By Juan Lozano | July 27, 2020
Last week I was reviewing a typically wordy college coaching contract and one of the coach’s many responsibilities was to “support the academic mission of the University”. This specific clause further elaborated on the coach’s duties: “they shall work towards integration of intercollegiate athletics and the experience for each student-athlete into the whole spectrum of academic life and to complement the University and its mission”.
Perhaps you are more intelligent than me, but I don’t know what this means. I’m not sure what’s required of the coach according to this language. This is even more confusing during a pandemic as many schools have not articulated plans specific to on-campus instruction or football this fall. This “integration” language is eye-opening considering that a part of the discussion of football beginning in fall as scheduled is whether players can be successfully quarantined from the rest of the campus community. (Spoiler alert: They can’t). That’s the exact opposite of integration.
In my experience as a former Director of Football Operations, most coaches don’t want their players integrated into the University community. The football player is often times shielded and not aware of campus happenings. Nearly every single minute of his day is planned for him, and much of it has nothing to do with anything else besides football.
If the player is too involved with campus life or social groups or even academics, he’s accused of not being as committed to the team as he should be. The expectation is that every waking hour should be spent on workings towards winning on Saturday or other football-approved activities.
I’ve visited football facilities where coaches brag that the players never have to leave the football facility because many of the classes are conducted there. (College coaches frequently complain that they have to overly monitor the players and that their players aren’t resilient because everything is done for them. Yet coaches and administrators designed these buildings to bring everything to the player, including, classes, cafeteria, and even a barber shop.)
Moreover, many players take online classes and rarely, if ever have to set foot on campus with the rest of the student body.
Take last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Joe Burrow for example. In an article written late last year about the popularity of online college classes among football players, Burrow commented about a post-game celebration he enjoyed with fans:
“I don’t go to class. I take online classes so I don’t get to see any of those people,” he said. “And I kind of just wanted to see them for the first time and just thank them.”
Burrow will forever be an LSU legend. He won a Heisman, helped the Tigers win the national championship and was drafted with the first overall pick. He probably doesn’t need the campus community to help him. But there’s others that do.
Let’s take an athlete at a different school that takes online classes and their career ends after their last college game. He might need the campus community in order to take care of himself after football. The relationships formed with other students would allow him to learn about the world outside his own.
College athletic departments think they do their players a service when they have a career day where prospective employers set up a table and meet student-athletes. It can be a great day if the players are adequately prepared. They might get a job out of the experience. However, it can also be a frustrating one. In our experience, it’s a day that to many suggests the end of their college experience is near and demonstrates how ill-prepared the player is to encounter the “real world” and provide for himself. It also begins a player’s sincere reflection of what his collegiate football experience did or didn’t provide to him.
The career days are also difficult for the athlete because they don’t have much in common with the well-meaning people at the table. Many players are unable to speak about themselves and their qualifications or positive characteristics because they haven’t been provided with very many affirmations in their experience and they have not interacted with people “outside the building”. Collectively, they also have not been to conceptualize their experience as anything more than an athletic endeavor. They are unable to articulate their collegiate football experience in terms of responsibilities they’ve embraced. And as you might know, employers want to know that a future employee can handle various duties and responsibilities.
If a player were to reduce what he does on a daily basis, he would recognize he possesses many desirable qualities, many their college peers don’t have. (After all, most college students don’t have to be at a 6 A.M. lifting group). This of course takes incredible discipline.
However, because they haven’t been taught to think in those terms. They have been taught that one of the greatest attributes to possess is to think of the team first. As a result, the players don’t think about themselves. They describe themselves as being “just” a football player. I’ve heard too often a player say that “he just plays football.”
The player walks away from this event disheartened and the belief he isn’t ready. Many of these frustrations can be overcome by exposing the player to the larger campus community early on. When you’re around other athletes, you tend to have generally the same conversations because you are experiencing for the most part, many similar things. You’re also taking many of the same courses.
If they were provided the opportunity to interact with others, they’d learn about to how get things accomplished in a classroom, keep current on non-football events or learn life skills such as how to address people, how to write correspondence, etc.
It’s important for coaches to let their players become part of the larger campus community as promised on recruiting visits. One of the most cringe-inducing parts of the recruiting experience is when coaches and administrators discuss all the notable people that are alums of the school. How many players will actually get the opportunity to actually interact with those people mentioned? Very few.
Instead these notable people generally come to talk to the head coach or to write a check to an athletic director, but the average player is insulated for the most part from interacting with that powerful donor. The donor is a part of the larger campus community. But there’s no attempt to by the University to “integrate” in those situations.
Since the college athletic director generally views things through the prism of money, then they should be looking at former players as future donors. If a player’s experience is limited and he doesn’t develop an affinity for the larger campus what kind of meaningful connection will the school and athletic department have with that
former player future donor?
School officials know that integration is difficult, if not impossible due to the high stakes of college football. The time a player spent in February going to office hours to learn concepts from a Professor or attending a Pre-Law club meeting could have been better spent preparing for the Week 1 game against State College. As it looks more likely that the majority of college football is going to be playing in the spring, it’s important for coaches to know that the one of the only voices that players have heard in recent months is from their coaches during incessant and endless Zoom meetings. The players are bored. They want a different voice. This is a good as time as any for coaches to let the players grow and experience life away from the football facility.
Opinions expressed are solely of the author and do not express the views or opinions of Headcoachranking.com.