Monday, August 13, 2018

Unintended consequences of NCAA transfer rule changes

The NCAA recently implemented changes to student athlete transfer rules.  They are well-intended and promote fairness to student athletes seeking different opportunities while balancing these expanded opportunities with institutional needs.  But like all rule changes, unintended consequences and creative ways to use the rules to an institution's advantage will immediately emerge.  Here are a few potential outcomes to these rule changes:

1) Increased transfers - In an environment that already has significant student athlete movement, allowing students to move without restriction will make transferring more prevalent.  Coaching staffs around the country will watch the "free agent list" for their sport to see who has become available and aggressively recruit those individuals.

2) "Tampering" will occur - Any coach will tell you, when a student athlete asks for permission to talk to other schools about transferring, in most cases they're already gone.  "Permission" is just a formality and in some cases contributes to the restrictions coaches have attempted to place on where an athlete transfers.

Under the new system, although a student athlete has to merely inform their current institution they may leave, the risk of losing their athletic aid provides significant incentive for the athlete to do their research before declaring their intent to transfer.

Tampering (influencing someone to transfer to another institution without the student having informed their current institution) will be a level-two NCAA violation, but this will be a limited deterrent because recruiting relationships are essential to providing a steady flow of talented student athletes.  AAU coaches, advisers, quasi-agents and others will continue to have a full understanding of the marketplace for student athletes with whom they are close.  And coaches will certainly have the same understanding of that marketplace and close relationships with those same individuals.  Winks, nods, and "hypothetical" conversations will continue to occur despite the threat of a level-two violation because tampering is exceedingly hard to prove and coaches generally don't turn in their peers, preferring to avoid someone doing the same to them.

Just as it currently is, player movement will continue to be negotiated on the front end in many cases.

3) Faster coaching searches and contract changes - The speed required to make a coaching hire will add pressure to coaching searches. Trying to maintain a roster with no coach in place will be more difficult than ever with student athletes merely having to declare their desire to move once a head coach vacancy is announced.

The speed necessary to fill a coaching vacancy will increase the need for on-going relationships with search firms and agents in advance of an anticipated vacancy where a coach is being let go or may move to a higher profile program.

AD's will have even greater incentive to move quickly in coaching searches because transfers put the NCAA's academic-based revenue distributions at risk.

Internal succession of an assistant coach to head coach could also become more likely with familiarity, connections, name recognition and pedigree facilitating decisions - making the advancement of diverse and female candidates more difficult if they are not tied into these networks.

The primary reason for many athletes choosing a school is a relationship with the head coach or a key assistant. These relationships will take on even greater importance and departing coaches will recruit directly from the roster of their former institution since the athlete's institutional choice cannot be restricted.

I expect to see a new standard contract clause stipulating a coach will not allow a student athlete from their prior institution on the roster of their new institution - a similar concept to buyout clauses requiring a home-and-home series between a coach's former and new schools.  
4) Students and coaches will have greater incentive to maximize value and make the market more efficient - Recruiting is an inexact science.  Finding the individual who fits in your system, identifying late bloomers, eliminating recruiting misses and maximizing ability to win will encourage both coaches and athletes to take advantage of the new rules.

Student athletes will have greater incentive to test their value in the marketplace, just as we have seen with graduate transfer rules.  Student athletes have three primary goals when transferring - maximize the value of their scholarship; play more because they're underutilized in their current environment; or play at a higher level to perform against better competition and enhance future professional opportunities.

Coaches will have incentives to encourage transfers as well.  They will seek transfers who can enhance their team's chance to win by actively seeking students who aspire to play more or compete at a higher level.   And student athletes who haven't developed in the manner anticipated by a coach will be "encouraged" to look elsewhere.  Coaches will now have additional incentive to have direct conversations with a student athlete about their ability to play in a program since a coach can immediately recover a scholarship once the student athlete is placed on the transfer list - regardless of whether they actually find a new school.

Coaches will also communicate with their peers who are indirect competitors at lower tier schools to find landing spots for student athletes who need a fresh start.

There are clearly benefits to student athletes in the new transfer rules.  Similarly, coaches will utilize the transfer rules to their advantage while administrators attempt to minimize the negative effects of these same changes through contractual clauses and rapid coaching transitions that utilize search firms and agents to facilitate hiring. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Bench pressing with the king of analogies

This morning as I had breakfast with my son Nathan, I was reminded how words and actions can be influential.  Nathan calls me the "King of Analogies".  I love using them to better explain myself and provide helpful examples.

Nathan shared with me an analogy about weight lifting - specifically, bench pressing.

The child is the weight lifter and the weights are "the weight of the world."  Considering some of the things going on around us right now, I'm sure to a teenager it feels that way.  I know it does as an adult.

The parent is the spotter.  Do too much work as a spotter and the child doesn't get stronger.  Don't provide assistance at the right time and the weight lifter gets crushed.

Pretty good analogy, right?  Nathan was fired up for developing it, and I was fired up that he embraced the power of the analogy.

As a coach, leader or parent - what's your approach?  Are the the people you have responsibility for getting crushed?  Are you doing too much "spotting" - in effect micromanaging and helicoptering?  Or are you providing security and encouragement, helping only when necessary?

Your approach as a spotter matters.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

If you want to stop the ride, you need a three-legged stool

2017 had many of us in athletics feeling like we were on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride - and that the operator couldn't turn it off.  The coaching carousel has never spun faster, with coaches losing their positions after short tenures and unmet (perhaps unattainable) expectations.  Public measures of success such as fan satisfaction and wins or losses can mask more complex situations and stories lived by those most effected - the student athletes themselves.  

Receiving student athlete feedback, asking the right questions, developing actionable and chronological data, and implementing coaching and mentoring before it's too late are not only desirable but appropriate first steps for all involved - student athletes, administrators and coaches.

The trouble is many athletic administrators don't have these measures available to support a coach on the hot seat, to respond to an anxious booster or president to explain patience may be prudent or to put a plan in place to redirect an off-course program.  This doesn't have to be the case, as the following real life example demonstrates.

Last year an athletic director colleague did their post-season coaching evaluations and found that one of their head coaches was at risk of losing the locker room.  Their team reported numerous examples of behavior by the head coach that were not in alignment with the department-wide culture, and it was coupled with a dismal team record and a poor student athlete experience.

In addition to qualitative data mined from student survey questions, anecdotal comments that were repeatedly shared by student athletes last year included:

"Speaks to players and assistant coach in a rude and harsh manner. Not professional."

"Doesn't respect the players of our own team."

"Does not discipline those who go against team rules. Rarely addresses issues or team conflicts."

"Very knowledgeable about the game but a terrible coach who is immature and inappropriate."

""Forgot" to provide the team breakfast multiple times before away trips."

The athletic director faced a choice - do nothing (which was not an option), make a coaching change, or dig into the issues and develop a plan for improvement.

The athletic director utilized the data collected using Athlete Viewpoint and presented it to the coach to develop specific, actionable feedback.  They met regularly and put an action plan in place to help the coach grow professionally and personally.  As the 2017 season began, the AD had regular check-in's to make sure that new, positive habits weren't crumbling under the pressure of being "in-season".

After the season, the data came in from their student-athlete surveys.  The athletic director had data from both last year and this year to compare and see if progress had been made.

In addition to dramatically different evaluations and ratings from the student athletes, their comments told an incredible turn-around story:

"Last year we were all brutally honest with the coaching evaluation, so this year I think credit should be given where it is due.  Our coach really stepped it up this year and I personally think we had a phenomenal season as a team on and off the field."

"Our coach improved greatly and she has the ability to be a really great coach."

"Our coach completely destroyed my expectations for this season.  Her readiness to help us in any way that she could and her overall coaching abilities were outstanding. When she gets more experience she will be an amazing coach with a record of wins and championships."

This coaching success story was possible because 3 critical factors existed for this AD and supported a positive outcome:
  1. Actionable Data - Their department's use of a student-athlete survey instrument that was professionally built to collect meaningful data provided a compelling case that change needed to occur with specific, comparative examples to other programs of strengths and weaknesses.   
  2. Leadership - An athletic administrator who was willing to look for the causes behind the losses and negative reviews and decide there was a possibility of improvement while personally investing time in mentoring the coach.
  3. Introspection - The coach was open to hearing direct feedback from their team, didn't become defensive, looked in the mirror and decided their career was important enough to them to do the work required to improve.  
It was rewarding for both the coach and the AD to see their efforts achieve the desired results.  And this year's data will yield a new plan for the trajectory of improvement to continue.

Like all three-legged stools, if any one leg is missing, then it will tip over.  It's great if you are willing to give your coaches feedback - but what is it based on - gut reaction, experience, anecdote?  If your coach is naturally introspective, you've got a chance to intervene, but what if they aren't?  Can you visually show a problem exists and provide actionable feedback.

Having real data and analytics should be incorporated into all areas of your athletic program to
enhance performance, mentor, lead, and support decision making.

If you would like to maximize performance in your department and stop the wild ride, I encourage you to support with your data collection initiatives by joining the growing list of campus partners who are using Athlete Viewpoint.

Athlete Viewpoint will be at the NCAA Convention.  Shoot us an email if you would like to meet.  

Athlete Viewpoint is a customized tool designed by industry experts to alleviate the time and labor your staff spend on this valuable process.  Let us do all the work gathering feedback, so you can spend your over-stretched minutes improving the student-athlete experience and making data-driven decisions in a strategic and thoughtful manner.

Watch a brief video and schedule a demo of Athlete Viewpoint at