Winning at the collegiate and university level matters for sure regardless of NCAA Division, and presidents/chancellors certainly notice when teams win, particularly showcase monied teams like basketball or football (as opposed to fencing or tennis). And yes, they notice if the Athletic Department is revenue generating and getting donations from wealthy alumni/ae.
But, there are other things ADs and coaches can do to get positive attention from the college/university president or at least some high-level administrator within the leadership circle. And, this type of recognition can benefit someone’s current position or pave the way for a future and higher-level position at another institution. The world of academia is small, and people talk and recommendations matter. We say this very thing to students: get to know a professor. I offer the same advice here for ADs and coaches: get to know the institution’s leader or leadership team.
Here’s my top five list of ways to make that happen but first, one starting observation.
Depending on the institution, there may be such a hierarchy between the AD and the coaches and the AD and the president/chancellor such that no coach would bypass the AD and reach directly up to the institution’s leadership team. So, in the T/F questions, not all coaches can comfortably reach “up” and out to the institution’s leadership, in essence going over the head of the AD. That would make every question “false.” Perhaps a “cc” to the AD on an email to a president is enough. Perhaps an email to the AD is the only thing possible. Simple observation: it depends.
Make sure your team engages in some sort of community service activity that is more than a one-off event. Adopt a kid for the season to be part of the team including sitting on the bench and wearing the uniform. This gets media attention in the community and creates good will. And, other kids will want to garner the same position in future seasons. It could be a kid with an illness or a disability or an elementary or middle school athlete. Let the institution’s PR department or Sports Information Director (or both) know about this so it can be publicized. Photos are useful; helping with homework is a good thing. Meeting the young person’s friends is nice; so is buying the kid a birthday cake to share. Team in every sense.
Consider having a faculty member or Senior Cabinet Member or the institution’s president/chancellor serve as honorary coach for a day. The selected person could be from any division within the institution. Perhaps let the team members select participants. The Coach for a Day would sit with the players on the bench, would be in the locker room pre-game and during half-time and post-game (barring nudity issues). Imagine the level of insight this “Coach” would get from seeing a team in action. That’s why it isn’t always best to pick the faculty member who is most athletic. Pick the professor who has his or her head in the library stacks. And, the Coach of the Day would be announced to the crowd at the start of play. Of course, the role is honorific; no worries about a Coach of the Day actually creating or sending in plays!
ADs and coaches should write a blog that is published in some highly visible location on athletics or issues (largely non-controversial) about student-athletes. Consider CollegeAD or InsideHigherEd or Diverse or some NCAA publication. This accomplishes three things (assuming the piece is good): it gets the institution’s name out there; it gets the author’s name out there and it shows the athletic department “gets” the academic way and values the thinking and writing that professors do. Think too about co-authorship, a piece jointly written by a coach and the head of student support services or a professor. One caution: this is not the right venue to write on your political views or to criticize the students or faculty (whether or not warranted or interesting). The goal here is to garner positive attention. For a critical piece, that requires another set of criteria.
Invite the president/chancellor to address your team at some point in the season – pre or post game, after or before practice. The person may say no, alleging that he or she is too busy. But, at least you asked. When I was asked, I was deeply complimented actually and I thought long and hard about what to say to the team (men’s basketball). And, for a president/chancellor, this is a good way to get to know more people on a campus “up close and personal.” Ask yourself: did you know the president of the institution you attended as a student? Consider why.
Most presidents/chancellors are bombarded with bad news items and situations that call for them to make tough decisions day in and day out. Good news stories are quite rare even though they exist in abundance on the campus; they just don’t get to the leader directly. So, I think presidents like to hear good news on occasion, something he or she can cheer about or tell donors about or share with community leaders. So, develop at least one very good news story that happened to your team or to you and share it. It is not boastful or intrusive. In fact, such information is often a pleasant reprieve in an otherwise hard day. If you are appointed to come committee of your athletic conference, share it. If you are named to some commission, share it. If a student-athlete is recognized for something notable, share it.
So, apart from politics and hierarchies, the answers to the T/F questions are all the same: they are all true. Each of the proffered five suggestions takes time and planning. No quick fixes here and poorly executed plans are worse than no plans, at least from a president/chancellor’s perspective. But, ADs and coaches can benefit from getting to know the institution’s leadership – in terms of the present and in planning for the future. It matters.
Karen Gross is the former President of Southern Vermont College, an NCAA DIII institution fielding 13 teams. She was the president of the college's Athletic Conference, the NECC. She also served on the NCAA DIII Presidents' Advisory Council. A lawyer by training, she represented an NFL quarterback (decades ago) and is a serious professional and college sports fan. She currently is senior counsel to a crisis management firm in DC where she specializes in education. A Red Sox fan, she knows a lot about losing and winning. Her son, now a professor, is a former NCAA Division I athlete.