Sweet Briar College is closing it’s doors. And that makes me sad.
I know quite a few of the coaches there, and they are all good people who worked hard. I was honored to be on their campus several years ago. It’s a beautiful place, with 114 years of tradition under it’s belt.
And it’s closing. Financially, and I’m over-simplifying the situation here, they aren’t making ends meet. They are shutting their doors, and everyone suffers. The community, the coaches, and the athletes (here’s an excellent article by my friend, and former SBC lacrosse coach, Hillary London wrote for ESPN on the topic).
In 2007, I began doing some simple research for an athletic director who was a client, and came to a rather abrupt, yet undeniable, conclusion:
There are too many colleges, and not enough incoming college students. I’ve been sounding that alarm to anyone in college athletics who will listen ever since. I’m pleased that Mark Cuban reaches the same conclusion; not because I am looking for more colleges to close, but because I want college coaches and athletic directors to view this as a very real “canary in the coal mine”.
There will be more colleges that won’t make it. And before they close, their athletic departments will be cut back. Severely cut back.
Since you, as a coach or athletic director, have only a small measure of control over what happens to the larger student loan and budget conversation beginning to happen inside your school’s President’s office on the other side of campus, here’s what I would want to see you doing.
If what I think is going to happen is actually going to happen, I don’t want it happen to you and your college:
Make recruiting your number one priority. If you’re a small college, the quantity and quality of the athletes you bring to campus is vitally important. Not only to your athletic department, but to your admissions department. If you’re at a larger school, you should already be doing this.
Understand your school and department’s budget situation. You need to be a part of the solution. To do that, you need to know what the challenges are. Strengthening your college and athletic department should be a team effort.
Find ways to become self-sufficient. The Ivy League has seen their athletic departments become self-sufficient through a sustained, intelligent financial plan. More colleges will follow suit, primarily because of necessity. Will your athletic department be ready to take on the challenge? Will your individual sports program be ready for the challenge?
Develop your recruiting skills. If we are seeing the genesis of some kind of grand Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest world of college sports emerging, you’ll fall in one of two categories. As my old football coach used to say, “You’re either the bug or the windshield.” More and more head coaches and athletic directors are going to be looking for individuals who can recruit. Period. The X’s and O’s knowledge? Yes, that’s important. Your recruiting knowledge? It’s going to be even more important asset in your coaching career toolbox. Develop those skills. Become great at it. It may just be the thing that saves your career.
As a college coach interested in avoiding this storyline unfolding on your campus, hear my call: It’s time to become more than just a coach. It’s time for you to be a better marketer, a more informed financial expert, and a more consistent recruiter.