December 30, 2009

People not Places

On the statistically minimal chance that an Athletic Director or athletic department Donor is reading this site, I want to provide a suggestion - Invest in People NOT Places.

This is the contrarian thing to do and as such, will not be attractive to many AD's and Boosters.

Athletic Directors and Donors wish to build monuments, they want to create Places; build a new basketball arena, update the football stadium, build a new weight room, academic support center, horse shoe pit, etc. This is a natural desire because these Places will be there for years to come.

For AD's the motivation is the resume - It looks really good when they directed the creation of a 30 million dollar athletics center, when they oversaw the upgrading of facilities which included all of the above mentioned items. The modern Athletic Director has very little to do with Athletic teams anymore; their functions are focused on raising money, providing the needed support criteria for Football and Basketball, keeping all other sports within/below budget and being the face of the athletic department for anything needing media attention.

The drive for Donors is even more understandable - Getting a building named after them, or at least a very nice brick, plaque, floor tile, sticky note.....; something which will keep their name on the facility until it becomes out dated and torn down by our children's children.

From an intellectual point of view, I understand this motivation and if a university/college is without a facility (I was at a DI school where the Softball team was playing at a junior high and the Track team used a high school facility - this was not too long ago!), then there is the reason to create facilities. My radical suggestion is based upon the redo, refurbish, tear down and create again mentality of facilities.

People are the key to teams winning; People are the key to a Student-Athlete having a great experience. People will create outstanding Alumni. And People cost a lot less. I believe the validity of this argument is based upon the changeover in college football coaches. For example, Notre Dame football losing is because of the People coaching, not because of a lack of facilities. The top flight football programs all have comparable facilities, yet success or failure is because of People, not Places.

I was at a Staff/Coaches meeting at a former school and our Athletic Director was outlining some new facility projects that are in the pipeline and an interesting comment was made. Our AD said, "...this new weight room and academic center, for example, will be better for your program than an extra $10,000 in your recruiting budgets or raises for your staff....".

That was one of those times where if I were Lottery rich, I would have stood up and said, "WRONG!". Sometimes, well almost all the time, I wish I was outrageously rich and coaching college volleyball because I would be legendary!

What was not missed by anyone in the room at this meeting, was that these new facilities are all based on the needs of the football team, even though it is supposed to help us all. The new weight room is in the football facility, as is the academic center, yet they are supposed to help all of us. All too often this is the case with athletic departments - The administration "sells" the benefits of facilities for all, when the reality is it is a facility for one.

People are the key. I had one AD, in fact the best AD I ever worked for, who actually made the investment in people. Our school had probably the worst facilities in the conference, yet we were among the highest paid coaching and administrative staffs in the the conference. The result was our department was at the top of the league in total athletic department success. It was clear that quality student-athletes were not coming to our school because of the new strength facility, or brand new locker rooms, or the mega-tron video board, but rather because the coaching staff was first rate - Good coaches and good people. My ATFAD (All Time Favorite Athletic Director) realized that the amount of money needed to update/create new facilities would be huge and the time frame was many years to completion, while the benefit of investing in People was significantly cheaper and the results immediate.

There is that old saying, 'If Momma ain't happy, Then nobody's happy'. This same idea applies to coaches and their programs. If a Head Coach is having trouble paying the bills, having to run 900 camp days and associate with a USAV Club Team, while trying to run a NCAA Volleyball program, odds are they are not going to be happy. If a Coach is not happy, then this will trickle down to the players - right or wrong, this is just human nature. The crazy thing is that the amount of money needed to make a college volleyball coach happy is really just pennies on the Dollar in relation to facilities or the budgets of Football and Basketball.

In my interaction with Volleyball Coaches and other Olympic Sport Coaches, the number one complaint is salary. It is not marketing, or budgets, or needing more staff - The main gripe is not having enough salary to take care of their needs. All of us know that being a College Volleyball Coach is not the avenue towards great wealth, and we come into this profession with our eyes wide open. What generally gets to us, is the inability to provide a comfortable lifestyle for our family, while trying to put a bit away for retirement. We understand we will not get rich, but with the sheer volume of time needed to conduct a Division I (or for that matter, any Division) Volleyball program, coaches want to be able to cover their costs, provide a comfortable life for their family and put away for retirement. Too many times, not being able to accomplish these basic desires motivates quality college coaches to step away from the profession or the ones that hang on, to have a certain bitterness about it all.

Once again, the amount of money needed to lift Volleyball coaches above this satisfaction thresh hold is minimal in terms of athletic department budgets. I would guess that for many coaches in this position of financial stress, a $20,000.00 raise would be huge and create a much happier mental state. 20K is such a drop in the bucket for athletic departments. To put it in perspective, a DI football team drops more than 10K to put its team (players, coaches, staff) in a hotel and feed them the night before a HOME game. One time, I inadvertently received the meals invoice for the football team's away game (we stayed at the same hotel a few weeks apart) - One part of the bill was $2,300.00 for a late night snack!!! A snack!

I would suggest to Athletic Directors and to athletic department Donors, that if you want long term program success, student-athletes who matriculate into contributing Alumni and a cohesive athletic department, that you invest in good coaches and put forth the resources to keep good coaches. I absolutely promise you it will work and it will cost pennies on the dollar in comparison to other projects.

When Volleyball Student Athletes leave college, their memories are going to be of the environment which the COACH created, not the great weight room they had, or the academic center's cubicles for studying. They are going to talk stories of great matches, funny road trips, respected coaches; they are not going to talk about what a great training room they used.

I know having good facilities is important to attract quality Student-Athletes, but the gym does not provide leadership when a player is going through the college transition, the weight room does not give you a call to make sure you are OK when something is wrong back at your home town, the new sky box can't check your unit count to make sure something was not overlooked to be sure you are still on track to graduate.

People are the reason a team is successful, not Places.

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