Last year, a grand jury in Pennsylvania indicted Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky on child molestation charges. Penn State executives and athletic leaders also stood accused of a massive cover-up. In the end, the toll for the University, the victims, and their families was staggering. The financial expense of the Sandusky Scandal has run up a reported $17 million in fees, plus a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) sanction and fine of $60-million.
Most higher education insiders recognize dishonesty knows no institutional boundaries. Indeed, consider the academic cheating scandals at Harvard and scores of other venerable institutions of higher learning. That said, we somehow hold up student athletes as big time role models of integrity, commitment, and discipline. So, it follows that the best and brightest collegiate athletes will be measured by even tougher standards of ethical behavior.
Penn State is neither the first nor last collegiate athletics program to come under close scrutiny – consider Syracuse University, Ohio State, and, most recently, Boston University. In these and other cases of alleged wrongful behavior, having the integrity to do the right thing was at issue. What is somewhat different about the Penn State case is that the reported cover-up may make more news than the original offense charged.
Enter the National Association for Intercollegiate Athletics. Uniquely, the Association’s Champions of Character program is now prepping the next generation of collegiate athletes and coaches. What we learned from the Association’s CEO Jim Carr is that the Association embraces core values of integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship, and servant leadership. Instilling values of character helps student athletes, and those coaches and mentors associated with their development, to make good choices. These core values go well beyond the locker room to reach daily decisions of athletes and their coaches, on and off the field of play.
With over a decade of experience, the Association’s Champions of Character program intentionally creates a culture where student athletes, athletic directors, coaches, and administrators are committed to the true spirit of collegiate competition. By leveling the ethical playing field, mentoring student athlete success, and promoting fair play, the Association has developed a pool of future leaders – the kind of leaders who become role models for sustainable scholarship support - $450 million in scholarships helps guide athletic programs and inspires the next class of student athletes. Beyond student athletic scholarship awards, the Association has set the bar for developing role model coaches and athletic directors – key influencers in the collegiate athletic environment.
Interestingly enough, Roosevelt University Sports Management Professor Jonathon Reinsdorf tells us that student athletes who never make it to the pros are more likely to complete their degree program if they have a hands-on sports ethics and service learning experience in their career field of choice – i.e. sports marketing, sports communications, athletic facility operations, or sports hospitality, to name a few. It follows that those student athletes with actual sports business experience will have a meaningful opportunity to observe how their education and training in sports ethics, sportsmanship, and community service plays out in front offices, and behind the scenes in the major and minor league stadiums across the nation.
So, if the Penn State case taught us a single lesson – it is that intercollegiate programs should build champions of character and not just winners of athletic championships. We all agree that higher education’s top officials must keep an eye on the bottom line and protect an institution’s respected heritage. In the end, we learned from Penn State that character, integrity, and leadership matter more than false pride, money, ranking, and NCAA Division I standing.