Tuesday, November 29, 2016

My View (from the Tallahassee Democrat, 11/29/16)

Coaches Should Be Held to the Same Standard as Teachers

As the 2016 regular college football season comes to a close, I’d like to propose a discussion about class. Not the kind that our students are supposed to attend, but class as it refers to how we at Florida State carry ourselves as an institution of higher learning—as a role model, a national and international leader, based upon the most important aspect of higher education: the success and support of our students. 

My 8 year-old son is obsessed with college football, closely watching multiple games with me every weekend. On several occasions this season he was able to lip-read everything coaches screamed at players and officials. Most of this language consisted of the F-word, S-word, etc., and it started a conversation.

Son:  Dad, why do coaches yell at the players with the F-word? 

Dad: That’s a good question.

Son:  Do you yell at your students like that?

Dad:  Absolutely not.  I respect them, and they respect me.  That respect is not based on fear and intimidation.

Son:  Fear and what? 

Well, you get the idea.  And the more I thought about it, the more I started to draw some analogues between what we saw on the screen and what happens in my small corner of Florida State.

Yes, I work at FSU.  My program is a national leader.  Our students have won international awards.  We operate within one of the premiere programs at FSU and in the nation, and what we do here changes the world, at least our small part of it.

I never speak to my students in any other way than with deference, even when I might be upset about something.  However, if I were to act like many of these coaches do, I am 100% sure I would be fired.  And rightly so.  The academy is no place for harassment and motivation through threats.  Rather it should be a place for guidance and the free and open exchange of ideas, even when those ideas are divergent.

You could blame it on pressure.  According to Safid Deen of the Tallahassee Democrat, the FSU athletic program accounted for $120,822,522 in revenues and $111, 386,681 in operating expenses in 2014-15. In fact we are one of the very few athletic programs in the country that makes more than we spend annually.  

That is an insane amount of money.  And with that kind of revenue on the line, perhaps coaches are granted some leeway in the class department from time to time from university officials.  Here are some other figures to put that in perspective.

FSU’s operating expenses were $1.1B in 2014-15 with income totaling $613M (http://economic-impact.fsu.edu/).  All of the sudden that $9.4M doesn’t go as far, even knowing other figures impact the bottom line (this does not include the positive economic impact of FSU athletics upon the Tallahassee and surrounding communities, for example).

My point is that regardless of these astronomical numbers we should hold coaches of all collegiate sports to the same standard as other teachers and leaders of the academy—to aspire to a higher level of communication than screaming and yelling obscenities—no matter how much money is at stake.  We should think of how we represent the University as a whole, not just the football program or any other sport.

And we cannot default to “the culture” as if it were something insurmountable—athletics programs (and humanity, for that matter) are full of cultures that need to change. 

More people see the occasional fuming at players and referees than see our insanely-cool magnet lab, our concerts in Ruby Diamond, or any other aspect of our internationally-lauded performance and research in virtually every field important to our community, our country, our environment, and beyond.  And are those five seconds of cursing at a 20 year-old student athlete really what we want people to remember when they hear “We are Florida State?”

I think we can do better.