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Volume 23 No. 8
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Why industry’s future leaders need strong ethical foundation

In this issue of SportsBusiness Journal, you will find a special advertising section related to college sport management programs. Those programs are producing the next generation of leaders in college and pro sports, which led me to reflect on ethical issues in college sports today. These future leaders will soon have to make critical ethical decisions that may change how the public views their team in pro sports or their university if they are working in college sport.

As chair of the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida, I believe it is my highest calling to prepare our graduates to make those decisions by doing the right thing. I trust that all of my colleagues in the other programs feel the same way.

When one thinks of specific scandals in college sports, the maelstrom in the Rutgers athletic department has the attention of many people today, but it seems clear that what happened at Penn State in 2011 may rank as the worst scandal in the history of college sports. The scandal involving the University of Miami, with charges brought by the NCAA and subsequently charges brought against the NCAA, exemplifies the vicious cycle of frustration about what is wrong with college sports. There are too many bad stories about programs that temporarily lost their focus by cheating or cutting corners.

Scandals that led to the departures of Tim Pernetti (left) at Rutgers and Tim Curley at Penn State have led the conversation about what is wrong with collegiate athletics today.
However, among the biggest and most relevant problems are those that are endemic to the system. They include the fact that the worst employers for women and people of color in the sports industry are college athletics departments.

In the forthcoming College Racial and Gender Report Card, our research shows that more than 90 percent of athletics directors, head men’s and women’s coaches (57 percent of women’s teams are coached by men), senior women’s administrators, faculty athletic representatives, sports information directors, and assistant and associate athletic directors are white. They are also overwhelmingly male. One hundred percent of the commissioners of the BCS conferences are white men and always have been. They are considered the most powerful people in college sports.

I speak on college campuses approximately 25 times a year. I call it the worst 25 hours of my year and it includes from the time I am picked up at the airport and brought to the hotel and then taken from the speech back to the airport. I am usually met at the airport by the senior African-American member or woman in the athletic department. The same person usually takes me back to the airport.

On the way to the hotel, the conversation is usually a pleasant one about wonderful experiences at that particular university. On the way back to the airport, after they have learned something about my personal history of involvement with civil rights and they seem to trust me, the conversation invariably shifts to “can you help me get out of here?” They believe that people in the department think that they were hired because they were a person of color or a woman, that they were promoted because they were a person of color or a woman, or that they were not promoted because they were a person of color or a woman.

Hiring the best candidate for a job involves ethical decision-making. It means widening the search to include all the best candidates, including women and people of color. Opening our searches will lead to more diversity and inclusion. In addition to hiring practices, the issue of the fairness of education offered to white student athletes and African-American student athletes is still problematic.

Each year we author a study of the graduation rates of the basketball teams in the Division I men’s and women’s NCAA tournament. Among the men’s teams this year, the gap between the graduation rates of white student athletes and African-American student athletes is a staggering 25 percent.

Among the football teams that played in bowl games in 2012-13, the gap between the graduation rates of white student athletes and African-American student athletes was 20 percent. In both the cases of football and basketball student athletes, this is unacceptable for American higher education in 2013.

Therefore, I challenge all of us involved in leading sports business management graduate programs to guide our graduating and incoming students to understand the importance of ethical decision-making and what the consequences of ethical misconduct are; to understand the relationship between ethics and planning, organizing and evaluating; and ultimately give them the knowledge of how to deal with ethical and moral issues as our future leaders in sport.

Specifically, all of us should have an ethics class in our curriculum. We should do case studies involving ethical decision-making so students actually see the choices in front of them and have to make them from different points of view. I would also recommend that, wherever applicable, ethical decisions be discussed in other classes besides a formal ethics offering.

Speakers who work in the sports business industry could be part of a series that is brought to the classroom. The experiences of making decisions — some wise and ethical and some that might have fallen short of that standard ­— can show that every action carries consequences.

If we involve leaders from our own athletics departments in the discussions on ethics within our sports management programs, it could help retool or refine their own daily ethical decision-making in their departments in real-life situations.
We owe this to the industry. We owe this to everyone who believes that sports can bring about positive social change.

Richard E. Lapchick ( is the chair of the DeVos Sport Business Management Program and is the director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. TIDES annually publishes the “Racial and Gender Report Cards” on MLB, the NBA and WNBA, NFL, college sports, and the APSE.