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  • Writer's pictureBill Petrie

The Problem of Being Idle

A lesson in how not to conduct business courtesy of the NCAA

If you’re even a casual fan of college football, you’re aware of the seismic shift that’s been taking place over the past few years and has accelerated in the past few weeks. For those of you unaware, the large and powerful conferences (known collectively as “The Power Five”) have seen their member schools leave in droves to other Power Five Conferences as they try to remain relevant for the recruitment of talent and seek stability in the chaotic landscape of college sports.

The PAC 12 – aka the Pacific Coast Conference – is the best example of what has happened. With a long and rich history with schools such as UCLA, USC, Stanford, Arizona, and Washington, the conference has been decimated from twelve teams to only four in less than 14 days. Beginning in 2024, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, and Utah will be members of the Big XII Conference, while Oregon, USC, UCLA, and Washington will play their games in the 18-member BIG 10.

For institutions of higher learning, it seems the Conferences need an arithmetic lesson, but I digress.

Among many casualties – such as the traditional rivalries that have defined athletics at the collegiate level – this change means that student-athletes will soon cross the country for events instead of state lines. While revenue-generating sports like football and basketball get all the headlines, one can only imagine what this means for non-revenue sports like swimming, track & field, and even baseball.

To put it mildly, it’s an era of unprecedented instability caused by the fact that the loudest voice in the room is the one that financially funds the product: the broadcast networks. This begs the question, why did the governing body of college athletics – the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) – remain quiet and stand idly by while the landscape was evolving?

The paralysis of fear.

For decades, the NCAA has been a broken model simply because of its long-standing habit of disregarding what is happening in the world around them. Here are a few examples where they have done nothing when doing something…anything…might have prevented (or, at least, curbed) what is now a reality:

  • Archaic rules that prevent scholarship athletes from holding any sort of job while attending school.

  • Failure to manage the environment around name, image, and likeness

  • Questionable handling of gender equity issues

  • A broken rules enforcement model that both takes too long and usually ends up punishing those who had nothing to do with violations in the first place

Because of this, we essentially have professional college athletes – some who make more than their professional counterparts – playing sports in conferences that are no longer recognizable in a landscape where the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and there’s no middle class. Had the NCAA confronted these issues at the outset, there would likely be a greater balance to the overall landscape and (at least) the illusion of amateurs playing their hearts out for their school.

Many do the same thing in business by allowing fear to paralyze them to the point of inaction. In the moment, sticking one’s head in the sand to ignore how the world is evolving feels good because it’s safe. However, it doesn’t take long to realize that ignorance is not bliss. Take Artificial Intelligence (AI), for example. Quite a few are so fearful of technological advancements like ChatGPT and MidJourney that they would rather pretend they don’t exist than acknowledge them, let alone learn to leverage them to enhance their offerings.

The moral of the story is this: when you ignore what’s going on around you because you’re fearful of what it may mean for you and your business, you leave it up to others to dictate your future. This is precisely what happened to the NCAA, as now ESPN, Fox Sports, and a host of other media companies dictate what happens in college athletics. At this point, the NCAA may as well close up shop as they no longer matter.

If you choose to stand idly by and ignore marketplace evolution, at some point, your business will be as irrelevant as the NCAA.

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