Friday, November 03, 2006

Swimming Upstream: Managing Athletics

This morning's (November 3) papers were full of the story of the NCAA crackdown on the UI athletics department and its swimming program. Tom Witosky, "Iowa Athletics on Probation; Men's Swimming is Found to Have Had Major Violations by NCAA," Des Moines Register, November 3, 2006.

It seems that between 2002 and 2004 the UI swimming coach, John Davey, and three student athletes, deliberately and "intentionally failed to disclose [they had] attended college in Poland before enrolling at Iowa" -- in direct violation of NCAA rules.

The UI was given a number of sanctions, including a $5000 fine. The NCAA investigators filed a report with the UI in July, 2006, but apparently the UI refused to make it public. (The Register reporter notes, "The Des Moines Register recently obtained a redacted version of the report after an Iowa open-records law request.")

The UI athletic programs have had a number of other prior violations. "Two other major violation cases," in 1964 and 1986 involved basketball, and swimming (along with other programs), respectively. In 1993 the UI men's swimming program also violated NCAA rules regarding "over-awarding scholarships in non-revenue sports."

The 2002-2004 violations were either not overseen and known by the athletic programs's administrators, or were known but not acted upon. "[T]he violations were reported to Iowa officials through an anonymous tip" -- following which, of course, a self-investigation, and the NCAA's investigation, were conducted.

Davey was permitted to "resign" in December 2004. (The Daily Iowan reports [Tyson Wirth, "NCAA Slaps Hawks for Swimmers' Violations," The Daily Iowan, November 3, 2006, p. 1A.] He now says,

"I am extremely embarrassed by the situation in which I have placed the University of Iowa, its athletics department, swim program and indeed my family and myself. A day doesn't go by without the matter playing on my conscience."

What's not clear from this statement is the extent to which his regret, and conscience, relate to what it was he did (at the time or since), and the extent to which it relates only to the publicity about what he did that has created "the situation."

Now I'm not going to judge the behavior of those involved. I can't know the pressures they were under, or what drove them to do what they did. And few among us do not have at least something we've done that causes us "embarrassment" and "plays on our conscience."

But there are some lessons to be learned and observations to be made.

1. Conflicts of interest. I have written elsewhere of the conflicts of interest that are created for everyone involved (i.e., coaches, athletes, faculty, administrators) when high pressure college athletic programs are conducted in an academic setting. See Nicholas Johnson, "Athletics and Academics," September 30, 2006. I cannot know, but this would appear to be yet one more example of coaches and athletes bending the rules, pushing too hard, because of a system that puts the highest priority -- often in the form of contractual financial rewards -- on winning over all other considerations, whether in the use of performance enhancing drugs or, as here, deliberate violation of NCAA eligibility rules.

2. Institutional sanctions. As is so often the case with for-profit corporations' violation of law, so in this instance with a university, it's hard to punish an institution. The UI presidents at the time are now the presidents of the University of Michigan and Cornell University respectively. The UI's current interim president certainly isn't responsible. The former UI Athletic Director now holds a prestigeous comparable position at Stanford University. You can't say this was the fault of the current UI Athletic Director. The swimming coach (who wasn't even "fired") was permitted to resign and is no longer involved. His replacement can't be blamed. The athletes have presumably gone elsewhere. No one on the present swim team was at fault. So there's kind of nobody around who can be held responsible. That's often the way it is with for-profit corporations and institutions generally when things go wrong.

3. Preemptive vs. post hoc managerial oversight. Talk about "locking the barn door after the horse has been stolen." What might be called "management by disaster" seems to be the rule rather than the exception in many large institutions. Seemingly none of those being paid the big bucks for oversight do any of it until after a disaster occurs. In fact, even after the disaster often nothing will be done.

What triggers statements suggesting action (e.g., "We're conducting an investigation," "The guilty parties have been fired," "We simply don't tolerate that kind of behavior here," "I have today issued the following regulations," etc.) is often not the disaster itself, but the publicity about the disaster -- which, it is often feared, may decrease sales (if a for-profit corporation) or appropriations and fund raising (if a university).

Why did it take an "anonymous tip" -- with, presumably, the fear that it might also have been shared with the media -- to move the athletic department's administrators to action? It is neither accurate nor fair to let all blame for this incident fall upon the coach and athletes.

(a) Does the UI athletic department have no procedures in place whereby administrators regularly review all coaches' compliance with federal and state law, and NCAA and University regulations? (b) If there are no such administrative procedures, why aren't there?
(c) If there are procedures in place, were they not followed?
(d) Or, if there are procedures, and they were followed, is this NCAA violation an indication that the department's administrative procedures are not adequate?

Which is it?

Neither the media nor the University have yet finished their work on this file. It remains to be seen if they ever will.
Technorati tags: , , , , , , , , .

Nicholas Johnson's Main Web Site
Nicholas Johnson's Iowa Rain Forest ("Earthpark") Web Site
Nicholas Johnson's Blog, FromDC2Iowa
Nicholas Johnson's Blog Index

No comments: