In his seminal book, Good To Great, Jim Collins said the best companies start by confronting the brutal facts. 6 years ago when I started Game Theory Group (GTG), I had to confront a brutal fact: our business model had a flaw. GTG’s foundation was built on the idea that student-athletes gain certain highly transferable skills through their experiences as a student-athlete. These skills made them desirable in the workforce. Instantly, I was able to establish that value with an employer. In fact, it really was not a challenge at all. I never heard from an employer that the student-athlete experience was one they did not seek out.
The challenge was on the supply side – more specifically, it was engaging the student-athlete to think proactively about their careers. What I quickly realized was that this issue was more pervasive that with just the student-athlete – it was with all students.
Higher education had created a culture where receiving a top flight education / degree was mutually exclusive to starting a career.
This was a brutal fact that I needed to confront. GTG was and continues to be exclusively focused on the student-athlete experience. Here is what I found – amongst many other things, athletic departments are very serious and take full accountability in two major areas:
- wins and losses in a compliant fashion
- academic progress of their student-athletes
If you are a top flight athletic department and find one of your teams / programs lagging behind, that coach is accountable to improve their win / loss ratio. If they don’t, let’s say there is risk of personnel changes.
If you are a top flight athletic department and one of your student-athletes is lagging behind academically, that academic advising unit is accountable to improve the situation. If they don’t, again, risk of personnel changes will quickly enter into the equation.
If you are a top flight athletic department and one of your student-athletes competes successfully, graduates with a degree and does not receive a job, there is a very strong possibility that the athletic department may not even be aware of the situation. As compared to the first two situations, there is no risk.
In fact, ask any athletic department today these three questions:
- What was (name the team) record this year? Not only will they be able to name the record, they will likely even tell you who they lost to.
- What was the APR for (name the team)? They will be able to go chapter and verse for every player in the athletic department – GPA, major, expected graduation date.
- How many of your student-athletes got jobs this past year? Crickets. You may hear the great anecdotal example of Susie Student-athlete who will be working on Wall Street next year. What about everyone else?
Unfortunately, as well intentioned as athletic departments can be, they are not held accountable for career development. The NCAA does not measure it. In challenging economic times, investment goes to “must-haves” not “nice-to-haves.”
Fast forward to today and the ever-changing landscape of college athletics and I believe college athletic departments need to confront two brutal facts of their own:
- Through the court of public opinion and through the legal system, athletic departments are being held accountable to provide an outstanding student-athlete experience.
- The economic health of the athletic department is paramount to be able to afford the changing landscape of costs and affordability of college athletics.
This challenge trumps the facilities arms race, the recruiting wars and the wins and losses. These challenges are very real and their impact will be felt through loss of athletic programs / teams as well as personnel cutbacks, both of which we are already seeing.In the coming weeks, you will see a series of product and service announcements from GTG addressing these challenges. For the past 6 years, GTG has sought to be trusted partners with our athletic department customers. In the coming weeks, you will see us double-down on that investment and create even tighter alignment with athletic departments.
To learn more about GTG and our approach to market, please visit gametheorygroup.com