Sunday, June 19, 2011

The NCAA's All but Death Penalty

“I am become death, the destroyer of programs,” the NCAA has unleashed its own variant of Shiva’s famous line in Verse 32:11 in the Bhgavad Gita. The fearsome NCAA “death penalty” that SMU made famous has terrified and paralyzed the NCAA for decades. Using it resembled the nuclear option and the NCAA shied away from it and everyone knew it. Now the NCAA has figured out the way to destroy programs without resorting to the death penalty. Developing and deploying the NCAA Shiva option is critical if the NCAA has any chance of gaining control of the football and basketball corruption.

The NCAA Shiva option must be present, real and feared by major programs. Only this real present danger will elicit the  vigilance and focus from college Presidents, athletic directors and high profile coaches. Right now thanks to the cult of the head coach, all are usually immune to the consequences of their wrong doing. 

The power of this approach depends upon existing and being used, unlike the death penalty.  Here the NCAA has an institutional design problem. The President, Mark Emmert, would apply the option quickly and widely, but the NCAA President does not have much power beyond the bully pulpit. The real power lies in the enforcement wing of the NCAA that must identify and investigate. Above all else the power resides with the Committee on Infractions which holds the hearings and hands down the judgements. The President has some control over the enforcement staffing and budget and energy of the but none over the obstreperously independent Committee on Infractions.

The final denouement of the USC case establishes the unassailable option for the NCAA. USC’s appeal was turned down. Now the BCS (acting remarkably like a higher order NCAA) stripped USC’s national championship. This adds to the Heisman stripping of the Reggie Bush’s award. The ancillary groups that depend upon NCAA for visibility and legitimacy will follow their lead.

The Shiva option levels an array of sanctions that will cripple a high profile program for up to five years. It begins by levellingl a program with major scholarship loss; not a piddly couple scholarships like APR penalties, but real impacts over time. The sanctions should target 10-20% of scholarships over a two to three year period. This undermines the talent pipeline and gives others a chance to swarm in and counter recruit against the program.  Finally it vacates the games and championships where players or coaches played illegally.

The Shiva option relies upon humiliating and dragging out the process to impact the immune Presidents and to get the message to recruits  that the program will be deeply wounded. The drawn out process reminds all the other cheating and tempted to cheat coaches and athletic directors about the media water boarding that will accompany the process. The public process also draws out the costs and pain to the Presidents who willfully ignore or abet, sometimes both, the autonomy and cultures of athletic programs. Finally, the option should force the removal of the coaches involved and tag sanctions to the coach that will impact whomever hires him or her the next time.

The formal sanctions and process then produce a set of side effects that can be just as important. Institutions facing their own lies and cheating will throw overboard coaches and athletic directors to demonstrate their belated commitment to integrity. One by one a university will toss people overboard to curry favor with the Committee on Infractions. USC provides a typical example—first the basketball coach; then football coaches as needed, but Pete Carroll had already skipped town; then the AD.  Rutgers followed the same path—football coach then athletic director. This week Tennessee belatedly manifest the same pattern—assistant basketball coaches, then basketball coach and now the athletic director Mike Hamilton  (Hamilton reveals a great flaw in modern athletic reasoning where the AD is hired to raise money and build facilities when in fact his or her most important job is hiring good coaches. Hamilton revealed he was a lousy judge of character in hiring both Bruce Pearl and Lane Kiffin.)

So the Shiva option’s existence leads to serious punishment and job loss to coaches and athletic directors before the NCAA Enforcement Board even meets to judge them.  So far Boards of Regents have let the Chancellors and Presidents who hired the athletic directors and  often help hire the big money coaches off the hook.

The Shiva option has two strong attractions. First, it scares institutions into abandoning and punishing the coaches and senior administrators. Second, the structure of penalties can be designed to hurt programs for 5 year time periods where the blood in the water aspect of bleeding programs who cannot offer players national championships and media exposure, can be out-recruited. This compounds the initial penalties.  

Emmert has pledged to beef up and infuse aggressive energy into enforcement staff. Now the Committee on Infractions controls they demonstrated remarkable courage and power with USC; they missed the boat with letting Michigan off with a handslap, but the next several months will tell us in the new Shiva approach will continue. If it continues, it has a real chance of actually catching the attention of coaches and athletic directors.

Now the precedents are set, the options in place. Tennessee and North Carolina are in line. Auburn and Connecticut are waiting in the wings. The next true test of the Shiva option—Ohio State. As Gordon Gee and Gene Smith play Polonius and Hamlet, the destroyer of programs is waiting for them.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Time to Bury the "Coach in Waiting"

Succession planning poses one of the greatest challenges to leadership in any organization. Most organizations fail woefully, others build leadership depth and generate pipelines of leaders for their own organization and others much like the Marines or Proctor and Gamble. A few appoint successors a couple years in advance to provide stability, reassure outside groups and let other leaders know and give them a chance to go elsewhere for their own shot. IBM and GE both take this approach.  The modern athletic variation is to appoint a "head coach in waiting."

This is an idea that deserves to die. Despite the best and sometimes malicious intentions, the whole approach is a lousy idea and has failed miserably at the intercollegiate level.  The latest debacle at University of West Virginia provides one more piece of evidence along with the messes at Maryland, Florida State, Texas etc. At West Virginia the athletic director annointed a rising coordinator Dana Holgorsen as the Head Coach in Waiting (HCIW) to be mentored for a year while Oliver Luck eased our actual Head Coach Bill Stewart who had served under Rich Rodriquez. It reesmbled a sort of choose your poison approach.

As any student of leadership could predict it all fell apart. First, often these appointments are foisted on the head coach by an athletic director. The head coach resents it and the team and recruits and boosters face divided loyalties and split chains of command. Worse it destroys coherence and morale among the rest of the coaching staff who are vying to satisfy two masters, one who is coaching the other who will determine their jobs next year.

At Florida State Bobby Bowden loudly refused to go and had to be pushed our wrecking the succession of Jimbo Fisher. At Maryland the whole mess blew up when the head coach refused to step down and had to be fired. I could go on, but the West Virginia raises all the stakes and reveals the blunt failure of the strategy.

The West Virginia fiasco ended with the athletic director under pressure from the President firing Stewart and replacing him with the HCIW. But only after weeks of nightmare press and chaos for students. I will leave aside the issue of the accuracy of the stories, but as gossip piled upon rumor piled upon calumny, it became clear how divided the team was and how deeply the Head Coach resented his displacement/ replacement despite the cordial smiles in the above picture. Suddenly innuendo about the HCIW's drinking habits and unpredictable behavior appeared in blogspheres and gossip columnists. Later it comes it that they stories might have been planted by a resentful Steward. The truth of the accusations do not matter, what matters is how profoundly mistaken the attempt to replace a coach in their prime who does not want to leave. No succession planning worth its salt puts a successor in place against the express wishes of the existing head and expects it to work.

Far better to fire the coach clean and pure.

Pay the buyout and then hire whom you want. I don't know what drives athletic directors to do this. It appears a good idea to ensure continuity, help recruiting and keep high powered coordinators from going elsewhere. The reality as I argued elsewhere and experience demonstrates is that it undermines command structure, divides loyalties, encourages unhealthy internal rivalry and jealousy and undermines the search for diversity,  "The Head Coach in Waiting concept is a bad idea that cannot work smoothly. The younger or more vibrant the Head Coach, the lousier the idea. Appointing a Head Coach in Waiting violates every good principle of leadership and a commitment to diversity and fairness in hiring. It is a bad idea"

Time to bury it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Brave New World of Coach Accountability

"I didn't know" has become the standard response high profile coaches to the range of off field violations that are killing programs and careers. The ignorance is willful and arises from many areas. Most coaches probably agree  with Ohio State alumnus Bobby Knight that the off campus selling rule is “idiotic,” and agents actually can help athletes get ready for the draft. Knight aside, the rules do make sense. Boosters and fans would rush into legal secondary markets and use these sales to funnel funds to elite athletes, history is a clear guide here. But coaches do not judge the quality of the rules, they promise to  respect, teach and enforce them. Ignorance is neither excuse nor justification.

Jim Tressel of Ohio State claims a sort of immaculate ignorance of what is going on; Butch Davis of North Caroline claimed a blind trust in his assitant coaches; Pete Carroll was just too busy being a star to monitor either coaches or players; Rich Rodriquez was too busy to read the rule book, listen to his compliance people or count the number of coaches on the field. The list goes on, but all these coaches would reject and excoriate any player of their who claimed a similar level of ignorance or lack of accountability about plays, practice or commitment. All of them support what Pat Forde calls the "cult of the head coach."

“I did not know” will no longer cut it. A number of coaches have opined that  it is unreasonable to expect them to know the off campus actions of 100 football players. Well let’s think about unreasonable for a moment. These coaches are usually the highest paid officials in their state making at a minimum a couple million. In football they have 10 assistants, 2 graduate assistants, 3-5 strength and conditioning coaches plus operations folks and class checkers, the ration is not 100-1 but about 6 to 1. In basketball four coaches plus operations folks oversee 13 players, a ratio of 3-1.

More importantly such vigilance is not required for all the players. All programs know their wild cards and character impaired players. They also know their stars and future draft choices. Following up on them and their actions is not that onerous. In addition the coaches all know the parents and know the wild cards and difficult parents, so keeping tack involves sound judgment and focused attention, not the problem portayed by beleaugued millionaire coaches.

If we take the coaching ignorance excuses seriously for the last two years of violations, the self-defined lack of accountability as defended by coaches is staggering. It turns out coaches don’t have to know the rule book very well,  even after having to pass a test each year. Coaches don’t have to know that there are limits on the number of coaches they can have on the field. Coaches don’t have to know how many hours students athletes spend in work outs and conditioning. Coaches do not have to know that their assitant coaches are pushing athletes to work beyond the scale of required hours or introducing them to agents or facilitating go betweens. Coaches don’t know their athletes are driving cars they cannot afford or hanging out with boosters who specialize in secondary markets for their paraphernelia.

The off campus rules focuses on the issue not just of illegal benefits but to discourage boosters and hanger ons from laundering money to give to privileged players. I have no doubt the NCAA needs to go to cost of attendance as a norm and that many student athletes struggle on the margins to make ends meet, but the rules have strong reasons based upon past behavior of boosters.

Well here are the new rules of coaching accountability. Coaches really are responsible for learning and policing the amount of time athletes spend doing voluntary involuntaries. Coaches really are responsible for the actions and relations that their assistant coaches foster with intermediaries who help recruit but also now serve as the facilitators for the bridge to professional sports. Coaches really are responsible for understanding who is on the field coaching and how many coaches they permit to help them. To be honest, this is not hard.

Now things get a little more complicated. Coaches now must monitor very closely the outside activities of their student athletes. This includes, as it always has, summer jobs, booster facilitation of money, exorbitant purchases, now even tattoos. Coaches and their staffs now must monitor the illegal sales whether of shoes or championship rings. In addition, coaches intimately get to know families when recruiting student athletes and relations continue with parents as parents watch over playing time. They need to stay on top of relations with parents and rules.

Greg Byrne the highly respected athletic director at Arizona points to the culture of collective accountability that programs will now need. In a tweet to Arizona boosters, he urged them to read the sports Illustrated article on Ohio State and urged them all to watch and report any situations where they witness a student athlete getting an extra benefit. He correctly points out, “We are one bad decision by a coach, employee, student-athlete and/or community number/fan from facing significant challenges that can damage our university and our athletic program for years to come.” 

If boosters can do it, so can coaches. Too many top coaches practice denial even as they preach radical accountability to their players.

I have no sympathy for coaches making extremely high salaries who claim it is too hard to keep track of their student athletes.  First, the whole process begins much earlier. Coaches are responsible for whom they hire and how they socialize and reward assistant coaches and staff. Coaches create teams of assistant coaches and send very clear messages about what is valued. They must and do work to find a meeting of the minds here. Coaches are responsible and can expect to monitor their assistants behavior. 

Second, coaches create the culture of their team. The must speak and talk and walk the talk. They have to back up their values with their behavior both in their own lives but also in how they monitor and reward and punish their student athletes. Elite student athletes at the college level have experienced too much hypocrisy already from boosters and AAU coaches and shoe companies. The coach has the responsibility to teach and inculcate accountability and values to the team.

If the coach has done his or her job with the culture, then they naturally should be following it up. It is not as if coaches do not know what the problems are or who their stars and character challenged players are. It is not as if coaches do not know the parents they wooed as much as the players. But the point is that not all players need to be watched and not all families need to be monitored. Coaches know where and how to target scrutiny; it is their denial and invincible ignorance that gets in the way.

The hinge of the new world of accountability is be honest. All these coaches who preach accountability and honesty to their players should just act on it. The range of denial and lying from putative leaders points to a level of hubris that university presidents have abetted. Just actively admitting the problems, accepting responsiblity and doing it immediately would remove half the problems. As Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon and Tiger Wood learned, the coverups and lying kill you. We all make mistakes.

It may be unreasonable to expect this of them, but then it is unreasonable to pay a coach 2 million dollars a year plus endorsements and a special car and endless celebrity status. Unreasonable is not the problem; demanding accountability of yourself, your staff and your players is.