When the public begins to believe that the value of the institution is to be measured by the success of its athletic teams, the core mission of the university is threatened…the value of an athletic program must ultimately rest on its support of and integration into the educational mission and traditions of the university.
Those prophetic words were spoken in the January 2005 State of the Association Address by the late Myles Brand, the fourth president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. We may never know if Dr. Brand could have imagined the recent scandals that are rocking college athletics, but his words serve as reminder that the university community as a whole suffers when members of the athletic community behave in a manner contrary to university mission and values. Recent negative examples, such as the scandal surrounding Rutgers Athletics (including the hiring of their new Athletic Director) and the allegations concerning Seton Hall softball, should not deter university leaders from a critical opportunity that exists: enhancing university athletic programs so that they positively impact the leadership development of students.
Universities can avoid irreparable damage if preventative steps are taken to ensure all members of the university community understand what the expectations are when it comes to representing the institution. Many argue that coaches may feel as if precious time is taken away from building a “successful” program if they are expected to consider issues outside of scouting, skill and play development. Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden won over eighty percent of his games and seven consecutive NCAA championships. Yet, he did not consider himself a success unless his students were mentored in physical, mental and emotional disciplines that applied to all aspects of life. Coach Wooden always referred to the players on his teams as his students.
This is a key aspect to remember when discussing coaches’ behavior with student athletes: the players are students. A coach, just as a faculty member, should be hired, oriented and evaluated using standards that are in sync with the mission of that school. In addition, colleges and universities have a responsibility to provide all faculty and staff—including coaches—with orientation and on-going training that ensures they have an understanding of the school’s mission as well as an ability to effectively and consistently represent that mission.
The influence of role models on the development of leadership skills among young people can never be explored enough. People closest to students affect them the most. More often than not, student athletes spend more time in the presence of their coaches than they do many other adults, especially while in season. Coaches may or may not be aware they have this mentoring opportunity which makes it crucial for university administrators to ensure that the mission, vision and values of their institutions are fully, consistently, and unapologetically integrated into their athletic programs.