BFV Perspectives, Sports Fans Guide 2 HR, | Nov 10, 2013

Lessons To Learn From The 2013 NCAA Football Season

Lesson 1: Injuries to Team Leaders Highlight Importance of Succession Planning
Conference play in this 2013 NCAA football season is barely under way, but unexpected injuries to key players have already impacted several teams’ quests for a national championship.  The Georgia Bulldogs, for example, have suffered a rash of serious injuries in recent weeks that seem insurmountable.  In a game against the University of Tennessee, Georgia lost its running back Keith Marshall and its wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley to season ending knee injuries. Georgia wide receiver Michael Bennet also suffered a knee injury in the Tennessee game and his prognosis is uncertain.  Even Georgia’s punter had to leave the game with a concussion. Georgia also was without its star running back Todd Gurley and two safeties whose return dates are unknown.

While the amount of Georgia’s losses is unusually severe, other schools have suffered injuries to key players, such as their quarterbacks, that also jeopardize their seasons. University of Florida quarterback Jeff Dreskel will miss the rest of the season after suffering a broken leg. University of Cincinnati Quarterback Munchie Legaux is lost for the season due to a torn knee ligament and University of Miami quarterback Stephen Morris injured his right ankle in a win against Savannah State and is visibly hampered by his injury. Numerous other programs have lost players this season for academic reasons, violations of team rules and problems with the legal system.

It will be interesting to see how these teams and others will respond to injury set-backs.   Whether they have a successful season will depend on several factors, namely, whether they have a suitable replacement.  The Ohio State Buckeyes, for example, overcame the temporary loss of their quarterback and Heisman hopeful Braxton Miller.  Miller had missed games due to an injured knee.  Backup quarterback Kenny Guiton, a senior, rose to the occasion and led Ohio State to some impressive wins.  Guiton would be a starting quarterback for most college teams.  By having depth in a key leadership position, Ohio State has so far weathered the storm and should remain highly competitive, even if their starting quarterback misses additional games.  Ohio State’s ability to insert a suitable replacement was not an accident, but the result of successful recruiting, training and planning.

As in football, change in an organization’s leadership is inevitable.  Sometimes the change is expected (e.g., retirement) and sometimes it is not (e.g., resignation).  Whatever the reason, an organization needs to be ready for change to sustain success.  Below are a few tips about succession planning that can be gleaned from this college football season:

  • Win the Recruiting War.  Like a big-time college program, you need to recruit the right talent. This means selecting candidates who have the requisite skills, work ethic, character and personality to fit within your system.   If you are successful at recruiting the right talent, the right successor may come from within your current team.
  •   Develop a Game Plan.  Successful transitions seldom happen by chance.  Having a plan and executing it is critical.  A thoughtfully written succession plan that identifies the needed skills, experience, and qualities of the future leader will help guide the selection process.
  •  Give Snaps and Playing Time.   A quarterback coming off the bench to lead a team will have a better chance of succeeding if he took a few snaps at practice and got some meaningful playing time in prior games. No matter how well-groomed the candidate is, even all-pros need some warm-up.  Provide the successor with an opportunity to learn the ropes and transition into the position.

Lesson 2: Scrutiny over NCAA Rules Shows Importance of Establishing Sound Policies

The NCAA gets picked on a lot about its rules. In fairness to the NCAA, some of the rules that get ridiculed deal with complex problems and are defensible.  For example, the NCAA’s ban on paying players has been the focal point of recent debate.  There are sound reasons for and against paying players.

On the other hand, the NCCA has enforced certain rules that seem indefensible. One such rule allowed universities to provide players with bagels as a snack, but barred universities from providing cream cheese to spread on the bagels.

Similarly, this season there was an uproar over the NCCA’s initial denial of eligibility to a former Marine, Steven Rhodes, because of his participation in intramural football as a Marine.   The NCAA initially ruled that Rhodes, who had recently finished his active enlistment, had to forfeit two years of eligibility and take a mandatory redshirt year this season for Middle Tennessee.  According to NCCA rules, Rhodes’ participation in a recreational football league at the Marine base counted as “organized competition” because there were game officials, team uniforms and the score was kept. As Rhodes explained to The (Murfreesboro) Daily News Journal, the recreational league was not an organized league warranting NCAA oversight:

“Man, it was like intramurals for us. . . There were guys out there anywhere from 18 to 40-something years old. The games were spread out. We once went six weeks between games.”

When the story made national headlines, the NCAA changed its position and rendered Rhodes eligible.

A critical lesson can be learned from the NCCA’s overreaching rulebook:

Maintain rules that are necessary and make sense for your business.
Too often employers implement rules without giving appropriate thought to the meaning and purpose of the rules or their impact on operations.  Cutting and pasting policies from an existing handbook or from the internet can be dangerous.  Employers that adopt overly restrictive progressive discipline policies, for example, limit their freedom to issue discipline and can destroy the employer’s ability to terminate an employee at-will. Implementing policies that do not fit your organization can be more damaging than not having a policy.  Managers may choose to look the other way and avoid enforcing rules that they do not understand or believe are necessary.  This can be problematic, because employers are vulnerable to discrimination claims when rules are not enforced consistently.

For these reasons, it is prudent to review your company handbook and policies each year to ensure they comply with applicable law and benefit your company. Once you have ensured the appropriate rules are in place, managers should be trained to understand what they mean and why they are necessary.

Lesson 3:  Reign in Your Talent
Texas A&M and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Johnny Manziel parlayed his new found Heisman fame into a whirlwind summer, which included an appearance courtside at a Houston Rockets game, taking batting practice with the San Diego Padres and partying with rap star Rick Ross.  These activities seemed innocent enough. Manziel, however, has allegedly engaged in other antics that have invited sharp criticism including: shoving a graduate assistant coach, oversleeping his alarm at the prestigious Manning Passing Camp, and allegedly receiving money in exchange for signing autographs. Manziel is a tremendous talent who has won lots of games and generated millions of dollars for Texas A&M.  On the other hand, Manziel’s antics have placed himself and his program under the microscope.

Manziel represents a common challenge for employers:  What do you do with an employee who doesn’t like to follow rules, but is a high producer?  A sales representative with an outgoing personality, for example, may be very successful in generating sales, but says things in the workplace that makes co-workers feel uncomfortable.  This creates a dilemma for the company.  Continuing to employ the salesperson could potentially expose the employer to claims of discrimination or negligent retention. On the other hand, terminating the employee could result in a significant blow to the bottom line.

In these situations, management must step in and take ownership of fixing the problem before it damages the company:

Review Game Film. It is customary for coaches to review the game film with the team to highlight successes and areas that need improvement.  This is typically where a player may be “called out” for failing an assignment on the field. A practical first step in addressing a performance or attitude problem is to collect information about specific actions or incidents that are problematic. Meet with the employee and use the facts to give clear examples of behavior that needs to change.
Address the team and not just the player. Discussing how the employee’s  behavior puts the company at risk helps a high performer accept your concerns as a business issue rather than a personal attack. By allowing the employee to step into your shoes, you can increase buy-in and the likelihood of a lasting change.
Coach the employee toward change. Create a list of actions for the high performer to take based on input from you and the employee. People are more likely to implement their own ideas. Explain your expectations and make clear the consequences of non-compliance. Like a coach, do your part to motivate change and improvement.


BFV Perspectives, Sports Fans Guide 2 HR, | Nov 10, 2013
Kenneth N. Winkler
Kenneth N. Winkler

Kenneth Winklera shareholder at Berman Fink Van Horn, helps employers navigate the employment laws and regulations that govern the workplace.