What the NCAA debacle can teach communicators


This probably could’ve been prevented

Yes… the multiple goings on with the NCAA have reached debacle levels — if they weren’t there long ago.

My personal feelings on whether or not student-athletes college players should be paid is irrelevant. I’m a communicator by trade and that’s what  today’s focus is on.

An organization with the reach of the NCAA is naturally going to have hiccups. When I worked at the nation’s fifth-largest school district (357 schools, 315,000 students), everyday could be a crisis. With that many buildings and people who make the ship sail, there are nor shortage of things that could — and did — go wrong. As a communicator, hopefully you have enough political capital to sound the alarm to limit, if not eliminate, the wrong doings that are self-inflicted.

The NCAA has not done this.

When UConn basketball player Shabazz Napier mentioned there were night’s he went hungry, it was a another black eye on an organization that is prolific at self-inflicted disaster. This isn’t the first time athletes have  talked about going hungry. Chris Webber mentioned the same in ESPN’s “Fab Five” documentary.

In contrast, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver scored major points by tossing out the idea that the league may subsidize college athletics,called for a new conversation and called for a relatively easy fix:

“Rather than focusing on a salary and thinking of them as employees, I would go to their basic necessities,” Silver said. “I think if [Connecticut Huskies guard] Shabazz Napier is saying he is going hungry, my God, it seems hard to believe, but there should be ample food for the players.”

With a blockbuster court decision now allowing college football players at Northwestern to unionize, these self-inflicted black eyes are now coming full circle for the NCAA.

The takeaway here for communications and PR pros is simple: Urge your leaders to fix the (obvious) problems in your organizations before it’s done for you. Players not having enough to eat or having to scrape by to live will be a far simpler fix than players being able to unionize and collectively bargain for benefits that go beyond the scholarships they get now.

If you don’t fix what’s wrong in your organization, it will be done for you — and it may not be a solution satisfying to leadership.


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