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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