Our Brand Is Crisis

December 21st, 2016 | by Ronnie Burton Jr
Our Brand Is Crisis


During my time in Arizona State’s Sports Law and Business program, I learned how to critically solve problems with an emphasis on revenue generation and regulation. Yet, within our curriculum, we also learn about a third “R” word; one that can have a profound effect on any sports entity.


Thus far in December, we’ve seen the Wake Forest leak scandal, a protest and attempted boycott by the University of Minnesota Football team, and the release of a video containing an act of violence by an Oklahoma football player. If you’ve turned on your computer, device, or television you’ve probably noticed college athletics is in a constant state of crisis. With social media as a main outlet, pressing issues can evolve instantly with a need for key personnel to respond in minutes. If not handled accordingly, an institution’s reputation can be adversely damaged.

In an industry as high profile as college athletics, many of the most important decisions administrators will face happen in a time of crisis. With potential litigation always looming, a viable crisis plan must be in place prior to any issue occurring.  This topic is so important it had its own break-out session at this year’s Intercollegiate Athletic Forum in New York where many industry experts weighed in with their opinion. Carrie Gerlach Cecil, CEO of Social Media Sports Management, iterated the key is telling the truth quickly and ensuring a digital footprint just in case litigation occurs. Dan Beebe, a former athletic director turned private consultant, said it’s important to have an independent outside entity set up crisis procedures so that every possible angle is examined.  

While no organization wants a negative event to occur, a crisis creates a prime opportunity for a department to adapt. According to Jason Belzer Professor of Organizational Behavior and Sports Law at Rutgers and author of Leading Through the Perpetual Crisis of College Athletics, he believes “Crisis allows us to redefine the rules by which our organizations operate.” These instances pave the way for administrators to utilize adaptive leadership but first they must analyze the problem. Belzer believes that crisis leadership comes in two distinct phases. First, recognizing and mitigating the adverse effects of the crisis in the short term and second ensuring that post-crisis, the organization is actually now better off than had they not faced the adversity in the first place.

Although crisis isn’t new to athletics, the way in which we deal with it has changed. Creating a dialogue on crisis management and leadership can be the difference. In an industry where leaders are summoned to make decisions and solve problems, these skills are essential. For anyone looking to secure a promotion, having experience navigating crisis can be a huge separator as you look for more responsibility.


Ronnie Burton Jr About Ronnie Burton Jr
Ronnie Burton Jr., is an emerging professional within collegiate athletics and higher education. Prior to writing for CollegeAD Ronnie worked in administrative and coaching positions at California Lutheran University, Arizona State, and Michigan State. A 2015 graduate of Arizona State’s Masters in Sports Law and Business Program he looks to be an asset for organizations making decisions in the areas of regulation and revenue generation. A former college baseball player, Ronnie’s passions reside at the intersection of higher education and athletics.

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