Culture Shock: The State of College Basketball
Written by Pete Wehry on 11/29/2022
It is early in the college basketball season, but one thing is evident. The transfer portal plays a huge role on teams, the coaching carousel continues to be a whirlwind, and the difference between “mid-majors and power 5’s” continues to be a smaller gap each year. Sometimes the word “upset” is used in cases that may not be as “upsetting” as some think.
Here are some observations from the last week that I have made as I connected with coaches in both the northeast and southeast. These reflections will hopefully help the reader understand college basketball is different than it was 20 years ago, even 10 years ago, and it will not be going back to “the game we all knew” from that time. Here are some crazy things I have seen, observed, and heard in the last few months.
- I am acquainted with one coach who in his tenure at a strong mid-major university, he worked with 4 athletic directors, in 6 years. How does that even work? How do you build a culture when it has 4 different leaders in 6 years? The reality was this school was a well-known stepping stone for AD’s to get to that Power Five job.
- One coach who has had major success at the Power Five level at two schools, was just let go last season, and has landed at a strong mid-major program. He not only has a new job, there were 10 new players he brought into the school. His statement was “hey we all were not really wanted where we were before, so in people’s eye’s we all failed and struggled, so let’s come together here.” The crazy thing is this team lost its first game at home to a lower mid-major, and then went a won a Thanksgiving tournament against Power Five schools and high mid-majors. How? Coming together through adversity and strong leadership, can help create culture quickly.
- NIL and the transfer portal has brought irreversible change to the landscape of coaching and recruiting.
First of all, the time from the end of the season [the Final Four], coaches used to take this time till June to evaluate their program, recover from the rigors of the season, invest in their players preparing for the next year or helping seniors looking at professional options in the United States or outside the United States. Instead, coaches spent those 6 weeks recruiting harder than they ever have. How? They lived on zoom calls with kids jumping into the portal, setting up visits to the school, and filling up their roster with available players. What are some of the ramifications from this? Coaches are stretched emotionally and physically, and it is wearing on these leaders. Some well-known coaches retired due to the stress and pressure say, “it was time to step away”, when in reality it might have been I can’t live like this anymore.
Secondly, think of the academic challenge for the student athlete. This player is not focused on finishing his academic semester well, instead, he is marketing himself and travelling to different schools and being re-recruited during the end of the school year.
One coach told me he had a player struggling in a class, and when he confronted the young man and encouraged him about following through with the class his answer was, “coach I had to work on my brand on social media and keeping my Youtube channel up to date”. The coach looked at me with a shaking head.
Finally, one assistant coach told me they had a 350,000.00 NIL deal for a player they had recruited for a long time and very hard, and the following day at well-known high level basketball school came in and doubled it. Guess which school that “student-athlete” chose!
- So, with these thoughts in mind, how do you build a strong culture during culture shock. One strong leader at Power Five school shared these thoughts and I think it will encourage you all as you navigate your life, business, or whatever calling you are part of in a world full of quick fixes and entitlement.
“You have to examine your own, personal culture before you can pretend to have much of an effect upon the team’s culture.”
“You have to constantly cultivate culture or it will die. It is a living, organic thing.”
“Celebrate your culture when you see it happen. Celebrate it specifically.”
These are great thoughts for each of us to think on and as lover of college basketball and leadership. How is your personal culture? Do you have defined core values and do you live by those? Culture must be an everyday event—be and everyday leader. Finally, when you see your culture work, celebrate it. Yes this is an article about college basketball, but it could be for so much more!