Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Student athlete time demands: Part 1 - The current model

The 2016 NCAA Convention saw the tabling of three proposals intended to reduce student athlete time demands - no longer considering a travel day as a day off, banning practice between 9 pm and 6 am and requiring at least two weeks off following the conclusion of an athlete's season.

The always popular call for "further study" and views that the proposals may not have been effective in addressing the issue both contributed to the failure to address what everyone acknowledges - that athletes are spending more time than ever on their sports.  The proposals that were tabled dealt more with symptoms rather than the root causes of expanded time demands - increased out of season practice, earlier start dates, exempt tournaments, more games and a host of other athletic opportunities.  While some critics would propose abandoning the system, this clearly isn't going to happen.  But change does need to occur.

The media, coaches, student athletes themselves, presidents and athletic administrators widely recognize the enterprise needs change, with near universal advocacy for improved "student athlete welfare."  Recent solutions - multiple year scholarships, cost of attendance stipends, essentially unlimited food with fueling stations and extensive training table areas, insurance coverage against loss of future professional value due to injury, travel for family to championships and other meaningful changes - moved college athletics closer than ever to a professional model through increasing amounts and types of compensation.  These changes were relatively easy to accomplish because they could be solved by spending more money to address social and legal pressures.  In short, they made good business sense.

But in business, just as in your own life, you can always make more money, but you can't make more time.  We each get the same 24 hours in a day and it's a zero sum game, despite what furious multi-taskers would tell you.  This is why the truly heavy lifting of changing student athlete welfare has arrived.

The "student" side of student-athlete does not align with the reward and compensation structure for coaches and administrators which rests on winning and athletic success.  Good educational metrics (GPA, graduation rates, APR scores, community service, student athlete behavior and welfare) are necessary but insufficient criteria for retaining your position or advancing to another more lucrative one.  Television revenues, ticket sales and donations which all come from winning and a great on-field/court "product" cannot buy more time for a student athlete and in fact dictates they maximize their time on athletics.  But the maximum isn't always optimum.    

Providing additional compensation as the first step towards improved student athlete welfare wasn't hard.  Those changes brought a brief respite from critics.  Now, student athletes want more control of their future, their lives, their day and their schedules.  Giving them the freedom to enhance their total college experience will be difficult in the face of a compensation structure that doesn't reward freedom.

The first step towards change is presidents exercising their leadership responsibility and mandating change.

Much has been made about the concept of "presidential control" in the NCAA.  Yet, conference realignment, NCAA governance restructuring and huge television contracts had active presidential involvement.  The massive structural changes we have seen under their "control" has directly contributed to the current state of student athlete time commitments. Conference realignment and television agreements were obviously going to have undesirable but thoroughly predictable consequences.  Without getting dragged into the weeds of policy making, presidents need to mandate that the amount of time budgeted for athletics be reduced (not just at the margins) with the negative time commitments that came with conference realignment and television pushed back into educational alignment. The exercise and expectation really isn't much different than the decisions they make regarding financial budgets.

Meaningful solutions to reduce student athlete time demands do exist and improving opportunities for educational experiences that look different from today can be achieved.  Reducing time demands for student athletes can either nibble at the edges with proposals similar to what was tabled at this year's NCAA Convention or address the root causes of the situation. The upcoming segments in this series will examine various proposals to help student athletes can regain control of their time while maintaining high level Division I athletic programs.

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