Monday, August 15, 2011

Mentors and Their Place in College Athletics

Recently, I wrote a series about Lache Seastrunk and his "real" mentor. The truth is, like many young men, Lache Seastrunk had several people that he could turn to for advice. This is a key component in the raising of any young man.

College athletics, and football in particular, can be exhilarating and breathtaking. During the 2009 football season, my own son was a high school senior playing football for a small school. I would leave after work to arrive just in time to watch his games; only to turn around, drive home and get up early the next morning for tailgating at Autzen. It was an incredible year in which I logged thousands of miles to watch football. From places like Condon and Ione, Oregon to Pasadena, California; I drove everywhere.

As I remember the small details; early mornings at the stadium for GameDay. The incredible victory over USC that late October night. I remember the air, cool and crisp, the moon light over the stadium. Missing in all of this is the most difficult thing for me to imagine; many those young men I was watching at Autzen did not have a father driving all over their state to watch them play football.

As mentioned in the Seastrunk articles, what should have been a happy moment in their life, is lost because they just do not have a father to share it with. I am incredibly touched and moved by the hundreds and thousands of single mothers who put so much effort into raising young men. But there is a reason men and women are different; children need both sides; they need male and female influence. Without it, they are incomplete.

In the old days, when most of us relied solely on a local newspaper for our daily sports fix, we knew little of the influences surrounding the players we cheered for; we only knew what they did on the field. There is a little bit of naïve nostalgia in remembering those days. But let's not kid ourselves, as long as young men have been getting a scholarship to play sports, there have been young men in need of a male role model.

Fortunately, this used to be a fairly easy task, coaches treated the young men as their surrogate kids. Coaches became role models and the young men often had the coach to thank for getting them through tough times. Then things began to change. As sports became the “ticket to wealth” hangers on began to infiltrate. Young men in need of guidance became “meal tickets” to men that knew how to exploit weaknesses. One person is known to have looked for prospects who were being raised by single mothers; and use that as a weakness to insidiously insert themselves into the young man's life. Often times, like any successful con man, there was real advice offered; sometimes even good advice. But the question begs, is it truly good advice if the intent is not pure?

There are good mentors and bad mentors in the realm of college athletics. One of the incredible resources athletes have is the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). FCA is a great place for young men who are Christian to get a strong bond with others; there are FCA reps that take some of the troubled youth under their wings. We rarely hear of success stories. Instead, like all too common today, we only hear the negative. Unfortunately, the hangers on have even made their inroads through FCA.

The NCAA is certainly looking to stop the proliferation of third parties and their undue influence on young athletes. While many focus on the current investigation and what legislation might occur as a result, lost is that the NCAA HAS attempted to address this issue in basketball. In 2002, the NCAA started a pilot program called “NCAA First Team.” The concept was to identify young kids who were elite level basketball players and was designed to serve as a four-year education and mentoring program aimed at potential D-I college basketball prospects. The program targets rising 9th and 10th graders and selects student-athletes based on several criteria, including college potential, academics and citizenship. Once selected for the program, young adults are invited to annual summer conferences at various locations around the country, where for 3-4 days they participate in programing aimed at preparing them to become college student-athletes. From year-to-year, there are about 200 plus kids with in the four classes participating in the program.

In addition to the summer conferences, student athletes receive follow-up visits and information from First Team reps thought out the year, including in-school visits with guidance counselors to ensure its members are taking the right number and type of courses, which will lead to college eligibility. To remain eligible for the program, members must maintain a set GPA and be on track to graduate with their class. Make no mistake, the First Team program is bigger than basketball, and in fact, there is very little basketball played at the conferences; it's more about preparing kids for the next level though guest speakers, classes and lectures. With that said, the conferences are not about all all work and no play, as the kids are flown to destinations like Orlando, Florida, put up in 5-star hotels, fed like kings, geared up in First team apparel, and treated to field trips and social outings, all sponsored by the NCAA and at no cost to the parents or players.

There are some great potential benefits in there, but it is both short-sighted and, in some ways, contradicts itself. The first problem with this program is that, though it preaches the most important concepts, good grades, citizenship and counseling about their course load, it stops short of providing the young men what they truly need; daily guidance.

The other major problem is that the NCAA treats them like royalty. By the time many of these young men have reached this status, they have been coddled all of their lives. It is not 5 Star hotels, free trips to Orlando, FL and great apparel they need. No, they need real world day-to-day guidance. And that is not the responsibility of the NCAA.

This is where mentors come into play. Unfortunately, there are so many unscrupulous men ready to ride the coat tails of a talented athlete hoping for a big payday, that it becomes more and more difficult to determine who is working with the young men and helping them in the best interests of the young men and who is using them for a meal ticket. And even that line is blurred! There are some out there who are doing both.

There is no easy solution. However, the solution starts in each and every community. It is time for America to take back their neighborhoods. We need big brothers; not for-profit big brothers, or scouting service providers who also counsel young men; Big Brothers. Men who mentor young boys because the want to make their community and this nation a better place to live. The NCAA needs to start by reaching out to recruiting hot beds and looking to Boys Clubs of American and the local Big Brother/Big Sister programs. Use the First Team Program as a basic guide to understanding the goal; find young men who need guidance. Not just elite athletes, but that kid who is not going to get a college scholarship, he is just as deserving of a mentor as the high school football star.

As the 2011 season approaches, I think back to the many incredible Duck players we have all enjoyed watching over the years. How many of them, do you suppose, had a great role model? How many got lucky? And how many young men who could have been great Ducks never made it in because they just did not have the positive influences they needed?

As you stroll into Cowboy Stadium (or Autzen for those that cannot make it to Dallas), remember all the young men whose glory we celebrate is on the backs of other lost souls. Take a moment and be thankful for all those young men. We cheer for their greatness on the field, but it is their greatness off the field that is most worthy of praise.


  1. Loved the articles on Lache, but this one takes the medal! I am a single, full time father of a 3 yr old but I was lucky enough to come a home that was not broken. My dad was a lawyer and very busy busy but thank the lord that his job allowed him to be at every game I ever played because of the freedom of his time schedule. Every game I played (baseball/basketball/football)... year round he was there. I was never the most talented, but my coaches will tell you if they had 20 of me we would never lose, from my desire alone! That desire was to make my dad proud for SHOWING UP. EVERY GAME. EVERY ONE> ... Now as a single dad, with a son from a broken family, that is my focus. I WILL be at every game. Regardless of talent, fathers need to show their son's/daughter's that trying is what is success. If you don't try, you have failed. If you don't work, you have lost. He is only 3, but I cannot wait to see my son in action. 3 leagues, 85 games/season... all star or not... an attempt is a win for me as his dad! God bless you Scott, for forgetting money and bringing family back to what was sports.

  2. and just think.... a month ago, this blog didn't exist...... I remember SDR that used to just post on moseleys blog!!

  3. I often think about this topic. When I was a senior at Oregon, my life was on track; the children were 5 & 2 at the time and I was getting ready to move on to Graduate School in Ohio.

    Long before the Warsaw Sport Marketing Center at Oregon existed, Ohio University had the premier Sport Management program in the nation. I was getting ready to head off there after having spent 2 seasons working for the Eugene Ems... then during my senior year at Oregon, my first wife and I separated. There was not much debate about my choices, I gave up the dream of grad school and gave up the career path I had been working on for so long...

    Looking back, there are no regrets... I coached my sons in all of their youth sports, drove all over the state to watch... and even helped my youngest son with his track workouts during his senior year that led him to a district title... all of those things are worth way more than a job...

    Sadly, there just are not enough young men lucky enough to have someone make them a priority instead of money...


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