Saturday, March 27, 2010

Kentucky vs. West Virginia: College Sports at its Best?

Watching the Kentucky/West Virginia NCAA tournament game today will be an exercise in going to the dentist for anyone who cares about the integrity of college sport. Like looking through the glass darkly, it reveals the shadow that hovers over big time college sport.

The fact that John Calipari and Bob Huggins both continue to coach at the Division 1 athletic level tells the whole story. The point of the game is that their presence reveals that in the end, the universities, their Presidents, Boards and alumni will opt for winning over the integrity of the university.

Huggins is a nice example. For sixteen years he coached University of Cincinnati. His basketball brutalism won consistently. He won with a swaggering style and huge temper and bigger than life persona. He certainly was bigger than the Presidents he outlasted and the drunk driving charge he beat. He certainly was bigger than the assaults and problems his players regularly got into.

What makes him a poster child for all that is wrong with collegiate sports was that fact that he could coach for years and years and never graduate any students, sorry official records claim about thirty percent sort of graduated. He specialized in not graduating minority students. He didn’t care and more importantly, the university did not care. His tenure served as a poster child for those of us who sought academic reform that would penalize schools who did not ensure that college athletes made progress towards their degree. Huggins exemplified the world of coaches rewarded and lionized and privileged beyond the norms of academic life because he won.

His final exit from Cincinnati brought on by a drunk driving incident and a President who had the spine to take on the boosters and Board launched him on an interesting year. He traveled the country, unencumbered by NCAA rules, and ingratiated himself to star players. When he was offered a job by Kansas State University, which only proves Presidents desperate to win bill overlook integrity and graduation rates, he brought a bunch of top recruits with him: recruits other coaches could not develop relations with because active coaches were bound by NCAA contact rules.

 In a touching story and irony, he bolted K. State after a year to return to his alma mater, leaving K. State holding the bag, but also appointing Huggins' top assistant to keep his top recruits. Who knows, with luck and penalties, he might actually graduate some kids from West Virginia (please note in full disclosure mode Huggins’ West Virginia team squarely and fairly beat the University of Washington in the NCAA tournament on Thursday).

What can I say about the paragon of college sport integrity?  John Calipari is a great college coach. Not a great pro coach as his short NBA career showed (but that may be a good thing). But he can flat out coach and motivate young athletes. At University of Massachusetts he brought an unheralded program to a national championship. Two years ago he brought the Memphis State program to a national championship. Funny thing about both those national championships—the  year after he won them he bolted for higher prestige and better paying jobs—he is at Kentucky now. But both national championships were vacated by the NCAA for recruiting scandals. Let me repeat, both championships were vacated for recruiting scandals. Now that is a unique record. Yet even with the record, programs clamor to hire him.

This year he is bringing  team to the national tournament and number one seed with three freshman, two of them will leave after one year for the pros. (for those of us who care about academics the one and out rule fostered by the NBA’s refusal to baby sit teenagers until they are 19 continues to be a disaster and mockery of college sports). Caliperi excels as a recruiter and pied piper. He also deploys a standard technique of hiring relatives or people close to players to be on his staff which helps seal the deals. He also excels at preparing athletes for the pros; so he has three athletes on his team who will sit in on classes for a couple months, leave for the pros and maybe bring another title.

This is it. One who does not graduate students; one who wins tainted titles, both sought after all over as a coach. Both win basketball games, but neither should be college coaches.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Concussions & Medical Conflict of Interests

The NFL, after fifteens years of denial and statistical irrelevancy, finally disbanded, sorry, reconstituted its concussion committee. A relentless year of exposure in the mainstream media and the cumulative result of a decade of research that contradicted the NFL findings finally resulted in this shamed response.

The new committee is chaired by two world renowned university doctors, one from UW in full disclosure mode. More importantly, the long time chair and influential member Dr. Elliott Pellman  resigned. Under his leadership the committee consistently used the same argument global warming skeptics use, not enough data to warrant action. His colleagues vehemently denied any connection between football play and the data and stories of the debilitating brain and spine injuries suffered in later life by ex-players. Asking for more data or denying there is enough evidence is a time honored way to put off decisions and avoid responsibility. Under the committee's vigilant leadership the NFL denied reality and avoided liability and did nothing for over a decade.

The key to understand is that Dr. Pellman was the New York Jets team physician. Like research doctors who own interests in drug companies, this creates a clear conflict of interest problem. Conflict of interest occurs when your self interest comes into direct conflict with your professional jugdment. Or it can guide or skew your judgment especially in grey areas of diagnosis and interpretation. The problem exists everywhere in-house professionals exist and professions have developed strong associations and standards to deal with the unyielding tensions that exists there. Having a doctor employed by a team to chair the committee to oversee injury studies fundamentally violates good professional practice. The point of the game here is that doctors stand as the front line defense of athletes against a world of pressures to compete until they are irremediably injured. Doctors' integrity and professional judgment are all that stand between safe lives and tortured lives for many players at all levels of athletics.

Let's look at the incentive pressures at each point of contact. Players face immense pressure to "play through the pain" and risk future loss of function against present gain. Professional players and college players have very short football careers. They believe they cannot afford to lose any time and must  maximize their chance to play the game they love; gain exposure or gain salary. The NFl compounds this pressure with its free market attitude toward contracts and the way it cuts players quickly and mercilessly. The career is a one shot deal for players, short, hard, sometimes glorious, but this is it. Very few players are equiped for life after football. So they play on; they hide injuries; they play through pain to minimize the reasons coaches or managers have to replace them with someone healthy.

The players' agents, who should be their conservators, know the comet like careers of their players. They push for maximum gain up front for just that reason. But their incentives are to keep the player playing to minimize any chance of losing the percentage guarantee for them. In football especially short term gains trump long term gain because of the violence of the sport and much shorter career span. An agent sees himself protecting the player's long term welfare with big contracts against almost certain injury risks. This results in interests to push the player to stay on the field as long as possible since going off risks ending the career quickly.

Coaches must win; they must win now. Pro coaches may get a year or less; college coaches might get two or three; they must win or they are gone. They need players who can deliver now. They understand and appreciate injuries. Ultimately they don't want to play subpar injured players. But the starters are often good enough that even somewhat impaired they are better than the others. The oaches need them and hold implicit threats against them. The coaches are not cruel or vicious, they have no job security and no responsiblity for players whom they cut and never see again. Pro players show up to find their bags packed for them; they seldom see coaches when they are escorted off the premise never to return. So coaches will ride a player until they player falls. They want gamers who model the toughness to others.

In the warrior culture of toughness--nothing is tougher than football--all other sports pale in comparison to its physical demands and sublimaed violence, everyone knows they need each other. A few might want a player to stay out when injured to get their position, but most urge them on to play with pain; play through pain; play for loyalty and glory. They all know they could be gone tomorrow, but so do soliders in combat. You don't abandon the band of brothers in battle.

Players, agents, coaches, culture all drive players to assault the margins of safety. To play as long as you can hobble or think and not worry about what you will be like with early dementia, impaired judgment and compromised spines in your mid forties.  Doctors stand between this. Doctors need science, data and protocols to support them and push back. The NFL and its team doctors subverted this for a decade.

Only the doctors stand between these forces and the welfare of the players. Only doctors stand as the stewards of a players' future. Too much of the medical world of football places doctors in dual roles of doctor and cheerleader. Teams bid out medical service to practices. Practices bid low or offer to be the team doctor for free in order to have the prestige of being a team doctor. Doctors paid by teams where their practice's status depends upon the team's largesse face serious stress upon their integrtiy. Many withstand it, but to sustain them, we need better economic models; better tranparency; better second opinions; limitations upon predictable demands that will be placed upn them to push someone back into the game too early.

No easy answers exist. In many ways the best model is to have university doctors who have tenure and research support doing most of the work. Most programs don't have that luxury. But the universities can help by building strong and evidence based sports medicine programs to educate doctors and provide professional networks to educate and support them. The economic model of bidding out or for free services should be abolished to eliminate the nexus between large economic gain and status. Mandatory second opinions required. Above all the medical profession needs strong and clear and evidence driven protocols to give the doctors the ground upon which to stand and protect players from management and from themselves.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tournament Expansion--More Greed, Less Value

It always happens this time of year. Coaches scream that good teams did not get into the NCAA basketball tournament and demand it be expanded. ESPN shills like Dick Vitale and Bobby Knight spew outrage demanding the tournament be expanding. Coaches desperate to protect jobs demand the tournament be expanded; and smaller schools gunning for a chunk of money and sliver of fame demand the tournament be expanded. What else is new? Well this year the NCAA in a well publicized but largely stealth approach seriously is looking at expanding to maximize their own payout which finances all they do.

The tournament, the rite of March Madness has grown into a monstrous success. My colleagues are bubbling with brackets and teams to follow. My own team squeaked into the tournament by winning the PAC-10 tournament. I can't bet on NCAA tournament by NCAA rules,  but I can enjoy the excitement and satisfaction of watching extraordinary play. The NCAA tournament by design and luck has grown into a rather loony combination of great play, obsessive marketing, and occasional upsets. It rivets millions of Americans, gives exposure and rewards to many of the young players and coaches and has become an annual rite for American sports enthusiasts.The CBS website that many use to follow brackets has a special boss button to bring up a fake spread sheet. Last year it had 2.8 million hits.

347 schools make up division one basketball. The tournament lets in 65, awhile back it let in 36. Each year at this time of year ESPN and compatriots generate false controversies over who gets in and a few teams on the 'bubble" who do not get in. I like the word bubble which does yeoman work in American vocabulary describing inflated market phenomenon, things children blow and chase, now teams that don't live on the margins of the tournament. In fact a whole new pseudo-science, bracketology, abetted by media frenzy, has mushroomed up in the last decade. Commentators, personalities, media programs devote endless hours to speaking about RPI and teams who might or might now make it. The very exclusiveness of the tournament generates its own energy. The tournament gets added cachet by guaranteeing spots to the winners of the conferences which squares the NCAA with its constituent members, the conferences.

In a Greed is Good era clamor for expansion makes sense, but it makes no sense from an athletic point of view. This year a few imaginative commentators have made a "social justice" rationale to help funnel money to less well off teams by giving them spots in the tournament and the 200,000 plus that comes with the first game.  Right now the tournament already lets in almost 20 percent of the teams in the country. This barely makes sense but is defensible given the high quality of play and the need to accommodate the many conferences, 3,1 who have automatic bids. If the tournament went to 96 schools it would let in almost 30 percent of the schools. The NCAA would make the same mistake the NBA does, it would create a huge bloated and irrelevant tournament.

Right now the tournament proceeds in a fairly stately fashioning, a few upsets, not many, a few media chosen darlings as underdogs, but in reality the top seeds get to the top over 80 percent of the time. To flood the tournament with  more marginal teams, more lower seeds, more guaranteed loses, does nothing to increase the competition of the tournament and only dilutes the quality of the basketball and the worthiness of the reward.

The biggest set of problems, however, blow back onto the constituent elements of the NCAA, the conferences. Already for TV reasons many conferences have gone to tournaments at the end of the grueling seasons and given their automatic bids to the tournament winner rather than the far more important conference champion. The reality for the conferences and for most teams and coaches  is that games matter; conferences matter, conference championships are valued. Even with the devaluation implicit in the tournament winner going to the NCAA, most players and coaches and AD.s know that conference championships matter more and reveal more.

The relative scarcity, and I mean relative when you are talking 1 in 5, makes each game matter. The tournament aura reinforces the worth of the conference championship and conference games. The quality of the conference matters here and when you have a down year as the PAC-10 did, it should affect how many teams get to the tournament.(If there is any reason to expand the tournament it might be to guarantee conference champions a spot as well as tournament winners.)

Expanding the tournament goes along way to devaluing the quality of the season games just like what happens in the NBA. You think we would learn, but greed drives people to misread quality+scarcity=high value. They think by expanding the pool you can avoid the quality dilution and miss completely its impact on the rest of the season. The tournament should stay as it is.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Things Fall Apart--the SUNY Binghamton Basketball Mess & Failed College Leadership

I have been following the sad and compelling story of the implosion of the SUNY Binghamton athletic program. The fate of the athletic program at this academically excellent public institution deserves careful scrutiny. The SUNY Board of Trustees recently released a four month long,  $900,000 investigative report of what happened at the University. Its long time President Lois LaFleur, after throwing everyone else off the boat, finally jumped off herself with a retirement for "personal reasons."

The report team was chaired by Judith Kaye, a senior partner at the law firm and former Chief Justice of the New York supreme court. It distills the story of an athletic program and basketball team torn apart by undermining university admissions standards, arbitrary intervention by the President and Provost and a team decimated by arrests, drug dealing, violent assaults and academic failure and fraud. The sordid story appeared on the pages of the NewYork Times and serves as a poster child for all that can and does go wrong in NCAA athletics.

The point of the game is how quickly an entire program can be destroyed. It emphasizes how vital the admissions process is and how the academics of an athlete program can be subverted with lightening speed if the President and athletic director fail to monitor and, instead, collude to win over all other considerations. 

The Report spells out fundamental lessons for all program. Every college athletic program needs   needs strong structural supports to maintain the academic integrity against the cross pressures of Division I athletics. The undertows of Division IA sports pull against keeping the academic welfare of the student athletes front and center. The need to win to gain the recognition and pay off or justify the facilities is amplified by college’s ruthless willingness to fire coaches who succeed in graduating students but do not win championships or make it into NCAA tournaments.  Close to the majority of football coaches fired in the last two years had winning records.

It is an article of faith for the NCAA that an athletic program needs strong presidential support to maintain its integrity against outside forces. This Presidential support should be buttressed by significant structural design.
1)     The admissions process needs to be insulated from outside pressures so that students admitted have some change of succeeding at the university.
2)      The students admitted, especially the at risk students, need deep academic support that gives them the mentoring and tutoring to get the tools to succeed academically and in life when they graduate.
3)      This support system of tutors and academic monitoring must be tightly controlled to avoid cheating or special treatment. The academic support matters profoundly because the revenue sports recruit a significant percentage of minority students with awful academic backgrounds and without social support networks to reinforce academic pursuits. To bring underprepared students into selective universities without clearly assessing the students’ willingness to work and the university’s academic support system is simple exploitation.

The SUNY Binghamton debacle goes wrong from the top down. The NCAA creed insists that Presidents must control the integrity of the athletic Department. Presidents have a number of tools to accomplish this: appointing the Athletic Director (AD); overseeing the budget process; overseeing the Provost and relevant Deans and Vice Provosts who administer academics and admissions; the Faculty Athletic Representative who is a faculty member who reports to the President and has the task to watch over the academic and compliance integrity. The FAR can bring issues directly to the President.

The NCAA model requires an engaged President, not one who outsources oversight of athletics to a Vice President or Vice Provost.  The irony of SUNY Binghamton is that President Lois LeFleur was too involved in the program She invested time, reputation and capital in moving the program to Division I and building a new facility. She desired a championship team to enhance public recognition. She viewed athletic success and visibility as a capstone to her stewardship of the academic portion of the university. To build a winner, she micro-managed issues; stayed on top of recruiting of top players—the AD would email her progress reports on recruits and teams; replaced the FAR with a faculty member nominated by her AD as more friendly to athletics. In critical actions she intervened in the admissions process on to help get student athletes into the university whom admissions had rejected.

The President’s involvement subverted the creation of an athletic program that had structural integrity. The keystone for any program at an academically select university is high and carefully monitored admissions standards and process.  This intersection determines whether a university is serious about bringing in young student athletes who can not only compete in athletics but stand a chance to thrive in the classroom and gain a degree.

A successful admissions process for selective institutions requires several things. First, the admissions process needs to be autonomous from athletic influence. The admissions process must be insulated and protected from outside pressure from coaches, athletic directors and boosters. Second, the admissions process needs strong faculty support. This can be in the form of strong standards and limits upon the number of very high at risk students who are allowed in. Third, it needs either a faculty committee to review the at-risk students or a faculty appeal process to review students.

Binghamton with ample help from its President destroyed  the integrity of admissions. It rejected a faculty admissions committee because it might hinder coaches’ ability to build winning teams. Written policies stated that all contact with admissions should only be through the Director of Compliance. Instead coaches and athletic directors would contact and harass admissions personnel. Worst still, the FAR, who should be the last line of defense to support admissions standards, actively worked outside of admissions to overturn their academic and character based decisions.

The University permitted the athletic director and coaches to do end runs and meet with Deans, especially the Dean of the School of Community and Public Affairs That Dean enabled at risk student athletes to congregate in a “friendly” major. The admissions process became nullified by ex parte contacts; end runs to Deans and Provosts; and finally the President’s willingness to get involved in admissions decisions to benefit teams.

The lack of structural integrity at admissions infected academic support. Once the university essentially abandoned its own admissions decisions and let in anyone the coach wanted who met the NCAA minimum qualifications, the rest followed. Student athletes congregated in one major and college. Two faculty members, with the encouragement of the FAR and the Dean of the College, took on special teaching obligations, offered independent studies; helped students with their assignments in other classes and even pressured other professors to give extensions to student athletes they were “mentoring.” The College of Community and Public Affairs with that Dean’s acquiescence and faculty enablers became a dumping ground for the students let in under pressure. The University even considered creating a special sports management degree using on line classes to benefit student athletes.

Finally, the University Faculty oversight committees were not able to get any information that tracked the performance of student athletes nor that identified the range of students now being admitted at risk to the campus. Even as restive faculty members challenged the issues and the New York Times exposed the University to embarrassment, the faculty could not get consistent data to review the effectiveness and progress of the program. Without the data the faculty could not oversee or recommend revisions in admissions or support standards.

The Report reveals how an overzealous President permitted and abetted the undermining of a system of checks and balances and oversight of the academic credibility of the program. She and her athletic director gave permission to coaches to violate the integrity of admissions and subvert academically responsible support to the admitted student athletes.

The SUNY Report spells out how a college athletic program  needs strong structural supports to maintain the academic integrity against the cross pressures of Division I athletics. The undertows of Division IA sports pull against keeping the academic welfare of the student athletes front and center. The need to win to gain the recognition and pay off or justify the facilities is amplified by  a college’s ruthless willingness to fire coaches who succeed in graduating students but do not win championships or make it into NCAA tournaments.  Close to the majority of football coaches fired in the last two years had winning records.

The Report makes incredibly clear that the quality of leadership matters profoundly. Here the President, the Provost, the FAR, and the Dean of the School of Community and Public Affairs all failed

They collaborated in ensuring that academically at risk and character challenged students would be admitted to SUNY-Binghamton. In intercollegiate athletes in the big revenue sports, at risk student athletes get admitted all the time. But I have never seen a program where the top academic officers pushed the admissions department to compromise their work. The top academic administrators  then worked to find safe harbors for the at risk students. Finally the academic officers injected a pro-athletes FAR to remove real academic oversight and  actively encouraged  two academic faculty enablers to give special courses and grades to the student athletes. The point of the game here is that the collapse occurred at the top first. The senior Academic officers sacrificed their values to cover-up the academic disaster unfolding before them.

It is not uncommon to find the perverse combination of safe majors, enabling faculty members, spotty admissions and compromised academic support. What sets Binghamton apart is that all the senior academic administrators and a major Dean collaborated to make this happen. This was a new program that did not have to go in this direction. The disaster occurred not because of lack of leadership but because the leaders wanted this to happen.

The Athletic Director clearly made all this happen by hiring a borderline coach whose penchant for "rescuing" at risk kids was well known. The AD continued the depredations by violating his own rules, hounding admissions  and directly contacting academic officers and Deans about not just admissions but setting up academic blinds for his students.

To make the complex equation work where universities bring in at risk and underprepared students as athletes, the university has to expend alot of effort to assess the "character" of the young athletes. If the young underprepared athletes are competitors in all areas of life; if they are willing to try and work hard at academics; if they are willing to live by the rules--they may not become great students, but they can grow into college students who can acquire an education. Good academic support units regularly prove that academic support, strong coaches and committed athletes can lead underprepared kids to grow into college students.

The whole academic risk of intercollegiate athletics depends upon upon young athletes of character that translates across athletics to academics. This responsiblity rests with the coach in recruting and the department in support. The AD at Binghamton failed to demand that his coaches honestly evaluate character, failed to build a strong unit of support and failed to respect the boundaries of academic achievement and sport achievement. The end result of academic and criminal and civil malfeasance rests with him as well as the academic officers who endorsed his behavior.

One of the more disturbing and bizarre aspects reported in the SUNY investigation was the President's attempt to manipulate the issue of race and athletics to attack the admissions office. This is a complex and touchy subject that pervades all the work colleges and NCAA do around admissions. At many schools the traditional admissions standards of GPA plus test scores adversely impacts  young minorities and low social economic students.

These young minority athletes are the backbone of most successful college football and basketball programs. Most universities struggle with a collision between their admission standards and the lack of preparedness of at risk minority student athletes who sustain the revenue generating TV worshipped sports. As I mentioned the only way to make this a reasonable and morally defensible risk involves strong character evaluation and strong academic support units.

The report takes acute umbrage at a troubling set of justifications for letting in unprepared and unsupported students into SUNY-BU. In a move worthy of George Orwell and 1984 newspeak, the President and athletic department charged admissions with being “racist” by balking at letting in several student athletes.

The whole world of college revenue sports is riven with issues involving race because so many of the highly successful athletes are minority students from underprepared academic background. Every selective academic institution has developed special admission programs to permit these young men and women into the university despite the fact a significant "gap" exists between their level of academic preparation and the rest of the student body.

In essence the athletic programs become a form of entry for academically ‘at risk” students into universities they would normally not be able to attend. This risk is undertaken because of their special skills in athletics. The key to any reasonable risk decision making is to have clear parameters around how high the risk is, what the institution’s tolerance for the risk is,  and what the university needs to do to mitigate the risk. In this case, the problem is that under  normal academic conditions these underprepared students would fail as students and not graduate.

These are hard topics to discuss and good admissions program make exceptional efforts to ensure that the underprepared students have the motivation to do the academic work and the support for them in the first two years to make the perilous transition from athlete to student athlete.

SUNY-Binghamton failed in this obligation and had no clear parameters to assess the academic success of students they admitted. The admissions office balked at letting in students it knew were not prepared to succeed, but the admissions office also knew that the student athletes would have no real academic support services and several had serious character issues.

Twice the head of the office of Affirmative Action questioned the admissions officers as possibly racist for not letting in or taking a chance on at risk minority students. The President herself charged her own admissions office with possible racism because they would not admit certain transfers who had under 2.0 averages and had evinced serious and dangerous behavior at other schools.

The report found the charges of racism extremely dangerous and irresponsible. It might be argued that letting in underprepared minority students into a university where they cannot succeed and where the university does not provide real academic support is racist exploitation. Many faculty believe this. On the other hand, minority coaches associations and the President at SUNY-BU have invented another form of racism which requires letting in unqualified and at-risk students even if you do not have resources to support them and have not track record of success with them.

It is one thing to bring in student in strongly supported academic program where you have experience at promoting academic success; it is another to pretend that admissions personnel trying to protect the university’s integrity and to protect the student’s ability to succeed as racist. It’s one of the most vexing and ugly discussions that weaves through NCAA and academic discussions and battles over admissions and support.

The irony of all this is that the University probably did not violate fundamental NCAA rules, which largely apply to recruiting and cheating. But it did violate its own standards, sabotaged its own ideals, and created a culture that ended with assaults, dope dealing, thefts, academic malfeasance, but no real violations. The University ended humiliated and embarrassed and morally compromised, but no major NCAA sanctions will occur. It’s an object lesson for existing and wannabe Presidents and ADs about how you cannot let go for a minute and once Presidents set precedents that weaken standards, things fall apart very fast.

The President and senior academic officers willingness to resort to the race card in addition to their disregard of admissions and provision of support demonstrate the difficult and complex skeins that hold together academics and athletics. They reveal how quickly the whole thing can be unwound by reckless leaders.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Olympic Virtues

The 2010 Winter Olympics ended on Sunday. I'll miss them even as I understand that the power of the Olympics derives from the fact that they occur once very four years. Only once every four years do athletes journey from the five continents of the five rings to gather together. Only once every four years does such an array of talent across such a diversity of sport arrive, live and compete together. Only once every four years can the sheer talent, power and beauty of athletics rise above the commercialism, communalism, jingoism and egoism that swirls around it. The raw imprint of the images of performance seer through the chaff and capture why the ancient Greeks enshrined athletics at the center of their achievements and art and why they believed that the human body reflected and perfected the human mind.

For the Greeks athletic achievement and the development of body and mind reflected virtue. For them it represented the highest form of moral life. Virtue arose from practice and refinement of a way of being in the world; it grew from building habits of thought and focus and disciplined learning of how to approach situations, judge them and act in a manner consistent with virtue.

The opposite of virtue consisted of weakness of will. The weakness emerged from both the failure of judgment, of an inability to see and comprehend the stakes in a situation. This failure of judgment was compounded by the inability to follow through on action. Even if the individual knew the right action, he or she could find the emotional and executive willingness to act in a manner consistent with what their judgment directed.

The Olympics illuminated powerful virtues that lies at the center of athletics. Let me mention a few.

Courage and Fortitude: The athletes competed in sports that require them to face considerable physical and mental challenges. More than a few of the sports courted significant physical danger. The athletes know the risks and many of them, at this elite level, probably all of them, have struggled through physical and emotional adversity and grappled with facing and carrying on in the face of failure.

Faith and Sacrifice:  The athletes believe. They see a possibility for themselves. This vision inspires them and gives them the energy to sacrifice time and opportunity to master the craft of their sport. They give up personal lives and personal pleasures and personal interests to pursue with a single minded devotion the vision of achievement. They practice and practice and practice and condition and condition and condition forgoing many other aspects of life. This discipline and sacrifice is infused with their faith in themselves and their sport and their goals.

Perseverance and Conscientiousness: Elite athletes arrive at their success through a path of failure and learning. One striking fact about many of the athletes was how many of those who succeeded were attending their second or third Olympics. While age ultimately robs athletes of the range of talent, energy and physical, Olympic competition requires robust experience and tempered mastery of the emotional and cognitive discipline of not  choking or losing focus under the pressure of visibility and competition. At this level micro seconds matter in downhills and turns or millimeters in moguls or skating leaps or biathlons. Every competitor at this level has devoted endless time to honing the smallest aspect of their craft and practicing and learning and refining and learning again from mistakes or the successes of competitors. No one arrives here through an easy road, even if it looks easy, that's part of the art of athletes.

I could go on but I hope the point is clear that at its core athletics remains a moral endeavor of a human being stretching and expanding themselves and reminding us of human possibilities. A colleague of mine summarized it quite well when she described searching for a person with:

"The passion of the Olympic hockey players, the joie de vivre of the snowboarders, and the amazing combination of versatility and dedication exhibited in the Nordic combine."