Volunteers volunteer probation

Last week, the University of Tennessee announced a two year self-imposed probation for the schools athletic department. This was in response to the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations on May 20.

“The University has taken what it believes are meaningful and appropriate steps to address the problems identified in this case,” the response reads, “including declaring student-athletes ineligible, implementing enhancements to the compliance program, and self-imposing penalties upon the particular coaching staff members and sports programs that were designed to punish the head coach, deter similar conduct in the future, and offset any advantages that the programs may have gained.”

Yesterday, it was reported that Lane Kiffin, former head coach for the Volunteers and current coach of the USC Trojans, is now facing charges for “failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance within the program and failing to monitor the activities regarding compliance of several of his assistants.”

Tennessee is still awaiting ruling on the twelve major infractions.

My question is, do self-inflicted punishments work? They can, if executed properly. Here are a few dos and don’ts when it comes to the kind of crisis communications colleges and universities have become so familiar with lately.

  1. Speed of response – Tennessee was quick to take responsibility for violations. That is not always the case. A quick response shows that you are paying attentions and eager to fix problems within your organization.
  2. Admitting guilt –  The university went above and beyond expectations here. They are not only willing to accept charges for violations, but also willing to punish themselves for their own mistakes. In doing this, I would think it is a good possibility that the NCAA may reduce their infractions to applaud UT for their voluntary probation. But even if they don’t, they still look good.
  3. Placing blame – Don’t do it. Tennessee didn’t once complain that violations were committed under the supervision of a now Trojan and by others that have now left the program. This could have been rewarded by the NCAA’s charge of Kiffin individually, separate from the school. Charges against Kiffin are not likely to disappear anytime soon. He is expected to be sidelined for several games at his new USC home (an almost insignificant problem for USC compared to other sanctions they have faced recently).
  4. University culture – This incident shows that there was little control and supervision going on in the athletic programs. Because of Tennessee’s actions regarding my previous three points, it has given the impression that there are great changes going on in this department.

Schools can no longer rely on their coaches to enforce and educate their staff on NCAA rules. Coaches are put under immense pressure to perform and attract the best players in the country. But every school’s athletic department needs to have a crisis plan. And whether Tennessee had one prepped or not, it performed beautifully.

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