College athletics and integrity
Deborah Stroman has had an inside look at the world of college sports. And she doesn’t like what she sees.
She was a college athlete on the University of Virginia women’s basketball team in the 1980s and was an assistant coach for the UNC women’s team. She owned a sports consulting business and currently teaches sports entrepreneurship at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business.
Read the full story by Ted Vaden at www.newsobserver.com
The Illusion of College Football Signing Day: Counting the Real Cost of a Championship
For avid football fans across the country, the season never ends. Having just experienced in person the College Football Playoff National Championship game where Alabama hoisted another trophy, I am still in amazement of all the complexities and nail-biting interest for such an intriguing institution. Yes, I do refer to the sport of football as an institution and not just another American pastime. The college regular season ends during the jockeying for divisional and wildcard positions for the NFL. The beginning of the playoffs for the professional leagues occurs during the Bowl games for the colleges. And the Super Bowl build up just happens to coincide with prime-time college recruiting and signing! Still want more? Hold out a few weeks and then the college spring practice is upon us. Truly Americans have a love affair with boys and men wearing helmets and tight pants throwing, kicking, catching, and running with an oblong-shaped leather ball. With National Signing Day now becoming another “must-see” television event (i.e., ESPNU National Signing Day Special), social media trendsetter, and soon-to-be an additional sport holiday similar to the Super Bowl and March Madness, it is only appropriate that I share my reflections on what it really takes for big-time colleges to wear that championship crown.
Clemson University adopted the motto “All-In” for their run to the 2015 championship of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and last month’s title game in Arizona. I think this phrase embodies the essence of how nearly everyone – alumni, administrators, faculty, donors, staff, students, and local residents and businesses must be 100% supporters of the program to achieve the ultimate success. So what does this cooperation look like? The community must be knowledgeable about their team, and the college administration must be transparent about their commitment. The depth of this charge, loyalty, and allegiance must be clear to all. To that end, I believe there are only 30 or so programs out of the NCAA Division I 128 Football Bowl Subdivision universities that are truly capable of winning a title. And of course, these programs are all in the Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) where the money has a better chance to flow freely. The best teams all have outstanding coaches with technical competencies. And they all have very bright and athletic players with a great passion to play, learn, and compete. What makes the difference between national championship and good teams is not the technical teaching of the “X’s and O’s” but rather the total backing and collaboration from nearly everyone connected to the school. It’s “All-In” for the football program. Which colleges are willing to make the following commitments?
- Consistently and openly admit and enroll academic underprepared students who have the potential to be game-changers on the field? There are 85 scholarship athletes on a football team. It has been postulated that at least 20 players on championship teams require some form of remedial studies. Are administrators willing to construct a challenging educational pathway for them without comparing and expecting this very small cohort to mirror the same academic experience as the 4.0 GPA honors students? That is, why do universities focus on the rigor of the academic course load rather than the execution of an effective support system for students who comprise less than .1% of the student body?
- Create a culture whereby faculty and administrators ask fewer questions of athletics and let the athletic director and football coach run the show. Athletic departments appreciate an atmosphere of less scrutiny and micro-management from the high-salaried academic administrators. The academic side of campus should “trust and don’t verify.” With everyone embracing the goal to win the championship there should be minimal activities that present a conflict with the necessary tasks to make the championship a reality. Hire the right athletic administrators and let them do their job. History has taught us that there will be a few athletic-related embarrassments, and when they do occur they certainly won’t outweigh the glory and branding for the entire university when the rings and monies are distributed.
- Allocate more resources in facilities and equipment to keep up with the Joneses (aka Alabama). The “Show Me” mantra is now much more than a Missouri slogan but rather representative of the spirit of the top athletes seeking to offer their services to teams that want to win early, often and regularly. Everyone must submit to the whims of the 5-star athlete who is seeking NFL grade strength and conditioning apparatus, safety protocols, expensive gear, and brand name swag. Recruiting trips must include the best steaks, potatoes, and beverages, engaging professors, full campus tours, premium cars, happy and attractive faces, marble and cherry wood offices, and sunny days. The athletic trainers, doctors, and nutritionists need to say just the right thing, so pre-visit homework is essential to be in synch with their colleagues. Local businesses need to spruce up their stores and talk about how they love promoting and helping out former players. In summary, lots of campus and community members need to turn their heads and plug their ears during these critical visits or get on board in a big way. Fence straddling is not permitted.
- Convince the local media that it makes sense to be an athletics ally and not an adversary. Championship teams enjoy collaborating with radio, television, and social media friends from their hometown. These reporters often bend the rules of journalistic impartiality to promote and bring attention to all the benefits of the spoils of a winning program. Johnny “The Jerk” linebacker doesn’t become a front-page story after committing a stupid antic or alleged criminal activity. When something “smells fishy” in the program, the story is buried or never gets written. Are questions asked? Absolutely. The difference with winning teams though is that there is a lot of deliberation by the oh-so-friendly media on the pros and cons of covering in great detail an unfortunate incident. They remember that the athletes are only 17-22 year olds, and the negative attention could affect recruiting, donor support, or the reputation of the team for years. When the media is considered part of the program and also desire a championship, it’s just not worth it. There are too many other great positive stories to share than to concentrate on than what is not going so well. Haters turn in your credentials.
- Pump massive dollars into any, and all, entities that market the team. The band, cheerleaders, pep team, and dance squad all need to look and be the best. The campus should be clean and tidy. Flowers that bloom all year round should be the priority of the landscaping crew. The television camera now becomes the university’s best friend. Encourage media to attend events that showcase the players and community support. In fact, the college’s innovation team should look into other opportunities to brainwash – I mean engage — the student body into redesigning their life around football season. How about the creation of a spoken word, drum line, hip-hop or even line or country dancing football-support organization? Offer live or video competitions to foster school spirit. Take advantage of how ESPN’s GameDay has become another addictive drug for college sports fans. Get the entire campus focused each season to recruit their presence. In order to rank for consideration of a visit from this band of engaging celebrity broadcasters, the football team needs to have tradition, must be very good, and the fans need to be even better. How bad do you want it?
So National Signing Day is over and teams are raving about their big recruitment wins. I hope all the attention and limelight shone on this wonderful moment for these young men does not create a false impression that the bulk of the work is complete. Securing commitment from top athletes is important but it pales in comparison to building the support necessary for those same players to be embraced in their duty to work hard and smart as teammates and leaders. Each new season brings about hope and excitement to challenge for the national championship. Only those communities that come together to fully support the demanding championship goal established by the college and the team really has a chance to win it all though. All the other activities are simply noise and distractions that provide a feel-good escapism for fans. And strangely, regardless of the particularly exorbitant cost of football for most universities, that effort in itself is simply enough.
A Courageous Choice: Football or Freedom?
Considering the recent history of false accusations and media redundancy over the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s academic-athletic cloud, the skies are certainly bright and clear in Chapel Hill today. Coach Larry Fedora’s 8-1 football team is laser-sharp focused as they now have control of their destiny to win the ACC Coastal Championship. However, their athletic brethren at the University of Missouri chose to fight for another championship – one that is not won on the gridiron but rather in the hearts and minds of their community.
America’s core values center around the freedom for individuals to live in peace and harmony in this great nation. Our democracy encourages participation in the political process to ensure representation of and listening to diverse interests. Our policy makers seek to protect the greater good and defend us from our enemies. But what if our enemy is ourselves? It is much easier to arm and defend ourselves from racists who don’t think, dress or act like us. But trying to bring attention to those who sit in our classroom and student union, walk our campus quad, instruct and advise students, formulate policies and procedures, and even negotiate at the state capitol on the behalf of the university system who all the while choose not to better understand and examine the hurt and pain inflicted on minority students is another matter. How does one find the voice to stand up and say “Never Again!”?
The courageous young Black men on the Missouri football team decided to activate their democratic right. Their decision to publicly and collectively be social activists willing to unite and defend their freedom to live in a community without racist behaviors is highly commendable. No resignation of Tim Wolfe, the University of Missouri president, would equal no game play on Saturday. The football players risked the backlash from rabid sports fans who only view them as athletes and not students in tune with campus life; an opportunity to miss out on competition that could possibly assist in their skill level and showcase to NFL professional scouts; and the general loss of athletic privilege that comes with the valuable scholarship. Wolfe stated in his awkward resignation words, “This is not the way change comes about.” Indeed it does, Mr. Wolfe. In matters of power and privilege change is never soft and fuzzy.
This bold commitment by the football players was made all in the effort to align themselves with their justice-minded peers to bring international attention to the invisibility of racism on college campuses. Missouri graduate student, Jonathan Butler, had even begun a hunger strike to foster more dialogue and an end to the racial harassment suffered by students. Football players are trained to defend their turf, analyze complex offensive sets, and zero in on the opponent who can hurt the team the most. In this attempt to weed out the ever-evolving web of racism, there was no better partner to “stand in the gap” than these prominent athletes. Their social and economic power is enormous; and it forced the Missouri administrators to listen intently and to make a decision. The bottom line is that this struggling Southeastern Conference (SEC) team faces BYU in Kansas City (Arrowhead Stadium) on November 14 in a game scheduled for viewing on the lucrative SEC Network. Money talks.
So how about the Tar Heel nation? Would today’s UNC football players sacrifice a possible ACC championship to fight for something even greater? Do UNC players have the courage to accept a trophy or the truth? As a 20 year-old with the desire to play on Sundays, would you choose to capture the hearts of your fan base or create the future your children deserve? UNC faced a similar racial incident in the 1990s during the creation of The Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History. Four Black football players joined the protest to denounce the lack of support for a free-standing center on campus. The controversy was so intense that a university trustee, John Pope, was quoted as saying, “it seems to me if (black students) are interested in a Black Cultural Center, maybe those students should attend a black university.” Unlike Wolfe, Chancellor Hardin never had to resign as he changed his position and negotiated with campus leaders and supporters to build the center. Today UNC enjoys and shares this cultural treasure with the world. Similar to the Missouri players who reside in low-income neighborhoods in or near Ferguson who kept their anger suppressed while their family and friends experienced the effects of the documented racist activities of those in positions of authority, UNC had and continues to recruit athletes who hail from communities that are targets of exploitative actions such as a lack access to capital and decent housing. Undoubtedly, the sting of years of blind and cold leadership to improve conditions for their impoverished communities takes its toll. At some point the children will cry out and demand justice.
The Missouri protest is another example of how college athletics can’t ignore the interconnectedness of the struggle of Black athletes and the liberty of Black consciousness. Dr. Harry Edwards, the noted sports sociologist, and Arthur Ashe, the late tennis great and humanitarian, repeatedly asked America to listen to the Black athlete. For America to examine the journey of those athletes who manage to navigate two very distinct worlds in an attempt to be respectful and mindful of the toil of their ancestors all the while striving to grasp a bit of the so-called American dream is a classroom lesson for all that is honorable and impactful. Rather on many college campuses that participate in NCAA Division I big-time sports, students are “asked” to step away from their people’s past – its struggle and glory. All too often they learn to master the athletic playbook without the in-depth education of the more important erudition of their African history and culture. This strategy is a very dangerous game that can lead to a non-athletic bruising that will never heal. If there is one American lesson that our past has taught us well is that freedom is never free. The world is watching, Mizzou. Fight on.
Lessons of Peace and Possibilities through the Sport of Basketball
Although sport media headlines often accentuate the misdeeds and inappropriate actions of athletes, few can doubt the overall national interest in athletic competition and its benefit to America. As a guest of the National Basketball Association (NBA), I recently had the wonderful opportunity to travel to South Africa for the 2015 NBA Africa Game to witness firsthand the investment and impact of basketball on the entire Africa continent. If the influence and outcomes of the NBA Africa Game is any indicator of how sport can foster collaboration, economic development, and business partnerships in a community, we all need to immediately rally and support more sport-related entrepreneurial activities.
The NBA Africa Game, a “start up” venture hosted by NBA Africa in Johannesburg, featured two teams of NBA players whose birthplace (or one parent) is Africa versus players who hail from the United States, Spain, and Montenegro. The highly competitive game was played in a sold out facility that mesmerized the fully engaged African fan-base. The team captains, Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers and Wake Forest University) and Luol Deng (Miami Heat and Duke University), led their teams in a run and shoot battle that was won in the closing minute by Paul’s hot 3-point shooting squad. The NBA did its best to transform this event such that it mirrored a regular season game located in the USA by shipping in a regulation floor, goals, pre-game entertainment, and several NBA mascots. Prominent governmental and basketball dignitaries from other African countries, U.S. Ambassador Patrick Gaspard, South African Minister of Sport and Recreation Fikile Mbalula, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, NBA corporate partners, and entertainers sat at courtside for this historic occasion. The only thing missing at Ellis Arena were the high-tech spotlights and colorful illumination!
Over the past few decades, under the former leadership of Commissioner David Stern and now Silver, the NBA has arguably surpassed America’s favorite pastime of Major League Baseball and the National Football League to lead the professional sport industry in many creative business strategies. The NBA’s forward-thinking executives, staff, and owners have implemented many policies and programs to greatly propel interest in basketball across the USA and the entire world. Still beaming from its media broadcast contract of $2.6 billion dollar per year through the 2024-2025 season, the NBA has even managed to garner the attention of sport lovers without winning teams in two of the largest media markets: Los Angeles and New York City! Undoubtedly, operating as a global sport business matters a great deal to the NBA. This determination is demonstrated in the following ways:
- The ability to effectively manage labor negotiations has spurned a very attractive employment opportunity such that NBA players are the highest-paid athletes in the world earning an average of $4.5 million per year (2014-15 season).
- The NBA scores very well in matters of diversity and racial equality issues. The league scored an A+ for racial hiring practices from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. From employment (e.g., Becky Hammond, of the San Antonio Spurs, recently became the league’s first female coach) to the All-Star Weekend’s Newsmaker Breakfast, whereby an invitation-only audience hears a message from a prominent leader, the NBA desires to be a world-class business organization – not just a basketball league.
- The NBA Tech Summit is a way for the league to demonstrate its’ commitment to youth and the implementation of new media and advanced digital technological tools. It is of no surprise and very much by design that the NBA is highly popular on newer social media platforms such as Vine and Snapchat. In addition, the NBA (17 million followers) and its league stars are the most active and popular professional athletes on Twitter.
Arguably, these business successes pale in comparison to the vast investment –social, economic, and political – by the NBA to their commitment to the global expansion of basketball. Charitable efforts such as NBA Cares and with more than 100 players born or raised outside of the United States, the NBA has created a plentiful marketing platform to engage most of the entire world with its numerous product extensions. Since 2001the NBA has implemented grassroots programming through partnerships with Basketball Without Borders (BWB) and the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) to offer more than 41 BWB camps in 23 cities in 20 countries on five continents! Having more children play basketball and learn life skills through sport participation is the ultimate mission of the NBA global initiatives.
In conjunction with the 2015 NBA Africa Game, the NBA and BWB hosted youth clinics, refurbished a library and donated two basketball courts at the SOS Children’s Village and a Boys and Girls Club at Protea Glen. As a public-private partnership, the NBA worked collaboratively with governmental and community leaders to support the SOS Children’s Village at Ennerdale, which creates and supports the family structure for orphaned and abandoned children. Current NBA players were joined at these events by notable NBA alumni Dikembe Mutumbo, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Curtis “Muggsy” Bogues (Wake Forest), five-time NBA championship Coach Gregg Popovich, NBA owner RC Slocum, NBA Africa managing director Amadou Fall, and NBA Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer.
Similar to global immersion programs, this trip by the NBA players and guests was so much more than the opportunity to teach and expose basketball to soccer and cricket aficionados. Yes, South Africa clearly received the sport skills and influence of the NBA brand. However, the buzz on the ground centered on the visitors being moved by the powerful symbols, monuments, and museums throughout the city. The shrines and tributes fully represent the past struggle and determination to unify the country. All who were a part of the NBA contingent felt the impact of Pres. Nelson Mandela’s love, forgiveness philosophy, and promotion of an intentional democratic governmental structure. In particular, the visit to the Apartheid Museum was very emotional as the experience brought one seemingly face-to-face with the injustice, horrors, and cowardice of a racist power structure. Players were provided a very unforgettable experiential history lesson that many never received in their U.S. classrooms.
Although I am back home in America, I still feel the drumbeat of Africa from one of the most rewarding business trips one could ever imagine. The inaugural NBA Africa Game reflected Mandela’s spirit and goal to use sport to bring people together. For many years the South African apartheid regime cleverly manipulated barriers and political policy to uphold the immoral government. However, the country’s minority white population and President F.W. de Klerk could not understand nor accept the isolation and exclusion imposed by the sporting world. Countries refused to play ball with South Africa. As Mr. Mandela noted, this rejection made the difference; peace and the long journey to reconciliation was indeed sparked by the power of sport. We remain ever grateful for this unique platform of sport to touch the hearts of humankind to imagine and build solutions for tomorrow. And isn’t it amazing that in 2015 basketball is still remains one of the most effective ways to foster new ideas, increase diversity, and promote collaboration? The possibilities are endless for this children’s game that makes us smile and cheer. A big salute to the NBA for their entrepreneurial spirit to ignite that feeling across the world!
Charleston and the Color of College Sports
The massacre of nine Christian African-Americans on the evening of June 17, 2015 will forever serve as a symbol of American racism unchecked. Sadly, our country has too many of these markers that illustrate the lack of effective policy and policing to address the simmering racist hate against the descendants of African slaves. Rev. Martin L. King, Jr. in his eulogy for the four African-American children killed in the 1963 Birmingham church bombings stated, “[The victims] say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life and the philosophy which produced the murderers.” As a sport business professor, I also ask us to urgently examine, question, and reevaluate our collective role in the empowerment of African Americans in the sport industry. Institutions and structural patterns of sport are unlikely to breed the horrific actions of a Dylann Roof but they do create and nourish very disturbing disparate outcomes. The data clearly and definitively outlines the negative narrative:
- 94% of college faculty athletics representatives are white
- In all NCAA divisions, whites hold 91.3% of all head coaching positions
- In all NCAA divisions, whites hold 92% of the athletic director positions
- 100% of the College Football Bowl division conference commissioners are white
- 10.6% of NCAA DI Women’s Basketball head coaches are African-American women
- 3.7% of NCAA DI Men’s Basketball head coaches are African-American men
The media also plays a very significant part in this systemic masterpiece of exclusion. By feeding the American public a daily stream of negative news stories of African-American athletes and coaching failures, mishaps, and misfortunes, the narrative of the ill-equipped and untrustworthy persona is fostered and baked into our mindsets. Cases in point include the saga of Tiger Woods 2.0 and how black versus white protesters are portrayed at entertainment and sporting events. Fear and implicit bias is born from our observation and interactions of the unfamiliar, so the media concern is very critical to our unification as a country. Anti-racism education describes how the systems work to blind us from injustice and the harmful tentacles of racist activities. Far too often broadcasts characterize white male athlete exploits as individual misdeeds only worthy of limited coverage while black male athlete conduct is portrayed as a pattern and the representation of a shared behavior defect. We need not look any further than the churning of white male head coaches after their lack of achievement at previous organizations while many deserving black males wait patiently for their one opportunity. Will we ever take the lessons of harmony, teamwork, and diversity from the playing fields to the boardrooms? Successful organizations have realized that we learn the most from those we have the least in common with.
So, as the country wails in pain, screams in anger, and prays in hope I am encouraged that more Americans will become courageous and leave the comfortable chamber of silence. Yes, symbolism matters, and the Confederate flag removal deliberation spurns more critical conversations. However, poor results exist in the world of opportunity, access, and inclusion for people of color because most American institutions were not built to embolden everyone. And as programmed, those in power do not question and address the “beam in [thine] own eye.” (Matthew 7:5) In particular, the college sport system is so beholden to tradition and its ever-increasing economic power that the shift to embrace and encourage many new faces to leadership roles can be shocking. This paralysis is expressed in comments such as “there aren’t enough candidates” and “it takes time because the jobs aren’t available.” As polite and genteel the explanations may appear, the origin is similar to the xenophobic mindset of someone who is afraid that “…you are taking over the country.” Black bodies running, throwing, and jumping must be restricted to the turf, courts, and fields.
The nation mourns the tragic occurrence of the Charleston Massacre, but the alarming act is not surprising based on our country’s previous attempts to address racism, foster respect, and promote love. Until all Americans learn the real history of our country; question, discuss, and debate policy reform; address the lack of inclusion; and establish a new paradigm and structures of empowerment; the shooter(s) will continue to live amongst us – in the press room, coaches’ suites, and corner offices.
College football matters
Working with Michael Kelly (www.collegefootballplayoff.com/staff) and the inaugural College Football Championship has only confirmed my belief that America has an unquenchable desire for football. Over the years the NFL’s Super Bowl numbers have demonstrated that the game is so much more than the game. It is apparent that the idea of a college football playoff was long over due. This game has the potential to be as popular as the professional football playoffs. The product extensions of merchandising, licensing, sponsorship, food & beverage, equipment, and travel gain extensive exposure and profits due to the play of 22 young guys battling on the gridiron. The fans are rabid in their school spirit and promotion of proud football traditions whether they watch through a media platform or in the stadium. The sport business professionals carefully monitor their action plans, supervise the marketing activation activities, and attend to last minute changes in strategy. Big business owns college basketball and football. To think otherwise is to just not accept reality.
Sport analytics in basketball continues to soar
It is exciting to be a part of this growing demand for statistical calculations of data in the world of athletics. Some consider analytics to be that missing or underutilized aspect of gaining a competitive edge in sport. Certain franchises or college programs through tireless effort and strategy tend to attract and retain the best players in the nation. Others repeatedly end up trying to teach players that just don’t have the same level of mental or physical talent as the first tier clubs and programs. So, by implementing the science of the numbers teams have the ability to strategize with greater precision to offset the lack of physical skills. For example, knowing who performs better at certain times in particular combinations or the types of shots taken by players during a particular time in the game helps to reduce “unforced” errors. Coaches can now have evidence-based strategies and game plans to best prepare for opponents. (http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/9980160/nba-how-analytics-movement-evolved-nba) With the addition of technological advances in video, analytics is the game changer for the visionary coach. I just don’t see how one can ignore the numbers. Get involved or get behind. Period.
Making a first impression
I was rather disappointed in seeing a few young female journalists wearing scantily clad clothing to the College Football Championship Media Day event. Taking the calculated risk of being viewed as an out of touch professor, I believe that credentials and contacts make the difference in getting the right story. Watching short skirts, fish net stockings, and gobs of makeup get the attention of college football players and coaches was embarrassing. Where is the training and supervision of these young journalists? As long as the professional men and women ignore this type of behavior it will probably continue to happen. I challenge the management (or their peers) at these firms to have the courage to speak out against this disturbing visual. It only feeds the myth that women are interested in sport journalism for opportunities to get the attention of men for the wrong reasons. Let’s clean this sideshow up. Ladies, we can do better.
Technology innovation fosters new opportunities
Advancements in digital or electronic products have spurned new solutions to make game day experience better for fans. Consider that many of the NCAA Southeastern Conference schools redesigned their stadiums to demonstrate their “listening ear” to their most loyal ticket buyers who completed recently sent surveys. Fans can now enjoy a branded SEC game-day app, digital directional and concession signage, micro-neighborhoods in various sections of the facility, and improved Wi-Fi service. These innovations can be traced to career opportunities in the security, IT, marketing, and facilities industries. Think outside the box when considering your next internship or job!
Economic Impact of the NCAA Final Four
We are already counting down the days to college basketball’s March Madness and our favorite team’s chances of being in Indianapolis. This event has reached the level of top priority sporting events in America – along with the NFL’s Super Bowl. The product extensions include the merchandise, transportation, entertainment, and food/beverage industries. Should cities spend lots of money to attract the Final Four to their city? Well, economic impact studies always benefit the host municipality/sponsor. Some say the economic increase to cities is in the $150M range. Calculating the final numbers can be subjective and misleading, so the true value is often debated. The real impact of sporting events is very challenging to measure. These include the value of media exposure, long term impact on tourism, business attraction, civic pride, community cohesiveness, and whether the competition is an amenity that enhances the value of nearby properties?