Sunday, December 28, 2008

New Year's Resolutions to Improve College Athletics

With the new year upon us and significant questions about what 2009 might hold for the country economically, here are nine potential New Year's resolutions for 2009 that athletic administrators might consider - most of which cost nothing:

  • Embrace Technology - Young administrators and coaches are leading the curve in new ways to enhance their departments. Branch out and find your niche. Subscribe to a blog, watch a video stream on your computer, start a Linked In or Facebook account. Streamline some of your internal processes. Its easy, and eye opening how fast our environment is changing.
  • Identify local service opportunities - Athletes, coaches and administrators have countless opportunities to make a difference in their local community in difficult economic times. Leadership is needed now and athletes are natural leaders who can help those in need of assistance. Make a commitment to perform the service project on an on-going basis.
  • Help those in need attend your games - Work with local groups - cub scouts, women's shelters, girl scouts, local unions, boys and girls clubs, any underprivileged group - to identify opportunities for members of charitable groups or those affected by the economy to attend a home game.
  • Talk about academics more in recruiting - The pressure to win is intense and talent is important. But a recent Chronicle of Higher Education survey indicated that 10% of prospects never talked about academics during their official visit and 73% said they never visited with a professor or visited a class during their visit. Remember, its still STUDENT-athlete.
  • Look beyond football and basketball - There are hundreds of great stories and people beyond the bright lights of the revenue sports. Support them.
  • Thank your support staff - Athletes and coaches get the attention, but there are many people making their success possible. Equipment staff, grounds crew, business office, athletic medicine, strength staff, ticket office and many others all take great pride in their work. They don't do it for attention. Small ways of showing appreciation go a long way in boosting department morale.
  • Be green - What can you do to reduce your carbon footprint? Shrink your media guide. Produce a smaller game program. Play a local program you've avoided playing so that your travel distance is less. Recycle at your venues. Most of these are easy and can even save money.
  • Reemphasize sportsmanship - Work to emphasize the value of positive support for your teams. Make sure your athletes respect your guests. Educate your fans about the same expectation. Everyone wants an intense home environment, but it should avoid being annoying and definitely shouldn't be offensive. Athletics can provide a great environment in which to provide examples of how we can be a more civil society, but the opportunities have to be cultivated. Let's change the tone.
  • Learn how the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) works - Every sport uses a version of it; it is one of the single biggest influences in post season selection; and it significantly impacts regular season non-conference scheduling; yet it is barely understood by most people. If athletic leaders really understood how influential the RPI is, they'd spend a lot more time thinking about how to use it to their advantage and how to make it better than the current model.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Breaking News: West Coast Conference - Globalization, Media and College Basketball

West Coast Conference Commissioner Jamie Zaninovich announced a groundbreaking partnership with ESPN to broadcast a 23 game men's basketball package in Australia and New Zealand. For a conference that is fast establishing itself as a significant player in the men's basketball landscape on the heels of their recent NCAA success and new conference leadership, this is a visionary deal on many fronts. It leverages the WCC's conference geography with other strengths including current and future recruiting bases and Olympic exposure from St. Mary's College basketball star Patty Mills. Most important, previously untapped media markets that will be an area of growth for college sports, with significant early entry benefits for the WCC and its member schools, have just been established.

Many NCAA Division I conferences could benefit from pursing similar arrangements. Other west coast leagues such as the Pac-10 might also look to the Pacific Rim, the Big Ten and Big East can head north to Canada, (indeed the Mid American Conference has already established ties with Toronto and the International Bowl )and the Big XII, SEC and ACC have significant opportunities to look to the south in the Caribbean and Mexico as likely areas of growth. Further, with the explosion of easily accessible and ever improving Web capabilities for broadcasting, this partnership takes on added importance as the media landscape shifts. Even individual intuitions, in the west and especially in Hawaii could consider these fertile markets for exposing their brands with residual recruiting benefits.

While time will tell if this becomes a trend, this arrangement represents a significant opportunity for the non-BCS conferences to out maneuver some of the bigger conferences who are likely more focused on establishing their own cable channels and other domestic arrangements. While these are more readily understood and immediately beneficial legacy methods of distribution, the international area may be poised for the greatest growth of all as our world gets smaller and smaller through technology and internationalization with benefits to the most nimble and creative who understand our quickly changing world.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Building awareness, a ubiquitous opportunity

A recent article on entitled Eds, Meds and Urban Revival outlines the leading role that colleges and universities play as economic engines in cities across the nation. This role takes many forms - employer, business and government partner, and medical provider to name a few. But unlike the auto industry, steel plants, or nearly any other type of business, colleges and universities and their associated medical facilities have substantial budgets that are expended in the local community and have the important added benefit of being highly unlikely to relocate.

Further, unlike "regular" employers, colleges and universities can serve as a rallying point for the broader community through its athletic programs.

Organizations all over the country, especially non-profits, are continually focused on the ubiquitous concept of "building awareness" - for their cause, for their brand, and for attention in a crowded marketplace of ideas. Athletics is one of the most easily understood and identifiable awareness building entities available. Universities and colleges have unique opportunities not available to any other non-profit organization via their athletic program should they choose to pursue them. Using athletics as a vehicle to "build awareness" about an entire institution (as opposed to just itself) can pay increasing dividends to the sponsoring university and local community in these difficult economic times. And unlike a manufacturing job that is moved overseas or a professional sports team that leaves one city for another to obtain more favorable lease terms on a stadium or arena - a local college team isn't going anywhere.

While critics of college athletics sometimes lament the dollars that are "diverted" from academics to athletics, these dollars:
  • are a wise investment in employee and community morale,
  • can increase enthusiasm for partnerships between the university and government or other area businesses, and
  • can create a highly stable community building entity that most organizations would trade their 503(c) status to have available to help "build awareness".
- ultimate sports insider

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Would you like your lecture notes hot, medium or mild?

The Chronicle of Higher Education features a story in this week's edition about University of Montana history professor Kyle G. Volk who, after experiencing significant budget cuts at the University, decided to pursue a corporate sponsorship for his course on American Capitalism. His goal was to use the sponsorship to start a newsletter. The name of the sponsor - El Diablo Burrito & Taco. So was this a deal with the devil?

Considering the current state of the economy, increasing tuition costs, and the cuts that have been experienced at the University (including elimination of long distance phone calls and the inability to buy toner for copy machines), it seems that rather than curtailing this sponsorship, Professor Volk should get extra credit for providing budget relief to the University and a special note of recognition in his tenure file. Rather than complaining, or asking for a handout, he helped himself and his students improve their educational environment in way that posed no conflict of interest. While not every sponsorship would be appropriate in a classroom, his actions are quite consistent with what occurs in athletic venues, with University pouring rights, exclusive bookstore deals and with research that is sponsored by corporations on so many college campuses nationally.
-ultimate sports insider

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A vision realized

University at Buffalo alumni and fans who had been wondering when there might be a breakthrough for the athletic program (which joined NCAA Division I in 1991 and I-A, now FBS, in 1999) got the answer on Friday night as the Bulls posted a 42-24 victory over previously unbeaten Ball State in the Mid American Conference Championship game. Buffalo will now prepare to play in the International Bowl in Toronto, Ontario, less than a 2 hour drive from campus.

But the reasons the University made the decision to join Division I were on display in the first half well before the game was ever decided. UB received a tremendous amount of favorable publicity during the contest at a time when prospective students are making last minute decisions about where to apply for college. Mike Brey, Notre Dame's men's basketball coach whose son plays for Buffalo, participated in a lengthy interview during the first half in which he trumpeted Buffalo's outstanding academics. The interviewer joined in singing the University's praises citing its membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU) and its similarities to other great higher education institutions such as the University of Michigan.

During the game, ESPN also spent considerable time discussing the University's only other prior bowl bid, the 1958 Tangerine Bowl. It was a bowl bid that the team declined to accept because UB's two African American student athletes were not permitted to participate in the bowl. ESPN's Outside the Lines also did a piece about the 1958 team as well. It is a piece of Buffalo's history that is a point of pride for every alumnus and alumna.

While the story about the 1958 football team and the fact that Buffalo is a member of the AAU are not secrets, it is hard to put a price tag on the positive publicity the University received and will continue to receive in the next month related to the football program. Alumni esteem and institutional pride are strong and growing with each passing day. While credit for the current success is largely attributable to Athletic Director Warde Manuel and his leadership, the vision and decision by former President Steven Sample to return the University to NCAA
Division I during the late 1980's and early 1990's cannot be overlooked. While it has been a difficult journey and one that is far from over, Friday night was the first big dividend from an investment that many had previously questioned.
-ultimate sports insider