Leaders of athletics also need to understand people

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management, LLC
January 17, 2010

In the clamor to treat UT Football, Inc. like the NFL, too many of us forgot that Tennessee athletics does exist in a weird dual universe of college and commerce – places where ideally both learning and winning occur.

The current University of Tennessee annual athletics operating budget is $98 million. That’s a 12 percent increase from the previous year. The business of UT athletics is clearly doing better than the rest of the U.S. economy.

The rest of UT Athletics – football anyway – is in shambles. That will become evident in the next few months as people struggle to keep Mr. Kiffin’s sole recruiting class on the squad, sign a new class, deal with NCAA investigations and manage the psyche of two classes of young men who decided to come to a University program that had a certain personality, set of values and leadership much different than the one they were handed.

A priest or Young Life leader might have run a clean program, but wouldn’t likely win many games.

Or perhaps UT should have entered into some kind of deal with the devil, selling its soul – in exchange for a shot at a football championship or two.

Already tried that approach.

Lane Kiffin is an effective football recruiter. However, no young man under his care in the past 14 months will likely ever consider him an exemplary role model.

A tree decays from the inside out. When we see evidence of weakness on the outside, there is likely much more rotten on the inside that we have not yet seen.

Last week, a development director from one of the colleges at Tennessee told me that outside of Knoxville, potential donors around the country were laughing at Tennessee. On recent visits, he couldn’t get anyone to talk about anything other than their embarrassment about the athletics department.

A bunch of money is paid to football coaches, administrators and others. Plenty of people at this newspaper make a living off of UT athletics. For those people, football and basketball are business. Big business.

The people paid to run that business need to understand finance and fundraising.

They also need to understand athletics and people. Student athletes are not “product.”

When players get arrested or do other stupid things, we are outraged at their poor representation of our University. “After all, they’re getting a free education and the chance to play pro football. All they have to do is not rob people at the Pilot.”

People often talk about loving places or institutions. We love our old hometowns. We love old cemeteries. We want to love our Alma Mater. But it is difficult – if not impossible – to love a thing if it does not have a soul.

Albert Einstein once said that “no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” We must grow from our experiences, especially our mistakes. Tennessee would be wise to heed Dr. Einstein’s advice.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).
He played football at Tennessee from 1981 to 1984.

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