Sunday, November 6, 2016

IMHO, Lafayette's athletics study raises some questions


For almost a week now I’ve been reading that Lafayette release that is entitled “Blueprint for Greater Success in Patriot League.”

The document has caused me to think about some past memories that have not been very positive – the late-1990s disaster that spawned threats like eliminating football and dropping to Division III. Or that 2007 strategic plan study that also was supposed to enhance the athletic programs at the college but came up pretty much empty.

I also witnessed as the college came almost kicking and screaming into the world of merit scholarships, particularly for first basketball, and more recently for football. Lafayette finally did get with the program, but its unwillingness to commit to do it 100 percent in the two major sports is still a disappointment to me and to the alumni and fans who bleed maroon. It’s also a stumbling block to success.

Now, here we are again, broaching the subject of “improving the college’s competitiveness in the Patriot League.” Those are not my words but the words in the opening sentence of last week’s release.

The premise has an interesting and potentially positive sound to it. Especially in the sport with which I am most familiar, football, which has been a major part of my freelance writing career for nine years now. And it comes at a time when the Leopards have won only three of their last 20 games overall and just one of their last 10 in the league. If the college is truly interested in bettering itself among its peers, this may be a good start.



But do you need an outside consulting firm? And, does “a committee made up of staff, faculty and trustees” go far enough in the way of representation? And what is the college’s definition of the word “competitive” or the phrase “shared strategic direction”? And who are these “other internal and external constituents”? And what are “successful competitors”? These are some of my concerns.

Now, I have no skin in this game. I am not a Lafayette alumnus and I have never contributed a cent to the Maroon Club, the Friends of Lafayette Football or to the $400 million capital campaign that was launched in conjunction with that huge 150th Lafayette-Lehigh football game in Yankee Stadium.

But words have been an important part of my life since that day in June of 1960 when I was promoted from copy boy to a member of the sports staff at The Morning Call. And because of a long-time involvement with Lafayette sports from a trip to Florida with the golf team in the mid-60s to one to New Hampshire with the football team three years ago. So, here, for whatever it’s worth, is my two cents’ worth on this latest development on College Hill.

The release on the athletics study gave no indication of who might be included on the committee, and it seems that the makeup of that group is going to speak loudly about what direction the study will take. For example, the makeup of the Board of Trustees includes James Fisher and Harold Kamine, both of whom have athletic facilities bearing their family’s name. Will they be included in the study?

But the biggest concern for me is the fact that alumni – unless they are members of the BoT – seem to have been snubbed by the architect of the study. No Bourger or Kirby or Rappolt – and I could easily be leaving some other big contributors, too? Seems to me all would love to have a say in the direction of the various sports at Lafayette.

But the list of qualified candidates doesn’t end with people whose names are on buildings or fields on the campus. How about Tom Odjakjian, senior associate commissioner of the American Athletic Conference and formerly with the Big East, ECAC and with ESPN television … Doug Elgin, in his 29th year as commissioner of the Missouri Valley Conference … Beth Mowins, an ESPN broadcaster … Noreen Chamberlain Wagner, a Maroon Club Hall of Fame track and field athlete who has served on the executive committee of the Central Pennsylvania of the Lafayette Alumni Association.

That’s not an exhaustive list, by any means, either, but they would be knowledgeable in the area of athletics and Lafayette. I won’t even suggest the most popular Leopard these days – Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who is probably plenty busy lining up his personal World Series appearance tour.

Wouldn’t you think it would be advantageous to pick the brains of O.J. or Elgin when you’re talking about being “competitive” in collegiate athletics? Call me biased because I happen to have known and worked with both of them, but they’d be great resources.

It really is puzzling that so many influential alumni seem to have been blocked out of the process – unless they are numbered among the “internal and external constituents” the committee intends to interview.  That term from the release is about as innocuous a definition as you’ll find. Jack Bourger, external constituent. Nahhh!

On the subject of "shared strategic direction," the suspicious part of my brain wonders of that is to suggest that targeted sports groups like Friends of Football will be asked to take on even more of the expenses of the program than they already carry.  No, they wouldn't suggest that ... would they?    

Nowhere in the release about sports teams do I see the words “winning championships.”  Somehow, the words “competitiveness” and “successful competitors” don’t have a champions’ ring to them. Is there something wrong with a desire to win championships?

Competitive teams and successful competitors can finish 3-3 in football or 9-9 in basketball and fit nicely into a mission statement that includes phrases like “fosters the free exchange of ideas … seeks to nurture the inquiring mind … develop systems of values that include an understanding of personal , social and professional responsibility.”

College President Alison Byerly is quoted in the release, indicating an interest in an athletics program that will “develop outstanding student-athletes …” But in sports, the goal is a lot less complicated. While every coach is interested in seeing his or her young men and women excel in the classroom, they don’t see a disconnect between that and championships on the field, the court.

Actually, the one word that I wanted to see in that release was EXCELLENCE. It was missing.

I’m sure every faculty member at Lafayette would like to see his or her students achieve excellence, greatness, supremacy – call it whatever you want – in the classroom, in the lab or future endeavors. I’m sure every coach wants the same for his or her athletes.

So, why set the bar at a height of “competitiveness” for teams or “successful competitors” for individuals.

The Late Vince Lombardi once said, “Show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser.”
      
Mario Andretti has said, “Desire is the key to motivation, but it's the determination and commitment to unrelenting pursuit of your goal - a commitment to excellence - that will enable you to attain the success you seek. (italics mine)

I’m with Mario. I hope the people at Lafayette don’t find excellence in athletics to be an over-achievable goal.

Nothing like a bona fide over-achieving sports team.  Excuse my use of the arch-enemy, but I suggest you ask Lehigh men’s basketball coach Brett Reed what his team’s NCAA Tournament victory over Duke has meant to his program. That took place on March 16, 2012. It’s STILL a big deal – and will be until a No. 16 ousts a No. 1.   

Dreaming: No. 16 Lafayette, the Patriot League champion, defeats No. 1 Kentucky. Fran O’Hanlon cuts down the net.

Does that have a nice ring to it? 






                                                                                                                                                       

No comments:

Post a Comment