I love your email tips. Every day I get double-digit links from readers about relevant stories. Quite a few of them actually inspire posts, like today’s link sent from Chris M. I missed the Wall Street Journal feature sports piece on college athletic programs entitled “The NCAA’s Last Innocents” which is a must read HERE. As we get deluged with Ohio State fallout, news of Oregon and UNC problems and Terrelle Pryor’s mea culpa PR circuit, WSJ’s Darren Everson and Hannah Karp asked the following questions: “Are there any big-time sports schools that have never been slapped with a major NCAA rules violation? And if so, what’s their secret?”.
According to the report, since 1953 when tracking of NCAA major violations began there have been only 17 schools who have managed to stay clean. Of the 17 only four are BCS conference teams. Northwestern, Penn State, Stanford and Boston College. I was thrilled to see Jim Phillips take on this report as it is a slippery slope and he nailed a perfect “10” on his response when he told the WSJ:
“I don’t want to come across as holier than thou. We’re proud of what we’ve been able to do, but with 500 18- to 22-year-olds, anything could happen at any time.” – NU AD Jim Phillips to WSJ
This tone is perfect. Northwestern (and Stanford) must always be cognizant of the private school factor and its built-in air of arrogance to Joe Q. Public. The fact Jim made it seem like we’re just trying our best but we’re not bullet-proof to potential scandal is exactly what I was hoping for as I read through the article. Keep in mind, RB Dennis Lundy was entangled in a messy connection with several NU basketball players in the early 1990s in what amounted to a reverse basketball point shaving scandal. Boston College similarly had a gambling scandal in the early 1990s as well however the issue with NU football was one player and not a systemic issue. That, and the fact NU jumped all over the issue as soon as it was made aware of the issues helped to keep the “innocent” label intact.
The point I’ve pondered is how to turn this excellence in compliance in to an advantage. I’ve been pounding the pavement for stricter compliance in general as I believe the more even the playing field, the more Northwestern will benefit because that’s where we live. News broke yesterday that two star Ohio State commits have decommitted with one going to Pitt and the other reopening up his recruiting. The immediate impact of Ohio State’s lack of forthright compliance is already being felt. There is a big difference in advocating for compliance and marketing Northwestern as squeaky clean. One helps defray the arrogance image one ignites it.
You can read a lot of positives in the article including how obsessive Northwestern is about its compliant including administering hypothetical tests to athletes on compliance and the internal regular meetings among administrators that are ongoing attempts to stay on top of everything. There was only one negative that caught my eye and that was Phillips recounting of the priorities of NU when he was called about taking the job. Yes, academics and compliance are top priority, but the fact he was told this wasn’t about winning championships made me wince. As Northwestern fans, this is the holy grail we seek – doing it the right way in the classroom, with the NCAA and winning championships. I know Jim believes that winning titles IS an expectation and that is why he’s so important to keep at Northwestern. It isn’t about using the academics and compliance as an excuse or a crutch, but rather using it as an advantage to win championships.
I’m loving ESPN.com’s Ivan Maisel’s feature on Northwestern-like college programs in major markets. Today’s feature on TCU was fascinating to me as the strategic decision to embrace Fort Worth and intentionally differentiate and even shun the Dallas factor was one of those regional things that make sports marketing so interesting. Check it out here.
NU is circling in on several recruits who continue to narrow their respective lists. Four-star Rivals.com recruit Ryan Ward (younger brother of NU’s Patrick Ward) has NU in his final four with Iowa, Michigan State and BC. Pat Elflein, an OL from Pickerington, OH has NU in his final three along with Purdue and Cincinnati. There are several others that have NU in their narrowed down list and I hope its a matter of days before some more dominoes start falling.