Thursday, July 21, 2011

Investing In Football, Part 3: People

In this series, we’ve talked about the need to invest in key elements of Georgetown football, and, of course, there are many. But is there any element more important than investing in people?

Every school has something different it can “sell” to prospective recruits . To no surprise, Georgetown can’t sell the Golden Dome, the “Big House”, or running down a hill before 90,000 fans on a Saturday afternoon. That’s never been the driving force, anyway. What it does have, and what it can “sell”, is a student-athlete experience that allows young men to build the core foundation for a lifetime of leadership and service to one’s chosen field.

To do so, words only go so far. I’m of the opinion that while there are great assets for Georgetown, they can only be strengthened by putting more time and money into providing a better student-athlete experience. Many of the tools are already there, it’s a case of picking them up, putting them to use, and where appropriate, engaging the alumni and donor community to give it the financial and organizational support to make it happen.

One of these is the Leadership Academy. Introduced at Georgetown in 2009 (and recently added by the Patriot League as a whole), this program introduces students to workshops and mentoring opportunities to help them grow and mature as young leaders. Some take advantage of this, others not, but there is certainly room to grow the program at Georgetown to cover more student athletes and give them even more opportunities for personal and professional development. But how many alumni and donors know it exists? There’s a 2009 article archived on about the program, but who’s going to find that? Over and above the costs of running such a program, there are certainly opportunities to reach out to selected constituents in the alumni and donor community to help elevate the program to reach more students, tackle greater challenges, and make the program a standard by which other schools aspire to…and in doing so, give potential students another reason to look past the MSF and the losing records to realize that playing football at Georgetown is more than what is seems.

Is Georgetown talking about the Leadership Academy as a support opportunity for donors? It should.

Another activity that ought to be supported and funded is the mentorship program administered through the Gridiron Club. Introduced by former GC president Jim Lenihan in 2009, the program is designed for a one on one relationship between athletes and alumni in related business fields to help students get a better idea of the planning and execution required to enter the job market in that industry.

More than ever, one cannot walk into an investment bank or a tech firm or even a management training program without doing some real homework and effectively building a network of contacts to be a competitive candidate. It boggles the mind to hear stories from my parents generation (that’s the grandparents’ generation to you current students) about the days when someone could get a C average at a good school, have someone make a couple of calls at graduation, and get that person a spot in law school or a job that set him up for life. For everyone else, a good alumni mentorship program is an absolutely valuable asset in a career (one that never existed in my days on the Hilltop) and one which, properly funded and positioned, could give Georgetown students an position of competitive leadership when evaluating a four year offer to attend the University.

Let’s not forget the coaches, either.

The life of a football coach is a nomadic one and unless you’re a head coach or an SEC assistant, it’s not likely to be a lucrative one. Start with Kevin Kelly’s resume—before Georgetown, he saw stops at Southern Connecticut, Bowdoin, Northeastern, Dartmouth, Syracuse, Tulane, and Marshall, all before the age of 40. He wasn't doing it dor the money, either. What’s an average salary for an assistant coach? Probably, between $30,000-50,000, much less for graduate assistants. Add in the cost of raising a family and/or living in a palce like Washington DC and that doesn’t get you very far. Further, add the percevied lack of amenities waiting for coaches at Georgetown, and it begs the question—how does Lee Reed and Kevin Kelly attract the best coaches to attract the best players to produce the best team possible?

Even with better salaries, there’s no one answer, but a powerful weapon in that regard lies just up the hill.

Unbeknownst to most Georgetown alumni, the University has a master’s degree program in sports management, featuring faculty from many of the area’s leading pro and institutional sports firms.

“Georgetown's graduate degree program in Sports Industry Management embraces real-world learning,“ reads its web site. “Learn about the latest practices in sports management from industry leaders. Work in a hands-on internship with one of the program's strategic organizational partners (including major league teams and leading sports-industry businesses and nonprofit entities). Complete a Capstone Project that lets you demonstrate real experience addressing key challenges and opportunities in the industry… Connect with the program's industry partners through mentoring opportunities and internships. Engage on key issues and discuss sports industry careers with program faculty, visiting speakers and members of the program's distinguished Advisory Board of industry leaders. Find the right place for you in one of the fastest-growing industries in the world.”

Courses include Sales Promotion, Licensing and Sponsorship Development , Social Responsibility and Diversity in Sports, Sports Business and Finance, Communications and Public Relations, Digital Media and Consumer Engagement, Global Brand Management, Sports Event Planning and Facility Management, Sports Law, Contracts, and Negotiation, Sports Leadership and Management and Sports Marketing Strategy, among others.

This would seem a tailor-made opportunity for up and coming coaches to gain practical experience in the business of sports while serving as an assistant coach at a academically prestigious university. Any assistant or GA can come to a school, get a degree and move on, but a master’s degree that can prepare them for a sports management career (in or out of the college environment) would seem, at least on the outside, as an extraordinary personal and professional opportunity for a young coach.

Is there an opportunity to fund a scholarship for an assistant coach each year to enroll in the program, to take classes in the spring and summer, and commit to the program during his studies? I suspect that there are those who avail themselves of the opportunity, but the cost of attendance is not solely covered by an employee discount for tuition. If a GA or assistant’s position was funded in conjunction with a degree program like this, could the next Urban Meyer or Gary Patterson or Chris Petersen get his start at a place like Georgetown? Each of these coaches, by the way, got a master’s degree before moving up the head coaching ranks, at places such as Ohio State, Tennessee Tech, and UC-Davis, respectively.

It also goes without saying that such an academic program on the campus could introduce students, undergraduate or graduate, to an amazing world of networking opportunities, from attending speeches by leading industry officials to inviting these faculty to speak to the team during the year. As is the case with so many things at Georgetown, a good idea usually sits dormant until someone picks up the ball and starts to run with it. But if we want to provide a better environment for learning for all of Georgetown football, why not start with the resources Georgetown already has?

And a word on investing. There are donors and alumni out there who have a capacity to support the program but have grown tired and/or disillusioned over sending in a check for “program needs” without knowing where it goes. The late philanthropist Percy Ross, who used to send checks to people that wrote to an newspaper advice column he wrote, was asked why he only gave to those requests that he approved. “He who gives while he lives,” said Ross, “gets to know where it goes.”

More to the point, another Ross quote: “You've got to ask! Asking is, in my opinion, the world's most powerful - and neglected - secret to success and happiness.”

Is Georgetown asking the right people the right questions? An amorphous “Give to the football program” for an underfunded program may not sell to an equity trader or a tech exec, but introducing a mentorship program or a master’s degree scholarship or even accepting an invite to talk to the team might pay bigger dividends down the road. I would argue that if the Gridiron Club, Annual Fund, Advancement, et al. offered a variety of options to middle and major donors to support (and participate in) efforts like this, the response would be much more impactful and allow the existing budget to cover existing needs, while these ancillary programs can continue to build up the intellectual capital that sets Georgetown apart and add to the total value of playing football and studying at Georgetown.

Or as Ben Franklin put it, “an investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”