Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Jock Sniffers and Nevin Shapiro

You all know the type. Not quite good enough to play, but they took some serious benders and hangovers for the team. Usually white, male, well off and tethered to a dream of being an athlete. If they cannot be one, at least they can buy access to one—players call them jock sniffers.

Nevin Shapiro the Miami booster now confessing to hundreds of NCAA violations, represents the archetype. Through eight years of handouts and gifts from cash to hookers to parties to abortions, he basked in the reflected glory University of Miami football players. At 5’6” he could never be a star, just rich. But he needed to feel the rush of associating with the players and pretend to be one of them. They called him “Lil’ Luke after Big Luke Campbell who helped bring down Miami in the eighties. 

He sniffed around practices like a bloodhound. Invited players to parties and strip clubs and made his mansions a hangout for players. He obsessively muscled into pictures & finagled a sideline pass where he strutted to prove to himself that he mattered to the team’s success.

The key to understanding jock sniffers—they need the players more than the players need them. Having money or status or success is not enough for them. They need association with the players to bolster their self-worth and plaster over the edifice of their ego by collecting and hanging with the dogs.

A jock sniffer walks over and gives the guys “daps.” He’ll call the players by their nicknames and use their slang. Maybe he’ll drop down and have a push up competition on the side during practice. He’ll pretend to be part of the team, and because of his wealth, the team accommodates the illusion.

He’ll drop player’s names in conversations with his friends and dribble out tidbits of insider information like gold nuggets to raise his status and inflate his own self-esteem. His lifestyle boasted his access and status.

Jock sniffers like Shapiro and his ilk Shapiro and his ilk insinuate themselves into player’s lives. This makes them so dangerous to programs and players. The sniffers need the pheromones of the players to excite them and boost their own fractured selfhood. They will do anything to buy and keep that access. If the team starts to lose, they’ll even chip in to help recruit with money and gifts.

If the players need a place to hang out, he’ll provide a place. If they need a ride, he’ll provide a ride. If they need a contact, a woman, a little money, he just might provide it. He’ll show up where the players are and shower gifts to buttress his stature as a pseudo player. The school might designate him a “mentor” to some players to give him an “official” role. A jock sniffer uses these gifts like honey to attract players ito his orbit. He imagines the players are actually like his “family” as Shapiro put it. These jock sniffers surround every program and are violations waiting to happen corrupting themselves and the players. Their existence requires serious compliance work, something lacking at Miami and Ohio State.

The Miami mess illustrates the jock sniffer problem in its extreme form where it has lasted for years and involves literally millions of dollars, but it grows everywhere guys need to bolster their egos with the illusion of being part of the team. The players aren’t fools. More than a few of them will not turn down the offerings and will even brag about it. Then their friends will want to get in on the action.

The players know what they are getting. Most of them have had posses and followers psychically living off their status and accomplishments for years. They see right through the guys who need to use them to buff an ego.
The players play along, but feel an abiding contempt for these seemingly powerful but needy guys who try to collect them. The players know themselves, and they know the hard work and effort accomplishment takes. They don’t need the boosters. The jock sniffers aren’t phonies, just needy deluded guys who could not make it on their own.

From his cell Shapiro is pulling down the Miami program out of anger. He cannot believe his “family” guys whom he courted and showered with gifts have abandoned him. Shapiro is deluded because he considered the players his friends when they were exploiting him just as he exploited them for his own psychological neediness. Most of them are too embarrassed or fearful to use their own names as the story comes out.

The players call these guys jock sniffers for a reason. The jock sniffers need the fake intimacy and insider status they try to buy. They shore up their identity by proximity—by breathing the same air as the team. But the reality is, they just sniff the dirty jock straps.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Cold Hard Eye of a Coach

The Seahawk’s coach Pete Carroll, he of perpetual optimism and glorious surfer zen, loves Lofa Tatupu. He recruited him at USC and coached him to an all American status. He inherited him as a five-year starter and the heart and mind of the Seattle Seahawks defense last year.           Pete Carroll  cut Loftoto last week.

He cut him cold and clean and cauterized the wound with bigger, faster, stronger rookies. Pete may love him, but love has nothing to do with coaching a professional team. Tatupu carried a salary that hurt the cap and had been slowed by nagging injuries the last two years. I once suggested that John Wooden  demonstrated that love of game and love of players informed his actions, including his disciplining. But Wooden coached college where coaches can afford to love their players and help them grow as human beings—they cannot really cut them for one thing, have a larger pool than pros, and they recruit and woo them and feel a deeper obligation.

But even at college a coach can have affection and even respect for a player and never play them.

At the core, college or professional, a coach must possess a cold clear third eye to assess the skill, talent and accomplishment of their players. This assessment remains their fundamental job and governs the heart of their relations to players.

I remember asking one of our football coaches what he looked for when he first viewed a young player, and he answered with no hesitation “body size and type.” Pure and simple, nothing else really mattered if the players did not have the basic physical shape, strength and speed to endure the rigors and grow into the skills required of elite competition.

Let’s go back and remember what we ask of coaches. We ask coaches to  WIN. 
What do we ask of coaches? We ask coaches to   WIN. 

All coaches, even the best and most committed to education and growth, know this. Owners and colleges fire coaches who do not win, no matter how many athletes graduate or how much athletes contribute to their community. If a coach does not win, the coach is fired.

A coach knows that they compete in a physical world. The body and skill/talent array are the foundations upon which everything else depends.

So a coach must analyze each player and group of players in a very straightforward way:
  • Body: does a player possess the strength, health, and durability appropriate to task and achievement in the coach’s system.
  • Skill Set: can an athlete  develop the high quality and split second physical, intellectual and judgment skills needed to bring disciplined strength and focused intelligence to bear under the heat of competition.
  • Mental Makeup—Work Ethic, Focus and Teachability: does an athlete have the discipline and focus to show up with body and mind focused and to work constantly during off-season and practice to perfect the skill set, the body and the judgment needed to compete against elite opponents.
  • FIT: not often discussed, but will the athlete’s mix of the above match the style of play and the particular strengths and mind set needed by players in this coach’s system.
Talent matters but only if connected to the rest. A fragile talented player is no help. A talented player without the ability to translate it to the skill under pressure is no help. A talented player who is unstable or does not work hard is no real help. Character issues including moral rectitude beyond the mental makeup issues matter only on the margin. High character guys who cannot produce are no help. In the end talent and character are secondary or even tertiary characteristics.

    Now the coach must constantly assess players each game, each practice and each day. Competitive dynamics never stop evolving and what works one day, may fail the next. The coach must attend to this in each player.

    The coach must watch the body unremittingly because the dings and attrition of play,  practice and injuries mount up and undermine effectiveness, durability and reliability. In Tatufo’s case slowly accumulated injuries and wear and tear eroded his resilience on the thinnest of margins.

    The competition is so fierce and the margin of gain so fine in games, that coaches cannot afford slippage in performance over the season even by elite players.

    They evaluate each player against the player’s own skill and potential, but most importantly coaches assess each athlete against any available replacements in the minor leagues, secondary markets or taxi squad. The baseball statistic WAR (wins over replacement) captures the statistical fungibility of players. If a coach can replace a player with a  better player or if a player declines and now is less than a potential replacement, a coach will replace them. A coach has to replace them given the coach’s obligation to WIN and their obligation to other team members to field the highest caliber and most effective players.

    Not only is a coach always comparing a player to him or herself and to immediate replacements, the coach must compare the player to the competition. Competitors always are evolving and developing new plays, new systems and combinations. Every competitor is continuously bringing in new and more talented or younger and quicker or stronger players.

    The coach has to keep each player in a constant matrix of cold-eyed calculation.
    • Their own body and capacity and skill level.
    • Their own skill and reliability relative to immediate replacements.
    • Their own skills relative to the evolution of the competition.

    When I think of a coach's eye I am reminded of Arnold Schwarzenegger's vision in the movie the Terminator. The computer assisted vision brought down a screen that measured and assessed data on speed, size, weight, effectiveness relative to opponent. The coach’s calculations lead to judgments of the player; there is no room for sentiment or love in deciding whether to play an athlete. Every player knows that they are watched and judged with cold precision every day, every hour, every minute, every play. Every player knows that loved or not, they can be benched or cut. That is the deal. In his own way Bill Belichcik exemplifies the ideal. Belichick loves the game, but he does not love players; they fit, succeed or fail, and he disposes of them with clean brutal efficiency, just like the Terminator.

    A coach knows that no one is indispensable.
    No one is indispensable, including the coach.

    For folks who must compete every day in their lives at their jobs and succeed or watch their job disappear, Coaching provides an XRAY view of the core of their own life.

    Monday, August 15, 2011

    The NCAA Presidents Stage a Governance Coup

    The NCAA retreat of last week created immediate results and serious momentum towards major reforms. Most commentators have been pleasantly surprised or astounding by the progress made. I want to highlight one very important aspect—the NCAA Presidents staged a coup in the NCAA governance structure.

    I agree with their decision and use the word “coup” specifically. Their actions bypass the existing elaborate governance structure to achieve immediate action. I want to emphasize their actions are totally within the constitution of the NCAA; but their approach reflects a lack of confidence in the existing governance structure.

    Larry Scott the Commissioner of the Pac 10/12 stated it well; the NCAA governance structure creates “death by incrementalism.” As one who has participated in the structure, I agree. Often this is not a bad thing because bad ideas can fail and good ideas refined, but the process does not foster quick response or serious reform.

    The NCAA is a member organization. 1400+ members participate at has three levels—Division I, II and III, and each level has its own voting procedures and laws. NCAA legislation and initiatives pass through a Byzantine system. Most legislation begins with schools or conferences and proceeds to subject area Cabinets where each conference is represented. Cabinet business proceeds at a very very slow rate. Each conference, each division has its own concerns and these tend to slow down and often halt progress on major issues.

    Because of adverse court decisions, the NCAA is wedded to proceeding only where it has clear data suggesting that new policies are supported by data; this slows things down  even more and creates a huge and powerful knowledge bureaucracy. Finally even after the Cabinets deliberate, often for two to three years and carefully cull data, the proposed legislation goes out to all the conferences for comments, then it goes to the Legislative Council for refinement and often is sent back out to the collective body for further refinement and voting. Finally, the legislation goes out for a vote to the entire membership.

    This process takes two to four years and discourages significant change. Death by a thousand cuts normally occurs.
    I have worked for three years on pieces of legislation that go through endless vetting only to see it defeated and this is not uncommon. The process also invites immense focus upon picayuane issues such as the size of letters sent recruits.
    However another avenue exists where the Board of Directors made of Presidents from each conference can pass directly pass. This is normally reserved for issues requiring immediate attention and seldom used. But even then, the Board decsions can be blocked by an override process where a limited number of schools can petition to have the legislation revisited. In the last three years the Board of Directors has passed good reform legislation only to have it stopped by override votes.

    Past NCAA President Myles Brand grew to distrust the system and grew very impatient. His solution had been to create outside ad hoc committees populated by some Presidents, Athletic Directors, Senior Athletic Directors, as many relevant coach groups as possible and one or two faculty. These groups met and generated legislative packages that went directly to the Board of Directors after a pro-forma review by the system. In the case of Baseball and Football reform, it lead to significant and good changes, in the case of basketball, the committee results were DOA. This process got results but generated a lot of resistance and resentment from the 1400 member institutions and especially the 350+ 1A basketball and football members.

    The organization has faced this dilemma for years. Glacial and unsatisfactory process creates reactive legislation loaded with nuance and minutia.

    President Emmert is risking a different model. He has used this window of opportunity and near universal dissatisfaction with the NCAA as a chance to move the Presidents forward. The retreat tested Presidential support and courage, built some consensus. The immediate passage the APR legislation resembled a blood pact to stay together. Immense covert and overt opposition from many athletic directors and have not schools will oppose good reforms that cost money. To make this work the Presidents have to stay together and they have to ride herd on their athletic directors.

    NCAA President Mark Emmert and the Board convinced the Presidents to take control and act now and quickly. A few short time line committees are charged to generate specific legislation on very fast time lines.
    To announce their seriousness and will, he Board of Directors passed unanimously and proudly new APR limits that will prohibit teams that do not meet APR minimum—an APR of 930 projects to a 50 percent graduation rate—from going to NCAA championships or NCAA certified bowl games. This matters affects every team and every championship.

    This is a great piece of legislation. It never would have passed through the cumbersome cabinet, review, and Legislative Council process. The legislation also severely limits appeals, another bane of the NCAA that draws out the endless processes. In addition, the Presidents struck a blow for sanity and against ESPN and Texas by prohibiting university affiliated sports stations from televising high school games.

    The Presidents have asserted control of the organization. By law and constitution, they have this right. In less troubled times, the endless complexifying process may be barely tolerable, but it makes significant and timely reform impossible.

    The biggest untold story here is that the Presidents have declared their control. The reforms are the byproduct of this and will only work if the Presidents stay together.

    Thursday, August 11, 2011

    The NCAA Vacating Victories Makes Moral Sense

    “Well I know who really won.” “They can pretend to take away victories, but they can’t take my memories.” “This is stupid, the NCAA is trying to rewrite history. We know who won the game.” Once again pundits and newscasters willfully misunderstand the NCAA’s increasing use of “vacating” wins and titles from teams that cheat to win.

    The last point is critical to remember. Strong moral reasons exist to “vacate” wins and titles as ill begotten gains. We need to remember this because more games and titles will be vacated this year.. At this moment both football teams in the national championship are facing scrutiny for just such ill begotten gains issues. The NCAA basketball champion also is under scrutiny.

    So why vacate game at all?

    The penalty responds to the fundamental fact—the “winners” cheated. They fraudulently fielded teams that by the rules of the game were illegal. So I don’t care who won; they won ill begotten gains. Good legal and moral principles lead to the conclusion that they should not be entitled to the glory, recognition or prizes associated with games won through deceit and illegality.

    Vacating games or titles is a very clear and tight moral response to immoral and illegal activity. Notice it does not “forfeit” games. The NCAA does not award victories to teams that did not earn them. And it does not humiliate duplicitous teams by imposing a loss after many of the players competed with passion and good will to win. In addition, the decisions are timely compared to most glacial NCAA consequences; the punishment is immediate and clear.

    The NCAA does not rewrite history, but it annotates history by pointing out the games “won” and titles “won” are not recognized by the authorizing and sponsoring bodies because the team cheated. So the name exists with an asterisk or a vacant space exists on the listings. The annotation reminds people that the victories were gained through dishonor. The “victors” are disgraced, and they should be.

    The moral defense of vacating victories flows from two different moral sources. First, quality players like Marcus Camby at Massachusetts or Derrick Rose at Memphis should not have been allowed to play. They cheated and broke the rules to get to that place. (John Calipari of course knew nothing of this). Similarly Reggie Bush violated rules, and his coaches negligently denied and ignored this.Terrelle Pryor and other starters violated rules. Their coach knew but lied and withheld evidence to cover it up. 

    These Massachusetts, Memphis, USC and Ohio State teams lied and misrepresented themselves. They claimed to abide by rules and authorized their players as legal and eligible, certified. So the players and the institutions collaborate in mutually beneficial denial and sometimes cover ups to field teams that are corrupted by the chain of illegal actions and complicity. The ineligible players compete, and the coaches, administration and other players are complicit or negligent as they deny or ignore the irregularities compounding the deceit. The team is immoral and illegal as constituted.

    The second moral issue arises from fairness. Not only is the one team tainted despite its high caliber as one built upon deceit and illegal actions, but the other teams actually abided by the rules. The other teams are at a fundamental disadvantage because they played fair, and the cheating team did not. Vacating victories reasserts the priority of fairness in competition.

    In other words, the team that “won” did not deserve to win. They cheated and defrauded others and had unfair advantages. Now Massachusetts may have won a championship without Marcus Camby and Ohio State may have won 11 games, the Big 10 title and the Sugar Bowl without Terrelle Pryor, but we do not know. The point is that they played and tainted the “victory.” The rest of the team may have played their hearts out and won fair and square on the field of play, but the talent and depth surrounding them had been acquired or sustained by violating rules and had an unfair advantage before they stepped onto the field of play.

    I think the decision to vacate needs to be followed by requirements to pay back money from bowls or championships or at least to face major fines the compound and create strong financial as well as moral incentives to comply.

    This approach can result in seeming punishment of the innocent. An angry letter of an Georgia Tech player dared the NCAA to pry his championship ring from “my cold, dead  of finger,” after the NCAA vacated 3 games and the ACC championship for  Georgia Tech for playing two ineligible players.” These punishments are not perfect, but the coaches who ignore, deny or abet the violations were negligent and often the other players know and do not disclose the issues. No one knows what the outcome would have been if the illegal players had not played, but the existing outcome does not have moral or legal standing.

    Vacating does not deny the game or the effort and worth of the play. But vacating victories stands as a good and defensible moral response to illegal and immoral actions that created tainted victories.

    Saturday, August 6, 2011

    Mark Emmert's Strategy for NCAA Change II

    President Mark Emmert has summarized the need for the retreat as follows: The integrity of collegiate athletics is seriously challenged today by rapidly growing pressures coming from many directions. We have reached a point where incremental change is not sufficient to meet these challenges.” 

    President Emmert must tirelessly speak and flog the idea of the crisis and and focus the diffuse and often misconceived media pressure into a viable and meaningful agenda of action. The Strategic Retreat on August 9 and 10 brings together all of the major presidential actors in the NCAA governance structure and pries open a window of opportunity to push and motivate the Presidents for significant change. Emmert needs to address five major groups: the Presidents, the Commissioners, the athletic directors, the coaches, and the student athletes. The media need to be addressed, but in their own way, they are both hopeless but central to entire enterprise of change. The Presidents and Commissioners are the key actors at the strategic retreat this August 9 and 10. 

    Presidents—They are the critical actors here. With them reform will succeed; if they are divided or half-hearted, it will fail. This is why Emmert must test out their willingness to act. All of them have seen their honorable compatriots raked over the coals to defend disgraced coaches or behavior that humiliates the university and its ideals. Even beholden to boosters, the Presidents know that a new generation of givers are less interested in athletics and more interested in academics and the academic reputation. The irony is that many got into the business of athletics to raise their academic reputation.

    Even more heartening the SEC presidents have lead the country over the last decade in their zeal for increasing the academic profile of students and have set aside a portion of their TV money to invest in athletic support.They can align with the Big 10 and ACC to lead the charge.  I think Emmert can win them over. The key will be their willingness to hang with each other against the combined lures of more money and the outrage of boosters who have made the system what it is. They also need to hold together and address the tensions among the haves, barely haves and have nots that sinks so much good legislation. Even a place like Connecticut with a new reform minded President or Rutgers with its see no evil president will go along. To the extent Emmert can link the reforms to raise academic standards, get higher minority graduation rates and protect universities’ reputation and from scandal, he can build this coalition. To the extent that the reforms cost money, the mid major Presidents who do no have money and hemorrhage money on their sports will balk at efforts. Emmert will need money and a willingness for the NCAA to set dual standards if this will work. This brings in the commissioners.

    Commissioners—If he gets the Presidents, he can get the Commissioners. In some conferences the Presidents have vested so much power in the Commissioners and trust them, that getting the Commissioners is critical. The two smartest and most powerful Bill Delany of the Big 10 and Mike Slive of the SEC are staunch supporters of the reform. They know the costs to their franchises and both are firmly committed to the whole array of NCAA sports and know the money comes from football but the scandals are sullying the rest. They also live at the legal edge of the tangles with the BCS. Beebe of the Big 12 has been too busy holding his conference together and now is a wholly owned subsidiary of Texas so they will go where Texas goes. The mid major commissioners are the biggest problems. Their schools are in trouble financially; they cannot afford to pay cost of attendance to student athletes; they cannot afford the higher level of academic support needed; and they have no TV deals to bail them out. One of the key decisions the NCAA will have to make and the Commissioners will be critical will be to separate and create different award levels for the haves, barely haves and have nots.

     Commissioners understand the issues better than the athletic directors and with the BCS have the power to destroy the NCAA by virtue of pulling out. The most valued commodity TV football remains a conference prerogative and regardless of the frantic drum beat of the media, little will happen about college football unless the major commissioners come together. Interestingly they may be more important than the Presidents but most of the commissioners now are far more aligned with their Presidents for whom they run TV stations and offset deficits than the athletic directors. So getting the commissioners matters as much for the Presidents.

    Athletic Directors—The momentum for change will not come from athletic directors who are hemmed in the obsessions to win, raise money and prevent anyone else from gaining a competitive advantage. Many of the have not directors don’t want things to change because they benefit from the corruption and economic inequality. Athletic directors are too imbedded in their own job security issues and the demand to win and placate boosters and super star coaches that they will not have the unity or the vision to lead the fight to change. As a force for change the athletic directors are  paralyzed by the need to make money and win at all costs. They are often eclipsed by their own coaches and often go down with the coaches they succor and protect.

    Coaches—Emmert has worked with the top tiers of coaches from the beginning of his administration. He has hired and managed top flight coaches—he broke the million dollar barrier by hiring Nick Saban at USC. He has hired and fired and knows their world well. He has cultivated them and has a level of trust and respect from the top tiers. More important, the top tier now knows they are not immune given the fate of Tressel at Ohio State or Pearl at Tennessee or the USC impact. Now with Shiva option as USC and the destruction of Tressel at Ohio State and destruction of Bruce Pearl at Tennessee and possible pillorying of Jim Calhoun, then has weapon to wield. Coaches now know no one except Calipari is invulnerable to NCAA or Presidential response. Emmert has worked hard, and circumstances have come around so that the coaches just want clear and consistent rules and to eliminate many low return rules that generate violations they can barely control like rethinking agents or phone calls.

    Student athletes—The student athletes have their own organization inside the NCAA and it inhabited by the best and most thoughtful of the student athletes. They are committed and intelligent. They serve on NCAA cabinets and often contribute well and thoughtfully to deliberations. But like the rest they are riven by their very different levels of schools and the irony is that you never see basketball, football or hockey players as the student athlete 
    representatives. They don’t have the time and as the most professional obsessed, the interest. If the NCAA can address the cost of attendance issues and the level of academic support issues, a lot can be done and will win their support. The need to rethink agents is also tied to students because they need good advice for post career moves and while it impacts a trace element of them, the rest feel tarred by the shenanigans of the few and they know that if done right early agent contact can help and support the student athletes. I think the student athletes can be brought along more by the content of the reforms, than the process per se. They know that if the cost of attendance issues and the agent and phone issues can be addressed a huge array of the petty corruption that weaves through the fabric of teams dominated by low social economic status kids can be minimized and everyone would benefit from that.

    The Media—Emmert was partially chosen for his ability to communicate and work with the media. This task is impossible. Too many reporters and TV commentator are wedded to a narrative where they pitch themselves as protectors of the student athlete—actually about 500 of 400,000 who might go pro—and assault what they regard as unfair recompense or opaque and crazy enforcement procedures. The best Emmert and the NCAA can hope for is to build and keep their legitimacy among their membership and students; the media will do what the media does and search for scandals and cover them with glee. Emmert will continue to try and reach out like the day long workshop on enforcement, but expect no real help or fairness here. Too many reporters are making careers out of portraying the NCAA as Darth Vader without understanding the difference between infractions or reinstatement. Emmert has and will continue to make efforts here and the messaging is critical; but nothing will be done here for long.

    The NCAA and Mark Emmert have a remarkable window of opportunity to change. The window is created by the membership’s own travails as well as the pressures that are breaking the system apart in football and basketball. Emmert has seized upon the moment and is generating the conditions of focused crisis, attractor solutions and coalition building that something good might come out of it.

    Good luck to them.

    Thursday, August 4, 2011

    Mark Emmert's Window of Opportunity for NCAA Change

    NCAA President Mark Emmert is trying to generate momentum for significant changes in the NCAA. His “retreat” on August 9 and 10 with 50 college Presidents and Chancellors along with a few Commissioners, Athletic Directors and one faculty member represents a major gamble to test the appetite of the Presidents for serious change. If the Presidents align, the NCAA can launch a serious reform agenda.

    Changing a large institution is not easy. With 1400 members and three levels of voting and a byzantine process of legislation, NCAA change initiatives face death by a thousand cuts and interest group vetoes. Glacial passes for supersonic at the organization.

    To understand Emmert’s strategy and gamble, we need to realize that significant organizational change usually requires a confluence of conditions.
    1)        An institution needs a leader who is willing to take big chances to set an agenda, build coalitions and fight for change.
    2)         A sense of urgency and stress needs to arise to generate real pressures on organizational members to be open to change out of fear and worry. Institutions seldom change unless forced by crisis. For most members fear of change is stronger than a desire to solve problems, so unless they sense the franchise is in danger, most will passively or actively resist change.
    3)       The institution needs to see a way out of the mess; the leader and his cadre of support must produce a way out. They need to fashion an attractor that moves beyond the defensive fear, denial or inertia.
    4)       The leader must marshal a strong coalition committed to move beyond the inertia and fight for the change against the forces of defensiveness that will array against it.

    President Emmert must articulate the nature of the CRISIS facing the NCAA. This is hard for an organization that has 13 billion dollars of guaranteed income for the next decade and possess a cartel franchise on every college sport but football.

    He has several things going for him. The endless array of scandals has waterboarded college sports especially elite football and basketball for three years. The public perception exists that things are out of control, and Emmert needs to build this into a crescendo.

    Even more importantly, no one is now immune. The implosion of USC created a supernova across intercollegiate sports and brought down not just a fabled program but senior coaches and a fabled AD. What I call the Shiva Option that destroys programs without the death penalty now exists in the NCAA’s arsenal. Even more important it created the precedent that nobody, coach or athletic director is immune. I mean no one. (except John Calipari)  So at a pillar of integrity the athletic director and football coach at University of North Carolina are gone. At Tennessee the basketball coach, football coach and athletic director are gone. Michigan got off easy but still jettisoned their coach, and now Ohio State, once a pillar of integrity, has been smeared across the constellations for a remarkable hear/see/do no evil approach to a cheating and lying coach and nationally successful program.

    The Crisis has many dimensions and each scandal has its own nuances, but Emmert’s job is connect them in rhetoric and strategy. He has been tirelessly building up enforcement and carefully linking the array of scandals into a crisis of confidence in the NCAA. The media frenzies and unbelievable media cynicism around college football and basketball need to be used to push a reform agenda against the inertia of programs and boosters.

    Mike Slive the experienced and incredibly successful Commissioner of the SEC has served as a good stalking horse for the reform agenda. He has helped forge rhetorical strategy of linking them all into a crisis: “We have lost the benefit of the doubt.” This is true especially in the media and it is doubly sad for the 87 other NCAA championships, most of which epitomize hard and prized competition and amateur athletics. So the entire enterprise’s legitimacy is threatened and besmirched.

    Mark Emmert has the crisis and he has the fear in place. He has augmented it by bolstering enforcement and coming out in favor of more.  He and a couple Commissioners are doing a very good job of mounting a rhetorical sense of urgency even if they have not yet hit upon a clear and focused articulation of the core values issues.  Now he has to build the coalition, and Part II will discuss how that can be done.

    Monday, August 1, 2011

    Ivy League takes on Head Trauma to Save Football from Itself

    Two a day practices begin in three days for college football teams. The start of bone crunching practices is a good time to remember clearly documented threats football contact poses to the human brain and cognitive functions of players. Saving the sport in all its brutal beauty requires addressing head trauma for moral and legal reasons. The Ivy League has taken the bull by the horns and limited the number of full contact practices to two per week during season and three during pre-season. Why?

    The American university enshrines the mind at the center of its aspirations. The university nurtures knowledge, creativity and reflective thinking. Without a strong mind, a university education makes no sense given its role to shape knowledge, imagination and reflective practice. As stewards of the gifts the mind universities should take the lead in addressing the plague of brain injury resulting from football.

    We know without a doubt that long-term football contact not only cripples knees, legs and shoulders, but cripples the brain. The range of cognitive impairment afflicting ex-football players is staggering. We used to think that having your "bell rung" was part of the game; now we know it slowly changes the electro-chemical constitution of the brain. It precipitates vicious protein build up that slowly congests neural functioning and destroys cognitive and physical capacities.

    It initially appeared that the problems might be associated only with concussions, but the research now finds the damage grows as much from repetitive contact over time.  The vast majority of contact occurs not in games, but in practices. The type of contact in games may rise in intensity and players may play through more pain, but the vast number of contact points that cumulative reshape the brain occur in practice.

    Practice, especially at college, matters immensely. Players compete constantly for playing time. The depth charts are far more fluid in college than professional ball. The number of players is larger. The pool size and permeability of starting line ups intensifies practices. Coaches still, for very good reasons, watch full contact practices to get the full measure of the talent but also the decision-making players under the speed and pressure of full contact competition.

    Practices can be brutal and designed to cull, weed out and isolate the weak and unprepared as well as reward the committed and prepared. This is integral to the excellence of achievement in any sport, any activity for that matter.

    The Ivy regulations will limit in season contact practices to two per week, not five. It will limit the contact during preseason to one per day not two, and during spring it will permit three per week. The Ivy League effectively cuts the number of potential repetitive brain impacts by 40-50 percent. This is a             GOOD THING.

    College student athletes are not professional athletes but still students. As long as the university believes in the student aspect; our schools have strong moral obligations to protect and nurture the quality of mind. It makes no moral sense to place students activities over time that we now know will destroy the physical foundation of the purpose of the University.

    The chorus of naysayers will claim that people want to turn football players into wimps or to sissify the sport. You can hear talk show ex-players already complain that modern professional practices largely consist of morning walk-throughs and afternoon partial pads. In "my day" they had brutal ugly confrontational two a days of 3 hours each in full pads at game intensity. They might be right. But right now modern football players are bigger and faster with more efficient muscle mass and technique than even fifteen years ago. A modern 1A offensive tackles ranges from 6'4" to 6' 8" and 290-350 pounds while a guard would be 6' to 6' 5" and 280-330 pounds. That is 30 to 40 pounds heavier than twenty years ago.

    This size+speed+strength equation equals far greater force impact. So you add up mass impact that are significantly greater with the additional number of contacts, and this amplifies the cumulative head trauma. This also increases the number of injuries that accumulate over the course of a season leading to attrition. It could be a win-win for coaches and players and you can see some of this coming up in how the NFL union is opposing the lengthened season but also negotiating over controlling the nature of practices and workouts required.

    A study quoted in the New York Times found that a season of practice time will generate 2500 collisions that have a G-force of 50-79. It will create 300 collisions with concussion range G force of 80-119 and 200 collisions with ranges above 120 Gs. Doctors compare the last to hitting a concrete wall at 40 miles per hour. Regulations like the Ivy League can cut the number of concussive impacts by 42 percent and keep players fresher as well as minimize other physical attrition that occurs.

    The Ivy League is not the SEC or Big10 or Big East and they will not change easily unless forced to by civil litigation. But the Ivy decision has created a laboratory to test if these changes can lower the dangers of head trauma. This will give the NCAA and players and doctors better data to move the process along. No big league conference will change on its own because they all fear handing over a competitive advantage to other conferences. But a BCS or NCAA wide change could grow from the data that Ivy league wil help generate.

    I do not want football to become a sentence to to limited mind and brain function. It is appalling for universities to be a party to this and the Ivy League’s efforts give college football a chance to think hard about dealing with head trauma and the integrity of the mind.