Wednesday, July 25

The Student, The Athlete, The Implications

Disclaimer: I have friends who are coaches.  I love sports.  I often struggled to help students balance between their educations and their athletic scholarships that were paying for their educations.

The story of Penn State and its stunning list of failures in the Sandusky case will go and on (and on and on) in infamy.  And not just because the media will chew on this until there is no color and no flavor left in that particular bone, but because of the impact the NCAA decision will have on the university as a whole.

$60M.  Sixty million dollars.  That is the amount of revenue from football.  Yes, Penn State paid Paterno a little over $1M to coach and there was a substantial coaching staff.  Yes, there are expenses in running a highly competitive program; there are expenses in running any program but the greater the expectations, the greater the expenses.

The premier sports programs at universities fund the less glamorous sports, and help ensure the university can be in compliance with Title IX regulations.  But premier sports can also fund new buildings and not necessarily just athletic ones.  And premier sports can also help fund any number of other initiatives that universities implement to remain relevant, timely, competitive, interesting, valued, or just to keep the alumni and/or boosters happy.

This is a complex issue.  Penn State and its alumni are tarnished in an unimaginable way.  Other football programs are sifting through the Penn State roster of players and recruits to see who they can lure away though I doubt it'll take much coaxing.  But all of those students playing the less "glamorous" sports will also suffer and those students, many of whom have fewer options for athletic or even academic scholarships, may find themselves in difficult situations if they are inclined to move to another university.

The ripple effects will soon touch most if not all of the Penn State population.  The angst, the suffering, the frustration are just beginning.  But Penn State is not the whole story.  It's not even part of the real story.

The real story is our love affair with sports and how we create celebrities out of athletes.  The real story is the obscene amount of money we pay people because we place so much value on these games, even those completely mucked up by the nonsense we call the BCS Championship, but that's a different post.

A story today shows how badly our world is tilted because college coaches are paid upwards of $1M to coach football.  That's just the head coach.  And according to this story about the highest paid college football coaches, Paterno was in the middle of the pack.

And parents wonder why tuition goes up?  This could contribute to it.  ON THE OTHER HAND, without these premier programs, is it possible that tuition could be higher?  How does one choose between the possibilities paid for by the revenues of such a program with the potential of not having those options for one's students?  Perhaps making such a decision does not measure up to the sword of Damocles, but it is a difficult decision nonetheless.

Some may rejoice in the comeuppance of the flawed leadership of Penn State and the football program, but don't ever forget that the real tragedy of this entire event centers on the victims of Sandusky's sexual abuse.  Even so, the tragic repercussions continue and will continue as the entire student population, the staff, and the faculty of the university are affected by the NCAA sanctions.

Every football coach, every athletic coach, every administrator needs to take a hard look at themselves and their programs and ask: "Could this happen to me?"  "Could this happen here?"  And then take brave, determined, and proactive steps to make sure it isn't happening and won't happen.  Ever.

The price is much too high.  For absolutely everyone.  Including you.

Sunday, July 1

Why failure needs to be an option

When I think of failure, I think of Willy Loman.  Not so much because Willy was a failure himself, but because he does not allow himself to acknowledge any shortcomings and does not seem to know how to learn from failures in his life.  In other words, he allows himself to be defined by what he did rather than who he is and could be.  It's not that simple, of course.  His family, the time in which he lived, and more contributed to the character who was Willy Loman.

But let's think about this word "failure."  The phrase "Failure is not an option" was immortalized by the film, Apollo 13 and continued to build momentum, including in books like Gene Kranz's Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond.


Failure has a terrible connotation. It is the opposite of success and we know how much our culture values whatever it seems to perceive as "success."  Money? Power? Position?  I suspect we have a skewed view of failure because we have such a warped view of success.


One of my favorite quotes is by Booker T. Washington, whose life story is also inspirational, no matter one's color or gender.  Mr. Washington said: "I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has had to overcome while trying to succeed."

That sounds to me like moving beyond what others might call failure.  Consider these quotes by two men who knew a lot about success and about failure:
     "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."  Winston Churchill
     "Success is never final, failure is never fatal. It's courage that counts. " John Wooden


So we can stay completely and absolutely in a comfort zone and never risk either success or failure.  Or we can take risks.  Because it is through both success and failure we can learn and we can grow in so many ways through learning.

Life can equal risk.  What we do with our opportunities is up to us.