Leadership Lessons From Miami Football

Growing Leaders, the non-profit organization I launched in 2003, works with a number of NCAA and professional athletic programs. Our goal is to provide resources for coaches and athletic staff to build character-based leaders on their respective teams. It has been great to hear reports from coaches on how the “Habitudes For Athletes” has furnished a platform to have conversations about stuff that matters most in life: our relationships, our integrity, our discipline, our priorities, our commitment to becoming responsible for our lives. Reports have come back to us from both college and professional teams like:

“This stuff forced us to talk about and deal with our manhood.”

“I just wish I would have learned these principles earlier in school.”

“Habitudes enabled us to make good decisions off the football field, which kept our players in the game, on the football field.”

“These images are going to help me when I get married and become a dad—long after I stop playing baseball.”

Well, a report I just read this past week reminds me of why our work is so important to both student athletes as well as their coaches and teachers.

The Miami Hurricanes have been accused of what could be the biggest scandal in college football history. A Yahoo! Sports investigative report released Tuesday revealed a former Miami booster provided thousands of impermissible benefits to at least 72 athletes from 2002 to 2010. The range of the violations are shocking — cash payoffs, cash bounties on opponents’ players, trips, jewelry, and prostitutes among other things.

What’s especially sad to me is we’ve worked with this team for the past two years. So many of the players are great young men. Their chaplain is stellar. But I’m sure it’s very difficult to stand your ground and refuse these kinds of favors from a Hurricane Booster when you come from a disadvantaged home, perhaps with no dad and no discretionary income. Like so many in corporate America or in politics, it’s tempting to simply do whatever you must do to get ahead; to look out for number one. I pray the allegations have been blown up and distorted.

If these allegations are true, however, they join a list of several off-season NCAA violations from many athletic programs. I wonder: is the solution (like so many suggest) to simply take the top 50 teams and start a new association of athletic programs that have no rules regarding money or favors, with multi-million dollar television deals and no pretense of playing by any rules? Should we give up and just admit that money is everything?

Pardon me, but I don’t think so. The purpose of college sports is not merely winning. The purpose is to build great men and women through the experience of playing on a highly competitive team, who learn incredible life-lessons that will make them stellar leaders and problem solvers as they take positions in our world.

But that’s just me. What do you think? Are their too many rules? Are the reins too tight? Or, should the NCAA find a way to provide boundaries on the “win at any cost” mindset in so many fans and coaches?


Leadership Lessons From Miami Football