The movement towards providing student-athletes with cost-of-attendance payments has marked the beginning of a sea change in college athletics. The conversation surrounding the fairness of unpaid athletes earning millions for their respective universities is progressing at a rapid rate. Additionally, dialogue regarding unionization and other progressive topics are normalizing with each passing week.
These changes in the college sports landscape, in addition to societal shifts seen thanks to social media, technological advancements, and sport specialization, are creating a different type of student-athlete than has been seen in years prior. More connected to the world around them yet younger and possibly more immature than ever before, the new breed of college athletes is creating tension for some accustomed to how things used to be.
One particular example of this is the recent retirement of Southern Methodist University’s women’s basketball coach, Rhonda Rompola. Rompola, who enjoyed a long, successful coaching career, retired at the young age of 55 due, in part, to the attitudes of modern student-athletes. In speaking with the Associated Press, Rompola stated, “Kids are not as coachable as they were years ago. Kids nowadays are more concerned about when their next cost-of-attendance check is. It’s just a different world.”
Regarding the recent changes she’s observed in college athletics, Rompola continued, “Kids are making decisions these days to go to a college based on what their cost-of-attendance check is, based on the meals they get, not based on academics, not based on what a great school it is.”
Rompola’s retirement raises an interesting and important question for athletic departments about student-athlete entitlement and behavior. Perhaps if the attitude shift in student-athletes is substantial enough to help precipitate the retirement of a winning coach, it might be worth noting for athletic departments.
Moreover, according to Rompola, some student-athletes nowadays are not only motivated by the wrong things, they also are not as receptive to coaching as they once were. She says, “I see kids sometimes talking back to their coaches and it’s like a way of life. I’m just being honest.”
This observation certainly has many coaches nodding in affirmation, especially as student-athletes recognize the power they wield within their own communities. However, is this growing willingness to push-back truly a scourge in college athletics? An interesting counterpoint to Rompola’s take on athlete backtalk is Draymond Green, all-star basketball player for the Golden State Warriors and Big Ten Player of the Year under Tom Izzo. Green, who credits both coaches Izzo and Steve Kerr of the Warriors as being tremendous leaders, is a well-documented coach-backtalker who thrives on the energy and passion with which he plays the game. Watch him verbally spar with his coaches and one might think he is emblematic of the new, young, brash student-athlete generation. However, when handled correctly, he is made a better player and teammate by this particular treatment by his coaches.
There is no doubt the landscape of college athletics is changing, and, naturally, so too are the individuals most directly involved. Some lament the shift observed on a daily basis, and their words should be heeded by athletic departments. However, in order to continue to thrive in a dynamic environment, coaches and ADs must both listen to their charges, but also be ready to be malleable in the face of change.