meaning of a college education and the information necessary to make informed decisions is correlated with age. The younger they are, the less they know.

"Recruiting has gotten to the point where its out of hand....I mean were getting a commitment from a 13 year old? Come on. What are we doing? If the NCAA really wants to practice what it preaches with all this academic stuff, why do they let people offer scholarships to kids before you have all the information to know where they are academically after their junior year? ..... Its just disheartening to see what we are doing to 15- 16- and 17-year old people.....What we are teaching our kids is that our word doesn't mean anything. A kid commits, and decommits and and people go back at them and you say 'Well that's the way it is'. What kind of values are we teaching young people?"

Edsall goes on to say that if the NCAA was serious about its commitment to academics, it would legislate how early a prospect can be offered a scholarship.

The AAU Money Trail - Meanwhile, economic concerns and ethics are converging around men's basketball, AAU teams and summer recruiting events. At issue are the fees that AAU coaches and summer camp organizers charge college coaches for rosters with player names and numbers so that they know who they are watching. A New York Times article details that coaches are being charged hundreds of dollars for the rosters (some organizers provide the option to waive the roster fee if they sign up for a more expensive year-long "recruiting service"). Cash is often the only method of payment. Yale coach James Jones calls the practice "extortion". Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings was more expansive, stating:

“There’s a mentality where coaches want to cover themselves and not get out there and say what’s right and call out the people that are wrong. That’s precisely why things are the way they are. That’s why we have culture issues in our game. It’s a darn shame. The people who could have influence and do have a voice, they choose not to use it because it doesn’t help them. They don’t want anything unsettling their smooth little boat ride.”

Stallings also stated in the article that college coaches directly supporting a summer basketball program in which prospects are playing is, “by definition,” a violation of N.C.A.A. rules. “If I’m knowingly giving you money, I’m not allowed to do that,” Stallings said. “It’s really an indirect funneling of money to summer programs, which again is not what the institutions should be doing.”

Similarly, the NCAA issued a ruling that stated coaches could be committing a violation if they paid to attend a banquet sponsored by "Grassroots Basketball of America", an organization that sponsors more than 30 AAU summer teams. Tickets for the dinner were nearly $200 each and an NCAA memo hours prior to the event resulted in numerous last minute cancellations at the fundraising dinner in which Sonny Vaccaro was the honored guest. The solution by Grassroots to the last minute cancellations was to increase their fees for the roster cards.

NCAA Violation cost/benefit analysis - Sometimes decisions are best explained with a response that in effect says, "the ends justify the means". Perhaps the best example that I can find is contained in statements in the New York Times by Tennessee football coach Lane Kifflin when speaking about his recent series of well documented recruiting statements and corresponding violations:

“We’re creating interest, and it’s shown,” Kiffin said. “I’ve not loved everything I’ve had to do, but it needed to be done, in my opinion, to be able to put us where we are today.”

Kiffin's comment's reflect in essence a cost/benefit analysis - The benefits of his approach (including a commitment from the best running back in the country) were worth the cost of a few secondary violations and incendiary comments directed at rival schools.

Going back to The Sporting News interview with Connecticut's Randy Edsall - he later made the following comments (which were not directed at Kiffin per se and were made prior to Kiffin's explanation): "The NCAA isn't as stringent as it used to be. Take a look at some of the schools committing secondary violations. Some schools are saying, we're going to commit these secondary violations because they don't hurt us, and they get us publicity, and get us out there with the kids."

In an age of spin doctoring and sterile sound bites, genuine statements such as those by Stallings, Jones and Kiffin are unusual, but welcome, if for no other reason than they hopefully prompt meaningful dialogue about important ethical issues. Finding a common denominator about the appropriate standards associated with recruiting will be difficult. But hopefully, despite evidence to the contrary in the three areas cited above, the standard won't be the lowest common denominator.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Athletic budget cut update #40

Here is the latest athletic budget news from around the country:

Southern Mississippi athletics is losing $100,000 in state funding from its budget. In addition, they will face a reduction of 10-12% in their operating budget as new facilities become operational and the cost to run them is added into an essentially flat budget. Part of the solution will be to leave vacant positions unfilled. Other decisions include mandating that all non-revenue producing teams travel by bus unless they can fund raise the money for airfare, and reducing the number of printed media guides until national legislation passes that eliminates their use.

Auburn is reducing its athletic spending by scheduling contests closer to home, using bus travel for contests that are five hours or less from campus, and limiting professional travel.

Western Washington's decision to cut football received in depth coverage this week by

An in depth article about Louisiana Monroe Athletic Director Bobby Staub's budget saving approach mentions that they will be eliminating media guides in the coming season by putting all of the information on-line and also using bus travel for any trips that are less than 500 miles.

Also on the media guide front, the US Basketball Writers Association and Football Writers Association is working with the Southeastern Conference to preserve media guides in both of their sports, but don't want the materials to be used for recruiting. TigerBlog, the official blog of Princeton Athletics, took a decidedly different point of view on the issue of having media guides available for any purpose at all.

ESPN is taking aim at hometown sports coverage with the announcement that it will now begin offering "hyperlocal" sports coverage.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Centenary dropping from Division I to Division III

The poor economic situation facing many athletic departments has claimed Louisiana based Centenary College, which announced that it is going to leave the Summit Conference and Division I athletics to compete at the Division III level. Additional information about the decision and reaction can be found here.

In depth information about the budget cuts throughout college athletics can be found on

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The three beer meeting

A New York Times article recently outlined some compelling data about the dangers of distracted driving. Talking on a cell phone, even while using a hands free device, is equivalent to driving with a .08 blood alcohol content, legally drunk in most states.

Text messaging is far worse. Drivers regularly look away from the road for more than 5 consecutive seconds while sending or receiving text messages and just dialing a phone makes the possibility of an accident three times more likely. Trying to multitask is putting ourselves and others at risk.

But the intention of this article isn't to discuss safety. The issue of multitasking and limited engagement is likely affecting your athletic environment as well with staffers using PDA's to text message and check email during meetings, athletic contests, conference sessions, etc. Just look around you next time you are out of your immediate office - it's a regular occurrence.

We have incredibly short attention spans. Crackberries, the popular term for our addictive Blackberry's and iPhones, are everywhere. Consider the comments about the habit forming nature of the devices in the Times article:

"John Ratey, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard University and a
specialist on the science of attention, explained that when people use digital
devices, they get a quick burst of adrenaline, 'a dopamine squirt.' Without it,
people grow bored with simpler activities like driving. Mr. Ratey said the
modern brain is being rewired to crave stimulation, a condition he calls
acquired attention deficit disorder. 'We need that constant pizzazz, the
reward, the intensity,' he said. "

Mundane activities are all around us - meetings, especially poorly prepared or unnecessary ones; a conference call that lasts too long or strays off point; or just walking between daily appointments. These situations require social engagement with others. And yet in all of these situations you regularly see people texting and checking email via their blackberry ( is no exception).

There is a cost for this type incessant stimulation, not in an immediate manner with tragic consequences like a car accident, but in subtle, long-term ways - reduced engagement with others, wasted time, missed details, unnecessary errors and the subtle message to colleagues that says "I'm too busy for you". As the seeming social acceptability of texting, Twittering and checking email in meetings and other public settings increases, it seems worth considering that this type of multitasking may be lowering productivity to a point where it seems like we've had three beers.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The batting stance guy - Gar Ryness

If you like baseball and haven't seen him - The Batting Stance Guy is worth a view. He recently appeared on Late Show with Dave Letterman demonstrating his ability to imitate hundreds of current and former major league players' batting stances.

The 36 year-old started imitating players during a whiffle-ball game that was videotaped and it made its way to, growing quickly in popularity. He has his own website, and is signed with Fox Sports to appear on all of their affiliate stations between now and the end of the baseball season.

So, other than a good laugh, why is the batting stance guy on Because his imitations provide some food for thought:

1) There is value in scouting your opponents and imitating their best attributes.
2) Emphasizing (or over emphasizing) the subtle nuances of your competition can provide you with an advantage.
3) It may seem obvious, but there is incredible power through the Internet to create an instant sensation and quickly determine what people want to see and what they don't.

Twenty years ago, the batting stance guy probably doesn't even exist. Today, the power of Internet based video can spread a message more quickly and effectively than most written pieces.

So what's your department's "stance"? Fun? Quirky? Forward thinking? Contentious? Mundane? Progressive?

A creative Internet presence with constantly updated content can expand your base of supporters, whether they are ticket buyers, prospective student athletes or donors.

A bad "stance", and you're a moment away from being a parody.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Athletic budget cut update #39

The summer heat and absence of collegiate competition brings no relief in the athletic budget news. Here's the latest:

Princeton announced it will no longer create or print media guides and will instead use its website for distribution of all information that was previously contained in the guides. is running a week-long series of articles about the budget cuts that are occurring across the college athletic landscape.

All state funding for athletics will be eliminated at New Orleans, leaving the program searching for ways to close the gap, including the possibility of having "virtual swim meets" in which the school's team would swim in their own pool while comparing times against a team swimming in another pool.

UTEP is facing a $800,000 cut to its $20 million budget and will be eliminating media guides, and eliminating four positions.

Southern Louisiana is facing a $750,000 budget cut due to lost state funding.

New Mexico State has reduced its budget by $1.5 million and will eliminate 8 staff positions.

Oregon's budget will be increasing by nearly $11 million to $65 million, however nearly all of the increase is due to debt service on athletic construction projects and is likely going to lead to cuts in other areas.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Andrew Oliver case update: NCAA avoids contempt of court

Last week, the NCAA received a favorable decision in the the Andrew Oliver Lawsuit. After a review of NCAA memoranda, Judge Tygh Tone ruled that Andrew Oliver's allegation the NCAA had engaged in contemptuous behavior through its communications with member schools and student athletes lacked probable cause. Judge Tone provided no comment or rationale for his decision.

Oliver's attorney Rick Johnson has filed a motion asking for clarification from the court since the decision without comment brings the enforceability of NCAA Bylaw , which had previously been declared void by the court, back into question.

Absent a clarification or perhaps a settlement, it appears that the case will have little movement until the middle of October when both parties appear in court for a full jury trial.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Athletic budget cut update #38

Washington State will reduce media guides, evaluate all travel squad sizes, require bus transportation for trips less than 400 miles, reduce professional as well as international recruiting travel, discontinue some internships and leave some vacant positions unfilled in order to close a $350,000 budget gap.

University of Wisconsin-Superior is suspending their women's golf team for two years until the athletic program's budget situation improves.

Florida and Florida State's marching bands will both reduce the number of away football games they attend due to non-athletic budget reductions.

ESPNU has an in-depth blog article about the cuts that were just made at Texas A&M, providing specific details about some of the individuals who lost their jobs, describing the debt issues that have contributed to the budget situation and commentary about a pay increase for the athletic director.

South Florida is trimming their budget to $32.3 million by eliminating printed media guides, reducing team travel and dropping administrative expenses by 20%.

The Arizona Daily Star has an interesting article about Arizona Athletic Director Jim Livengood and the challenges he faces to balance the budget every year. posted an article reviewing many of the recent athletic budget cuts with an notation.

Inside Higher Education has a very interesting article that examines some of the hidden costs that are eating away at athletic budgets, especially at the small college level. Some Division III institutions are questioning playing rule changes in football and basketball that cost thousands of dollars to implement and will force the schools to choose between the possibility of hosting NCAA championship events or funding other aspects of their athletic department or campus operations.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Diversifying donor bases - A review of the research

During the development of, I found that there is a body of scholarly research created by faculty from business schools, sports management programs and schools of education around the country that could be valuable in the day-to-day decision making of athletic administrators. In order to provide additional beneficial information to readers, will now occasionally develop quick summaries of scholarly research to complement the "issue focused" material primarily featured on the blog.

Tony Weaver, Assistant Professor of Leisure and Sport Management at Elon University has agreed to occasionally provide these 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. Below is his first entry, examining fund raising and development research. I hope you find this added feature helpful.

Diversifying Donor Bases

Over 50 entries on have discussed the financial insecurity of Division I athletics. Understandably, most athletic departments have responded to the economy by cutting expenses, which appears to be a long overdue solution. However, administrators should also reexamine past strategies for revenue generation. One area that will become important to the financial stability of many Division I programs will be the development of relationships with constituents, most notably the athletic donors.

In order to remain stable during tough economic times, or even perhaps see slight increases in giving, athletic department administrators should spend sufficient time prospecting and cultivating potential donors, rather than relying on the usual contributors and the traditional methods of fundraising (Lee, 2004; McClure, 2008; Tsiotsou, 2006). Research has indicated that despite the importance fund raisers place on prospect research, the prevailing approaches to identification and cultivation has often been disorganized (Brittingham & Pezzullo, 1990). Staurowsky (1996) observed that athletic fund raisers have a tendency to use trial and error methods of identifying potential donors. Further, Lee (2004) points out that fund raisers at times completely miss opportunities to diversify the potential donor base.

In a recent article, development personnel are encouraged to rely on constituent relationship management, or getting to know your donor (McClure, 2008). One segment that historically has flown under the “development radar” has been female donors. Research examining female donors to Division I athletic programs suggest that the female donor population has continually increased and should be given proper attention (Staurowsky, 1996; Tsiotsou, 2006). Also keep in mind that we are now beginning to see a generation of women that grew up participating in sport. This group is now becoming financially independent and able and perhaps willing to make generous gifts back to their institution’s athletic programs (Robinson, 1998).
In closing, McClure (2008) reminds us that fundraising is about relationships and if built properly, can historically withstand recessions. Rather than taking a negative approach to the economy and the potential financial downturn of an athletic fund, athletic administrators should spend significant time on cultivating new donors and revisiting forgotten friends.

Quick Quotes:
In hard economic times…
“Recessions sometimes help institutions make the case for why a donation is needed. “I think in hard economic times, generous people dig deeper,” says Marlene Shaver, chief financial officer of the UC San Diego Foundation. Their recent campaign started shortly before 9/11, but the board decided to carry on and not succumb to the negative environment.” (McClure, 2008, p. 53)

The more things change, the more they stay the same…
“ As intercollegiate athletic departments search for ways to relieve financial pressures brought on by a poor economy, escalating expenses (Fulks, 1994), and the projected costs associated with gender equity (Phillips, 1992), it behooves athletic fund raising professionals to develop a greater understanding of the relationship between athletic donor behavior and gender.” (Staurowsky, 1996, p. 402)

Brittingham, B.E., & Pezzullo, T.R. (1990). The campus green: Fund raising in higher education. (ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1). Washington, DC: George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development.

Lee, C. (2004). The case for diversifying. Beyond the usual suspects. New Directions for Philanthropic Fundraising, 44. 57-72.

McClure, A. (2008). Advancement goes digital. University Business, 11(7), 51-53.

Robinson, M. (1998). An untapped market. Athletic Management, 10(2), 34-37.

Staurowsky E. (1996). Women and athletic fund raising: Exploring the relationship between gender and giving. Journal of Sport Management, 10. 401–416.

Tsiotsou, R. (2006) Investigating differences between female and male athletic donors: A comparative study. International Journal of Nonprofit & Voluntary Sector Marketing, 11(3). 209-223.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Athletic budget cut update #37 - Texas A & M lays off 17 staff members

Texas A & M has eliminated 17 staff positions, saving $1 million, including two staff members who had a combined for over 70 years of service to the University. The cuts followed $3.5 million worth of other reductions that were necessitated by the declining budget environment. As a point of reference, the Aggies' revenue for 2007-08 was nearly $75 million, according to EADA documents.

The North Carolina Legislature continues to eye possible changes to the provision that currently allows out-of-state students to be charged an in-state tuition rate if they are receiving an athletic grant-in-aid. If the provision is eliminated, the state's Division I athletic programs could face a significant budgetary impact since they would now be responsible for greater tuition costs for non-resident athletes.

Tennessee Chattanooga is eliminating nearly $250,000 from its athletic budget by moving marketing staff to other parts of the University and making other marketing cuts. The cuts will directly impact Athletic Director Rick Hart, who will not replace his executive assistant after her retirement in December.

The Division III Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) is cutting $250,000 from its budget by moving game times later in order to eliminate overnight travel before contests and by reducing the number of teams that participate in post season contests from 8 to 6.

Nevada Reno's ski team will need to have all of its operational costs funded by donors (other than grants in aid and coaching salaries) due to state budget cuts.

NCAA Division II is considering reductions in the number of permissible contests across eight sports including baseball and softball, soccer, field hockey, volleyball and golf.