Environmental Sustainability Practices in Minor League Sports [EARTH DAY PUBLICATION]

Authors: Mark Mitchell1, Melissa Clark1, and Sara Nimmo2

1Wall College of Business, Coastal Carolina University, Conway, South Carolina, USA

2University of North Carolina, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

Corresponding Author:

Professor of Marketing
Associate Dean, Wall College of Business
NCAA Faculty Athletics Representative (FAR)
Coastal Carolina University
P. O. Box 261954
Conway, SC 29528
(843) 349-2392

Mark Mitchell, DBA is Professor of Marketing at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, SC.

Melissa Clark, PhD isProfessor of Marketing at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, SC.

Sara Nimmo is a 2022 Honors Graduate of Coastal Carolina University. Nimmo currently works in Sports Marketing at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and  previously served as a Fan Engagement Assistant with MiLB’s Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

Environmental Sustainability Practices in Minor League Sports


Recently, there has been heightened attention on what businesses are doing to sustain the environment. This trend has also impacted minor league sports. Many teams have developed and implemented strategies to lessen the environmental impact of their operations. Consultation with officials of a local minor league baseball team, in addition to extensive information search, identified the strategies used by teams and leagues to improve the environmental sustainability of their part of the sports industry. A cluster analysis was then performed to classify the strategies identified into categories of similar topics. To date, the main areas where minor league sport teams have focused their efforts on environmental sustainability are: (1) facility-related matters (i.e., sustainable certificates, renewable energy, and changes in water and fertilizer usage); and (2) waste reduction (i.e., recycling, paperless ticketing, digital publications). Many of these sustainability initiatives were introduced during the COVID global pandemic as teams and leagues sought to play games while concurrently lower costs and limiting contact among fans and staff. Since their introduction, many of these practices, particularly those dealing with waste reduction, have become standard operating procedures. As fans become more aware of the need to reduce the environmental impact of business operations, they will apply those expectations to minor league sports teams and leagues. Teams and leagues are responding driven by the concurrent desire to sustain their business and to lower the environmental impact of their operations.

Key words: minor league sports, environmental sustainability, facilities, waste reduction

2023-04-20T15:01:13-05:00April 21st, 2023|Research, Sports Facilities, Sports Studies and Sports Psychology|Comments Off on Environmental Sustainability Practices in Minor League Sports [EARTH DAY PUBLICATION]

Security Models in Mega Sport Events between Safety and Human Rights (Case of Vancouver 2010)

Authors: Moez Baklouti*(1), Ph.D. & Zakaria Namsi, M. A.(2)

(1) Moez Baklouti is a Faculty member (Associate Professor) at Tunis University and the Research Unit Head of Tunis Sports Academy located in Vancouver, Canada.

(2) Zakaria Namsi is a Faculty member (Assistant Professor) at Ksar Said Sports and Physical Education Institute, Tunis.

*Corresponding Author:
Moez Baklouti, Ph. D.
14065 77A Ave Surrey, V3W2X2 BC Canada


This study examines the conflict between liberty and security in sporting mega-events by ensuring that prohibited items do not enter an Olympic Games venue while guaranteeing service excellence. A random sample of spectators and journalists (N= 1081) from Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics responded to a survey about customer service and security in the event. Chi-square tests for two independent samples were used along with Crosstabs procedures to test the differences in service and security between journalists and spectators.

The results revealed that a successful security model in mega-sport events is based on two pillars: service excellence that depends on the time spent at the portal, the communication with customers, the kind of staff serving in the venue, and mainly on the cooperation between all security corps in charge.


Sport managers’ focus on security became after the New York terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 the main concern of sport management, especially in the field of sport event organization. Other aspects, such as, organizational theory, sport marketing, sport facility management, sport law and policy, economics and finance, gender and diversity, have been classified less important, because they cannot stand in the absence of security. In the last few decades, there has been a growing concern regarding individuals’ safety, because the 9/11 incident showed that terrorists, who hit The World Trade Center and killed around 3000 people, could land with those 4 planes on 4 stadiums and harm 400000 spectators. Such scenario proved that the majority of our sport venues were and are still not protected. As an example of the difficulty of articulating the concept, Rothschild (1995) describes human security philosophically as part of both a broadening and a deepening of what we once viewed as security. She argues that the focus on state security must be extended to include supranational systems as well as the individual condition,and the range of included harms must be broadened to include serious threats to either. Also, the responsibility to ensure security must be diffused to include local governments, international agreements, NGO’s [non-governmental organization], public opinion, and the financial market. Although not an explicit definition, this conceptualization provides an example of how narrow the traditional paradigm has been as well as how complex the expansion of the concept can become” (Owen, 2004).

However, the controversy over the security concept leads sport managers to exaggerate and reach extreme resolutions that may harm the dignity of the people and threaten the human rights value. So, how can we reach a compromise whereby we protect our spectators by avoiding any prohibited item to get into the venues while ensuring an excellent customer service? “ ForMontesquieu, this was a singular focus on freedom and the perceived rights of individuals over the dictated security provided by the state. Security for Adam Smith meant the protection of the individual from ‘sudden or violent attack on one’s person or property’–this security being the most important prerequisite for a successful and ‘opulent’ society.Similarly, Condorcet described a societal contract in which the security of the individual was the central principle” (Owen, 2004).

This discussion leads us to better understand the role of each individual in the security process and to determine the responsibility of the highest rank of government officials to the common security agent in charge of a simple task during the sport event. “For Hobbes, it meant little whether aman’s insecurity was at the hands of a local thief, or an invading army.Protection from either, he believed, was the absolute responsibility of the state. For this protection, the citizen should give up any and all individual rights to his country, his protector— security prevailing over liberty” (Ullman, 1983). Liberty stands behind a mutual race between the anticipation of security measures and terrorists’ up-to-date attempts to transgress these boundaries, “ terrorists are explicitly in the business of uncertainty. They play on randomness to keep whole populations in fear,anticipation, and disestablishment. They precipitate the urge for more certainty, expressed through escalating security measures” (Ericson &Doyle, 2004).

The full protection of people and facilities in sport events cannot be reached instantly, rather it is a long-term and highly complex process requiring considerable data gathering. “ The context of terrorism has relevance to sport events, and the potential and realized impacts on the management of contemporary sport events have been profound” (Taylor &Toohey, 2006). For this reason, sport managers are dealing in each event with different platforms, new criteria of the hosting country, its own history with terrorism, its prior experience with events, and mainly its proper philosophy of the security model whether the so-called hard model, or the soft model, or even an intermediate model. Therefore, “by understanding the risk society and what this means in for sport event management, we can challenge dominant sport management paradigms and provide an emergent theoretical background by which to understand the impact of terrorism on sport event spectators”(Toohey & Taylor, 2008).


From this perspective, sport mega-events (SMEs) have become global occasions of economic, political, and social importance, for its impact on tourism (Degen, 2004; Euchner, 1999), and international status (Ahlert, 2006). To observe the aspects of SMEs, social development and cultural politics were delighted by (Close, Askew, & Xin, 2006; Marivoet, 2006; Roche, 2000, 2003;Whitson & Horne, 2006). “Sport mega-event security, in itself, is a complex assemblage of social control mechanisms that is undergoing profound change, notably in terms of costs, personnel, the rising influence of private security, the perceived dangers of terrorism, and the focus on indigenous crime” (Giulianotti & Klauser, 2010).

We should be alert that critical infrastructure (CI) is a vital component to develop any security strategy. This strategy must be based on continuous prevention regardless if the event takes place, or not because the reduction of certain pattern makes EMs more comfortable vis-à-vis the international instances. International Sport Institutions (ISI; i.e., IOC, FIFA, NFL) coerce complying with the basic requirements to hold an event, which give a packed confidence of safety and security in mega events. However, prototypes must respect the psychological states of spectators, because they are attending a show and provide an excellent customer service in sport events. The security process in the airports, for example, cannot be compared with the one of entering the venues. Even if the physical objective and the manipulation are the same, the traveler is somehow forced to make his/her trip; however, the sport spectator attends the games for fun, and the security measures should not affect this purpose and intervene with the human rights standards.

These norms are valid for different event sizes and for multiple levels of broadcasting. According to Gibson (1998), event sport tourism refers to tourists who travel to watch sporting events. Examples of event sport tourism may include events, such as, the Olympic Games, World Cup, Professional Golf Association (PGA) tournaments, and events related to professional sport teams or top U.S. college basketball and football teams.

To frame the theory context of our study, we consider SME with two essential grounds. First, the socially contested domain, that is develop the concept of the security field, as derived particularly from the sociology of Bourdieu (1990, 1993, pp. 72-76; see Wacquant, 1989), and as adapted and extended by Crossley (2002, p. 674). Second, risk theories here would include the concept of “reflexive modernization” (Beck, 1992; Lash, Szerszynski, &Wynne, 1996), Foucauldi an thinking regarding new forms of“governmentality” for shaping public actions (O’ Malley,2004), and new perceptions or cultural senses of risk within late-modern societies (Boyne, 2003; Lupton, 1999; Slovic, 2000; Tulloch, 2006). “Risk theory in this regard helps to clarify and to explicate a wide range of social processes associated with sport mega-event securitization: for example, how specific security risks and “risk groups” are identified by relevant stakeholders at different sport mega-events, how security institutions(both public and private) implement specific risk-management techniques within particular contexts and how risk legacies remain in post sport mega-event contexts” (Giulianotti & Klauser, 2010).

Critical Infrastructure

Moteff & Parfomak (2004) define “critical infrastructure as systems and assets, whether physical or virtual, so vital to the United States that the incapacity or destruction of such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination of these matters.” As such, critical infrastructure is a highly complex phenomenon. In fact, critical infrastructure for sport venues is interconnected with other systems: facilities, technologies, networks, assets and services essential to the health, safety, security, or economic well-being of citizens, and the effective functioning of government. That is why, it is necessary for sport managers to be updated with the protection strategies provided by the government; unfortunately, “few sporting event organizers use strategic risk management plans. The main hindrance appears to be a lack of information and expertise available on risk management for sporting events. Risk management plans varied to a large extent, which may be due to the absence of accepted national standards for managing risk for sporting events and to the heterogeneous nature of sporting events” (Eisenhauer, 2005).

The major gap in CI lies in the difference in security strategies between the public sector managed by the government and the private sector owned by individuals or institutions. Whereas, “over 85 percent of the critical infrastructure in the United States is controlled by the private sector”(Forest, 2004), it seems that only 15 percent of the facility controlled by the government obeys to strict norms and control.

Indeed, it is worth highlighting that the National Strategy and Action Plan for CI establishes a risk-based approach for strengthening the resiliency and demands billion of dollars. Sport facilities also need an enormous segment to mend its vulnerabilities. “It has been estimated that organizers of sporting events worldwide spend over $2 billion perannum on security, although in years where “blanket security” is required for major events,this figure can rise to $6 billion” (Coaffee & Wood, 2006).

Safety and Security in Mega Events

Governments fear terrorist attacks and political demonstrations during sport mega events, mainly when we consider all Olympics have witnessed terrorist threats, “because there have been 168 terrorist attacks related to sport between 1972 and 2004” (Clark, 2004; Kennelly, 2005). “Since 9/11,the increased threat of terrorism has brought risk management to the forefront of mega-sport-event planning and has resulted in a range of new security measures for sport spectators and tougher safety standards for organizers” (Toohey & Taylor, 2008).

More importantly, protecting CIs must endure with the effective training of staff members and provide the necessary training to enhance performances in skill development processes. Training should frame incidents’ management,risk management and practices of protective measures, safety and security strategies, and business continuity and recovery principles. As “ threats of terrorism and political violence are often not only seen as to endanger the athletes, spectators and local population but also as a symbolic and political embarrassment—and hence financial risk— for host nations and organizing institutions” (Giulianotti & Klauser, 2010).

Atkinson and Young (2002) provide a general explanation of the nexus between sport and terrorism: for many reasons, individual terrorists or terrorist organizations might find suitable targets in athletes participating in games, spectators attending the events, or selected corporate sponsors of sports contests. Especially in those situations where athletic contests draw sizable international audiences in geographical settings already embroiled in strife, sport can be utilized as a vehicle for political sparring and waging and disseminating forms of political violence against others.

Whereas usually audiences attend sport mega events for a noble cause, such as, to apprehend peace principals and to spread camaraderie among people coming from all over the world. This kind of image gets disfigured in the presence of a terrorist act, because an act of terrorism leads to the opposite facade of people’s desire and turns the situation into a deeply dramatic scenario. Researchers are actually focused on the link between sport events and terrorism; “most of these studies have been located in discourses of sport sociology, psychology, and criminology, investigating the cognitive, affective, and overt behavioral aspects of violence. Implications drawn for sport management have primarily been associated with crowd control, risk management and athlete management” (Rubin, 2004; Whisenant,2003).(connect these lines)

For this particular reason, “terrorists also plan their acts to get as much media exposure as possible, thus giving attention to their cause”(Whisenant, 2003). The Olympics have grown with the increase of television broadcasting, “it is logical that terrorists will choose methods of mass destruction, such as bombings, and target transport or places where people gather, such as sport stadia. These reasons explain why mega sport events, such as the Olympic Games, are seen as possible terrorist targets” (Toohey andTaylor, 2008).

As a consequence, “more recently, the Olympic security paradigm has shifted. It now augments the rings of steel attitude, to one that has also encouraged resilience, both physically and managerially, through more counter terrorism measures and dispersing security responsibilities to different agencies and governments, rather than just organizing committees”(Coaffee & Wood, 2006). First, security from the gate should prevent unauthorized entrance to the venue and perform the following duties: keep prohibited items out of the venue, secure perimeters around the venue, conduct security inspections, verify tickets and authenticate credentials. This is a final check that follows extra-large security procedures: no fly zone, protecting access from water, precautions through roads, control of high buildings, preventing electronic and internet attacks, and‘sweeping’ all facilities designated to athletes, media people and spectators.

Indeed, “in planning and executing an attack, terrorists spend a lot of time selecting the target, analyzing and assessing opportunities and vulnerabilities as well as conducting their own research to secure the attack’s successful execution. Considering the time frame and activities associated with hosting the event, the threat to the World Cup starts with the building and renovation of sport facilities. On a strategic level, being able to gain access to plans of stadiums and actual access to facilities during the event takes time and careful planning, but contributes to the success full execution of an attack” (Botha, 2010).

Although infusing the event preparation with high level of security, such pact could be the reason for jamming the host country to gain the organization,the high expenses may be the cause for this failure. Johnson (2008) affirms that “successful security operations at recent games raise questions about whether the high levels of expenditure are proportionate to the level of threat. The security budget is often cited as a reason why many cities will not host the Games. It has also been used by one city to justify their decision not to host the Winter Olympics even after it had been awarded”.

Customer Service in Sporting Venues

Enhancing customer service by event managers (EMs) is now included in the requirements of human rights institutions, for spectators may not be treated as criminals when attending a sport show. The moment of entering a game venue is one of the most sensitive sensations for spectators. This feeling amplifies with the size of the event; therefore, the more important the event is, the greater its historical dimension becomes for the spectator. That is why, dealing with this situation is delicate, because EMs aim at delivering excellent customer service while ensuring strict security rules. Most researchers agree that “one way that a sport event can be differentiated from another event is on the basis of providing a high quality of service. One could argue that it is the only way for event planners to gain a competitive advantage” (Dwyer & Fredline, 2008). The expectations of spectators regarding the event service are associated with the importance of the event itself and with the EM before preparing their customers for admittance procedures to enter the venue. Therefore, “providing the visitor with a superior experience is based upon the event planners’ ability to help coordinate or provide a bundle of high quality services that meet or exceed the expectations of the guests visiting the city. Sport tourism is a service industry which is influenced by the quality of services provided”(Kouthouris & Alexandris, 2005).

Customer Satisfaction

“Customer satisfaction is defined as a pleasurable fulfillment response toward a good, service, benefit, or reward” (Oliver, 1997). Customer satisfaction has been considered as an interpreter of intentions to attend future sporting events (Cronin et al., 2000; Kwon, Trail, &Anderson; 2005; Wakefield & Blodgett, 1996), it has been understood in relation to service quality (Cronin & Taylor, 1992; Dobholkar, Shepherd,& Thorpe, 2000; Parasuraman, Zeithaml, & Berry, 1994), and increases the likelihood of enhanced customer loyalty (Cronin et al., 2000; Oliver,1997). Greenwell et al. (2002) examined how customers’ perceptions of as port facility within the context of service experience influence customer satisfaction. The findings suggest the customers’ perceptions of the physical facility were moderately associated with customer satisfaction.

Putting everyone who wanted access to the venue through a magnetic detector and searching their bags (mag-and-bag) is actually quietly accepted because sport customers know well that sport venues are not excluded from terrorist attacks and everyone will be subject to airport-type security with mag-and-bag and X-ray machines. “These processes functioned according to an agreed level of service; for example, a person queuing for security checking should not wait longer than three minutes. The level of service achieved depended on allocating adequate resources to that process, for example, by allocating 20mag-and-bag security gates to a venue entry”. (Beis et al., 2006).

Although event spectators recognize that these security measures are first established for their protection, they are concerned about the class of people dealing with them at the gates, spectators are undoubtedly anxious when treated by police officers, or military soldiers. Therefore, the major concern of spectators is no longer the way they have been welcomed, nor the security check time, it is rather that civilians have to do with officials while attending a show. The recent security procedures and techniques are far from being complex,for instance, “in terms of the Olympic Games, the variety of tactics used have included the deployment of Olympic police and military units to dedicated Olympic units to patrol the host city and country; the creation of Olympic Intelligence Centers to monitor information and coordinate responses; the formation of international Olympic Security task forces to share information between nations; the increasing use of surveillance, including digital surveillance to augment people; and the implementation of progressively more complex technology to prevent unauthorized access” (Johnson, 2008).

Service quality

Service quality is the conformity to the standard required by ISI. The organization committee has a propensity to achieve all the requirements and to satisfy the customer’s perceptions of that service. The consumer satisfaction literature views these expectations as predictions about what is likely to happen during an impending transaction, whereas the service quality literature views them as desires or wants expressed by the consumer(Kandampully, 2002). Grönroos (1984) defines service quality as “the outcome of an evaluation process where the consumer compares his expectations with the service he perceived he has received.”

Debates lay many concepts to measure service quality. Grönroos (1984)solicited technical quality for what the consumer receives and functional quality to answer how the consumer receives the service. Burns, Graefe, &Absher (2003) focused on the disagreement whether the consumer’s‘desires’ or ‘ideal standard’ should be measured.

Lehtinen and Lehtinen (1991) proposed two approaches to the analysis of service quality and its dimensions. The first approach contains three dimensions consisting of physical quality, interactive quality, and corporate quality. The second approach to the analysis of service quality and its dimensions was composed of two dimensions: process quality and output quality.

A positive experience for spectators let them return for future games. Therefore, EMS make spectators enjoy spending time at the stadium. Various attributes are crucial to attain the constancy of spectators in attending games: quality and outcome of the game, cleanliness of the arena, security in the parking area, seat location, parking location, and cleanliness of the restrooms (Kelley & Turley, 2001). However, venue access is actually a pillar in service quality. Venue access is also different from an event to another and from a country system to another and is mainly managed each time by staff, by civilian employees in the reception, or by official security people.

According to Kelley & Turley (2001), service quality attributes are employees, price, facility access, concessions, fan comfort, game experience,show time, convenience, and smoking. The evaluation of service quality depends on knowing and comparing price, employee action, ambiance stimulation, program evaluation, privilege appreciation and security. Chelladurai and Chang (2000) cite three targets of quality evaluations: a) the core service, b) the physical context such as the physical facilities and equipment in which the service is provided, and c) the interpersonal interactions in the performance of the service.

Authors classify service quality in special dimensions, but focus on the outcome quality in determining the overall service quality with search and experience outcome quality. Brady and Cronin’s (2001) model of service quality has three primary dimensions: a) interaction quality, b) physical environment quality, and c) outcome quality. Ko and Pastore (2004) propose a dimensional model of service quality in the recreation industry composed of program quality, interaction quality, and outcome quality.

Human Rights

“Anti-terrorism laws in a democratic state ruled by law only serve their purpose if they improve the ability of the state to defend itself against terrorist attacks, without excessively restricting the civil rights of the citizens” (Meyer, 2004). The controversy over the balance between liberty and security highlights that jeopardizing freedom for the sake of security creates the tension between security policies and freedom security prevailing over liberty. “The vague definition of public order and thus what may breach it jeopardizes not only the ideally equal implementation of the law in a given territory, but also the protection of civil rights and liberties in that the consequent weakening of the principle of legality entails that of the principle of proportionality and in some cases the principle of accountability” (Tsoukala, 2007).

Liberties are not established by the law and rules only, but are applied by agents who may not conform their practices to those rules; it is not about a misinterpretation but about entity philosophy of priorities’categorization, “while the defenders of human rights see in this shift the symptom of an ongoing redefinition of the power relations between the executive and the people or the (re)positioning of the state and civil agents in the political and security fields (or both), the executive branch refuses to see in it any jeopardizing of civil rights and liberties” (Tsoukala,2007).

Besides economic and sport developments, a mega event serves as a historical landmark and brings prestige and prosperity to the host country.“Research into mega-events and developing nations has been centered about questions of development, place promotion, signaling, identity building and human rights and political liberalization” (Black and Bezanson 2004; Black and van der Westhuizen 2004).

Hosting sport mega events is the responsibility of the government. In case of errors, such burden has been criticized from the international opinion and has also been disparaged by domestic politicians. “Because absolute security cannot be attained, politicians worry about leaving gaps in prevention, because this could have the side effect of making them take responsibility for the harms inflicted the next time. Therefore, politicians tend to maximize their security preparation, at the price of more restrictions on citizens’ freedoms and civil rights than are necessary for effective prevention” (Meyer, 2004).

The protection of human rights must be imbedded in the strategy for the effective combat against terrorism and it cannot be successful safety if there is a lack of respect for human beings and the values of freedom. “The subject of counter-terrorism and human rights has attracted considerable interest since the establishment of the Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC) in 2001. In Security Council (2003) and later resolutions, the Council has said that States must ensure that any measures taken to combat terrorism comply with all their obligations under international law, and should adopt such measures in accordance with international law, in particular international human rights, refugee, and humanitarian law” (CTC, 2003).

Precarious balance between security and freedom

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (5th Amendment in the USA) obliges the state to prove criminal behavior and not to take any action against a person suspected of a crime, so everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Ashworth (1998) has rightly suggested that the notion of balance is a rhetorical device of which one must be extremely wary. “Balance” is self-evidently a worthy goal and, thus, acts as a substitute for real argument. Waldron (2003) has identified a problematic connotation of quantity and precision in the language of balance, including the assumption that the relation between security and liberty is a zero-sum game.

Perhaps a separate definition of security and liberty cannot find an intersection that satisfies both; however, we do not need to identify security with liberty. An American hurdler explains, “Every step you take, there are guards with machine guns in the Olympic Village, I know they’re there to protect you, but it’s scary. I’m not used to it, so it makes me cringe a little bit. It wasn’t like this at all in Sydney” (May, 2004).

Foucault (1991, 1997, 2000a, 2000b) has shown how liberalism enacts another form of political rationality that sets mechanisms for a ‘society of security’ in place rather than resist the push to security in the name of liberty. Johnson (2008) further supported: “The Atlanta bombing demonstrated that massive security investments cannot guarantee the safety of the public”Authors, politicians, managers, and philosophers have been conferring to challenge the idea of an equilibrium between security and liberty “to different political projects for the shaping of the modern state, the value of security remained the same. The difference between absolutism and liberalism is, therefore, not that where one stresses security the other stresses liberty; the difference does not lie in the tipping of a mythical ‘balance’ between liberty and security in one direction rather than another. Rather, the difference lies in the fact that absolutists saw no need to identify security with liberty” (Neocleous, 2007). “Much of the discussion concerning the theory and practices surrounding security centers on the relationship between these and their consequences for liberty. Either explicitly or implicitly, the assumption is that we must accept that we have to forgo a certain amount of liberty in our desire for security. The general claim is that in seeking security, states need to constantly limit the liberties of citizens, and that the democratic society is one which has always aimed to strike the right ‘balance’ between liberty and security” (Neocleous, 2007).

Is ‘Vancouver 2010’ a soft Model?

Security became the main condition to host the Olympic Games and other large scale sporting events. Winning these games’ elections for any country is also conditioned by the promotion of human rights and liberties, such events are great occasions to push dictatorship regimes, leading to an improvement in the human rights movement.

“The human rights organization ‘Human Rights Watch’ hopes, that the attention China will get as a result of the Olympic Games will help to improve the human rights situation” (OG & HR, 2008). Gill &Worden (2009) state as an example: “Given the serious ongoing human rights concerns in Russia, we respectfully reiterate our call for the IOC to establish a standing human rights committee or similar mechanism to monitor the adherence by Olympic host countries to basic human rights standards.”

The venue of Salt Lake City Winter Games was heavily populated by officials from the army, the police and many security companies. It is very understandable that ‘there is too much security’ because the Games were hosted a few months after 9/11. “The Athens security operations cost€1 billion, and represented more than 10% of the total direct costs. The expenditure was almost four times greater than for Sydney. There were approximately twice as many security personnel available in 2004 compared to the summer games four years before” (Johnson, 2008). ‘Athens2004’ meant a higher level of security than ever before provided for the games. However, unlike Greece, Italy’s ‘Turin 2006’ has more than enough military personnel and special forces to deal with the threat of all possible terrorist attacks, ranging from bombs to planes and even weapons of mass destruction. The Chinese government in “Beijing 2008” has implemented extraordinary security measures, including the mobilization of the military. “Security has not been thought to require special justification because in many ways it seems preferable to punishment” (Zedner, 2003). The cited Olympics were known as “hard security models” adoption,either the Games were after 9/11, or the political system is based on military management (i.e., China under a communist regime).

Vancouver Winter Games opted for what we call a “mild security model” because the security company charged in flowing spectators to the venues (Contemporary Security Canada) and used civilians to perform mag-and-bag and X-Ray machines. Thus, spectators, while entering to watch the games, are not facing military people or police officers (Figure 1). The second‘layer or belt’ is managed by security supervisors. Then, the role of the police officer (third layer) comes in case of prohibited items found with the intention to infiltrate the venue. In this situation, a male factor is treated with the right corps, and human rights rule is respected. The timing goal set up for the security procedures in the gate is thirty seconds perspectator. The training of screeners, X-Ray operators, and their supervisors was based on ensuring full security vocation while providing gentle spectator access through their portals with the finest performances and an excellent customer service.

Figure 1

It is worth highlighting that the Special Reporter on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights while countering terrorism, operating under the new Human Rights Council, works to identify, exchange, and promote best practices on measures to counter terrorism that respect human rights and fundamental freedom. Security agents represent a brilliant facet to implement the respect for human rights. Sport event spectators admire the fact that they are well informed and welcomed and the security system guarantees 100% of their safety. With a purpose to reach a complete enjoyment for the sports show customers, such “model” is essentially based on two pillars: security and service excellence (Figure 2).

Figure 2

Figure 2 – Tools concept for Sport’s Show Joy through Security& Service Excellence.

This study focuses on the conflict between “liberty” and“security” and what model sport event organizers should adopt to match the characteristics of the host country? Then, what are the tools to provide quality service for the spectators? Do timing, security people, and quality information guarantee the comfort desired by the customers? Johnson (2008) also considered the timing and asked: “The organizers of the Turin games advised spectators to leave more than three hours to enter some venues for the 2006 winter games. Such delays raise important questions about how long it is reasonable to expect people to wait in order for security measures to be completed”. Moreover, who is responsible for taking the security measures to prepare, prevent, deter, or delay a future terrorist attack on a sporting event or stadium? How people deem about the concept of ‘CI’?Ultimately, what are the means to raise the trust that spectators are fully protected while attending the games?

These research questions culminate to our main hypothesis: A security model in sport events should respect both the full protection of the venue and the value of human rights while welcoming spectators and subsequently:

  • Providing spectators’ service excellence depends on the time spent at the portal before entering the venue, the quality of communication, the serving staff, and the previously provided information regarding the security measures.
  • The success of a security model in mega sport events is highly conditioned by the cooperation between all corps in charge of this mission, such as government, police, local city head, athletic directors, private security companies, and the structure in use.


Supported by the literature review a total of ten questions were generated to represent two items: (A) ‘Customer service in the event’ and (B)‘Security in the event’.


The study sample covered 1081 respondents (Table 1), composed of 286 journalists and 795 spectators. Journalists were contacted before the games start at MMC, during the competitions in the venues (indoors or outdoors) and in MMC, and after the games in MMC again. Spectators were met on the opening and closing ceremonies, during the competitions in the venues (indoors or outdoors).

<imgalt=”Table 1- The study sample (Journalists & Spectators) for ‘Vancouver 2010’ Winter Olympics.”src=”Desktop/Table 1- The study sample (Journalists & Spectators) for ‘Vancouver 2010’ Winter Olympics..png”width=”673″ height=”329″ />

Table 1- The study sample (Journalists & Spectators) for‘Vancouver 2010’ Winter Olympics.

Media people in the study sample were represented by 75 journalists from Canada (26.2%), 45 journalists from USA (15.7%), 27 journalists from China, 25 journalists from Russia and 15 journalists from Germany. The percentages of spectators are as follows: 53.7% Canadians, 20.5% Americans, 5.5% Chinese, and 3.1% French (Table 2).

<imgalt=”Table 2- Countries of journalists and spectators with classification and percentages”src=”Desktop/Table 2- Countries of journalists and spectators with classification and percentages.jpg”width=”644″ height=”552″ />

Table 2- Countries of journalists and spectators with classification and percentages


Respondents were informed that they are helping a scientific research regarding the service and security in the event. Trained volunteers (event services) of the organization committee conducted the survey in their day-off by contacting the spectator after he/she takes seat and before the game starts to guide the respondent, and as tested before, the tête-à-tête takes six to seven minutes. Extra information was included in the survey content regarding the citizenship and the gender of the respondent. The respondents were randomly assigned for City Venues: Vancouver Olympic Center, Pacific Coliseum, Cypress Mountain, Canada Hockey Place, UBC Thunderbird Arena, Richmond Olympic Oval,and Main Media Center, or for Whistler Venues: Whistler Creekside, Whistler Olympic Park, and The Whistler Sliding Center, which created relatively equal samples for each condition.


The questionnaire consists of items. Item A measures the comfortable time judged when dealing with the security procedures at the venue gates (A1 &A2), the information about the regulations regarding the entrance of the venue and the cooperation (A3 & A4), and the evaluation of service quality provided by the security people (A5). In item (B), the focus was on the security filter met at the portal when entering the venue (B6 & B7), the concept of ‘CI’ (B8), responsibility measures (B9), and the level of security felt by spectators (B10).

The response format for all questions was the five-point Likert scale, with the following values: 1 (Strongly disagree), 2 (Disagree), 3 (Neutral), 4 (Agree), and 5 (Strongly agree). Other five-point summated rating scale used the following format: 1 (Insecure), 2 (Somehow not secure), 3 (Don’tknow), 4 (Somehow secure), and 5 (Secure). In B6 and B9, attendees determine and classify responsibilities.

To determine the content validity of this survey, three experts—university professor specialist in sport event organization, a mega EM, and professional in customer service and marketing—were invited to provide feedback concerning the conceptual appropriateness of the items. Based on this feedback, modifications were made. Then, a pilot test was made and granted a reliability coefficient of .92, the test-retest had a two-week interval for the eighteen spectators who attended hockey games with the same security setup for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. There was an eight-day interval for the seven reporters, because MMC (Main Media Center at Canada place Vancouver) was not operational beyond this range. Based on the relevant results of validity and reliability, the questions were judged to be conceptually appropriate.


The data collected were analyzed using chi-square analyses (X2) and mean scores (M) and standard deviations were calculated (SD). A level of significance of .05 was used to test the results of the study.

Customer service in the event

The study gave a special importance to the timing as a component of quality service. The time spent at the portal for the security procedures before entering the venue was 30 seconds (sec.) per person and Games Security Screening (GSS) targeted it to ensure the visitors’ comfort and security.

Approximately 71% of journalists (M = 95.33; SD = 35.726) declared that they spent less than 30 sec. to get into the venue, but spectators (M =265.00; SD = 301.448) were not in this range because 76% judged that they spent over 30 seconds and even over one minute. The difference between groups is very significant (X2: 328.606, df: 2, p-value: 0). Conformably, the timing cited above influenced the position of journalists (M = 95.33;SD =38.280), half of whom notice that the time granted to the security procedures is reasonable, but the majority of spectators (M = 265.00;SD = 301.448) claimed that the time is uncomfortable. The difference between groups is very significant (X2: 365.561, df: 2, p-value: 0).

Statistics showed a significant difference between both categories of our samples (X2: 208.69, df: 1, p-value: 0); ¾ of journalists (M = 125.00;SD = 70.711) confirmed they were vaguely informed about the regulations regarding the entrance of the venue before they arrived. However, 4/5 of the spectators (M =317.00; SD = 277.186) stated they were not well informed. Regarding cooperation before coming to the venue, results showed that 51% of the journalists (M = 118.50; SD = 4.950) took some precautions and the majority (82%) of spectators (M = 363.50; SD =352.846) did, too. The difference between groups is again significant (X2:208.69, df: 1, p-value: 0).

Although journalists (M = 95.33; SD = 85.043) are satisfied with the service quality provided by the security people (65%), spectators (M =265.00; SD = 56.956) expressed equal evaluations about that service ranging between the dissatisfactory, average, and satisfactory judgements. However, the difference between groups remains significant (X2: 161.478, df: 2,p-value: 0).

Security in the event

While going through security portals, the study population (N: 1081) noticed that the security people they met are mostly “mixed corps” or“no official,” with the following ratio: 39% and 20%, respectively. The respondents did not recognize security people in charge (M = 216.2; SD =124.728), with a percentage of 18%, and no more than 12% distinguished“security company” and 9% “official police” (Figure 3).

Figure 3

Figure 3- Security people recognition by respondents

Respondents (787 of 814) confirmed that the security filter at the portalranges between hard to very strong. Statistics confirm that there is no significant difference between journalists and spectators (X2: 0.039, df: 1,p-value: 0.8434).

“The political agenda is ruling the concept of ‘critical infrastructure’ instead of the technical scientific conception”. After investigating into this new design, the majority of our respondents(82.2%) approved of the exposed idea. No significant difference between groups(X2: 1.899, df: 1, p-value: 0.1681) is noticed.

The rank ratio of the classification (Figure 4) made by the respondents in each venue showed that journalists and spectators consider the Local Police or Mounted Police the first people responsible for implementing the security measures to prevent, deter, or delay a future terrorist attack on a sporting event or stadium. Respondents also agreed to classify local city head in the second rank. Journalists, however, gave more importance to Politicians in the Government for the cited task unlike the spectators. Private Security Company was classified fourth for this responsibility. Finally, respondents determined the Private Security Company and the structure in use as last.

Figure 4

Figure 4 – Classification for structures taking the security measures.

When attending these winter Olympics, respondents felt safe at all venues,but with minor differences. The difference between groups is significant (X2:6.951, df: 1, p-value: 0.0083) as the majority of journalists (M = 107.50;SD = 126.572) and 85% of the spectators confirmed feeling very secure(M = 369.50; SD = 361.332).


Customer service in the event rises from the expectation of customers. Spectators seek comfort and security when attending the games, but have some directions to follow from buying the access tickets, to being seated and watching the game. Journalists enter the venue with an accreditation card, which was issued based on a previous security check. The situation explains the timing gap between journalists and spectators. Somehow, media people are trusted customers, so the screening at the gate venue is quick, and accurate recommendations during GSS training were delivered to pay special attention to them, because any incident could spread through the media and ultimately hurt the reputation of the organization. Spectators are considered as unknown customers, so GSS persons deal with different people with diverse backgrounds and different social levels. As a consequence, spectators judged that the security procedure timing exceeds the promised timing. It may represent confusion regarding the waiting time on line and the time spent on the security check before entering the venue, yet statistics confirmed the different attitudes of both the journalists and spectators.

Accordingly, journalists were comfortable to that timing whereas spectators were not. The timing target was not realistic for spectators, if we identify the screeners’ duty as searching bags, magnetometer operation, wanding, physical search, and ticket or accreditation checking, how can we set 30 seconds as the timing target? Event managers with GSS must adjust their timing target vis-à-vis the spectators, media, and especially human rights institutions. Statistics advise to keep the 30 seconds with journalists and aim 1 minute for spectators. Data shows that 1-minute target time for security procedure covers ¾ among spectators, and such timing agreement could be comfortable.

To ensure the safety and enjoyment of all spectators at the Olympics, spectators carrying forbidden items will be asked to either return them, or to dispose them immediately. Prohibited items at security gates cause the delay in entrance and may involve the customer into extra security procedures. That is why, the factor information before the games makes a smoother security-spectator contact. Journalists insisted that they were vaguely informed about the regulations regarding the entrance of the venue. Part of this position is due to the frequency of dealing with such events. Journalists are professionals who are used to attending conferences and events within the same security circumstances, so their jobs expose them to a large experience dealing with security in portals daily and maybe dozens of times. On the contrary, spectators are amateurs, usually with little previous experience in mega events, and sometimes, the excitement to the event makes the spectator forget about the instructions related to the security procedures and even if EMs did spread the information via the media, in the ticket, and by postings around the venues. It is understandable that all spectators took some necessary precautions before coming to the venue. Thanks to this cooperation, their waiting time and the security maneuver took less time. Precautions regarding security procedures for journalists are part of their duties, thus no special focus was required. The study data sustained the first part of our hypothesis that offering the spectators’ service excellence depends on the time spent at the portal before entering the venue, the quality of communication, the staff serving them, and the information previously provided regarding the security measures. Both journalists and spectators were equally satisfied with the event as a whole. Moreover, satisfaction is often evaluated by the joy felt by the event customer; indeed, customers declared not being bothered by any delays and receiving a special warm welcome.

Security agencies attempt to stay out of sight by using an array of surveillance technologies. This approach creates different security belts (layers) around the venues. The sporting event customer prefers to feel secure without seeing too much security people. The study results gave us an idea about the assortment of security people at security portals. It was very important that respondents noticed that the security people they met are mostly mixed corps, or “not official,” that is to say corresponding to the objective of recent “security model,” ensuring utter safety while respecting spectators’ dignity and meeting with civilians in all phases of venue services.

It was obvious for event spectators and journalists that the security filter is strong and they feel very secure. Regarding service quality, many authors highlight that such a feeling is satisfactory enough to judge the event successful. “Technical challenges, among these, the first concern is to ensure the safety and security of competitors and of the public”(Johnson, 2008). Respondents also pointed out that any security failures are the responsibility of the Local Police or Mounted Police, then the City Head gave special importance to Politicians in the Government, because the concept of CI has been removed from the technical and scientific and introduced to the political agenda.

The data supported our full hypothesis, and a security model in sport events should respect both the entire protection of the venue and the value of human rights when welcoming spectators. Vancouver Olympic security was one of the most talked about and most important factors in having a successful event.“After the purpose of a law has ceased to exist, or after coming to realize that some measures are ineffective, freedom’s rights then can regain full validity. This will prevent freedom’s rights from being limited longer than is absolutely necessary” (Meyer, 2004).

Eventually, it is important to stress through Vancouver 2010 how our study has contributed to theory. Whereas most previous research about security in Mega Sport Events merely displayed the problem vaguely, our study attempts to give concrete standards that will pave the way for future events and research.

Kelly and Turley (2001) never mentioned the timing as a major criterion among many that determine the quality and the outcome of the Games. Beis et al.(2006) suggested multiplying mag-and-bag security gates to a venue entry, because a person queuing for security checking should not wait longer than three minutes, and our data categorized all respondents in their range of the real time spent for security measures. Lehtinen and Lehtinen (1991) analyzed the quality of service from many dimensions whereas Chelladurai and Chang(2000) built the service quality on three criteria and failed to specify how this was measured. Greenwell et al. (2002) associated customers’perceptions with customer satisfaction. Our classifications conduct us to match the timing with the comfort level according to each range of the timing spent at the gates.

In sport tourism, Kouthouris and Alexandris (2005) considered the quality service as an event planner’s ability to coordinate with visitors. Our study differentiated the journalists from the spectators in terms of how they cooperated by taking actions that helped in the security context before appearing in the venue. Earlier, most authors merely classified service quality from different perspectives, but mainly focused on the outcome quality (Brandy& Cronin, 2001; Ko & Pastore, 2004). Dwyer and Fredline in 2008 noticed that a sport event could be differentiated from another just by its quality of service. Our study quantified the satisfaction and the dissatisfaction about the service for both journalists and spectators.

May (2004) witnessed that athletes could be negatively influenced by an excessive security presence to the point that they get scared. Tsoukala (2007) noticed that human rights defenders refuse the domination of security fields on people. Thus, our study scanned visitors’ opinions about security people and the types of visible corps nearby and at portals.

The concept of liberty, as perceived by Ericson and Doyle (2004) and Botha(2010), is that terrorists keep entire populations in fear and in security, which precipitates the urge for more severe security measures. The 2010 Olympic Games testified that journalists and spectators equally felt secure and serene, and judged the security filter at the portal as ‘hard to very strong’. Therefore, our data demonstrated that attendees were not terrorized or destabilized thanks to the tougher security standards adopted by the organizers. Our data, then, further support Toohey and Taylor’s(2008) findings.

Whereas Owen’s conceptualization (2004) of security responsibility proved to be vague, Coaffee and Wood (2006) made different agencies and governments share security rather than restricting it to organizing committees. Our data specifically ranked the “local police or mounted police”and the “local city head” as the first ones responsible for preventing, or delaying any potential terrorist attack on a well-defined sporting event, but also highlighted the differences in rank ratio between journalists and spectators.

Ashworth (1998) and Waldron (2003) cleared the notion of balance between security and liberty, Tsoukala (2007) defined the protection of civil rights and liberties vis-à-vis of public order and Johnson (2008) confirmed that successful security operations must be proportionate with the level of threat. This study provided a final report about the different attitudes of journalists and spectators in terms of comfort and service quality and also confirmed that these respondents felt secure during V2010. “In general terms, for social scientists, the contemporary security processes at sport mega-events have very strong social, political, and geographical dimensions, as reflected through social relationships, the everyday politics of the “war on terror,”and urban redevelopment” (Giulianotti & Klauser, 2010).


Using event service volunteers to conduct the survey was helpful. With their accreditation passes, they were easily moving between portals and had greater access to diverse spectators in different areas. However, we did not use this advantage to touch intensely other details in the questionnaire. It was the work of experts who validated the survey as they trimmed the questionnaire to avoid falling in the discomfort of respondents!

An attractive area for further research is to excavate deeply the data and find the divergence between indoor and outdoor venues. Moreover, integrating the difference between Olympics and Paralympics may be an addition to testing the proposed model. London was awarded the right to host the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and the United Kingdom suffered from recent terrorist attacks. “The 2012 Olympics will see further security legacies intechnological terms, including microphones attached to CCTV cameras and a massive extension of the national DNA database” (Giulianotti &Klauser, 2010). Then, which security model should they adopt in these Olympic Games? Contacts were made to scope a similar questionnaire with the games’ specification.


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2016-10-21T09:09:50-05:00August 21st, 2013|Contemporary Sports Issues, Sports Facilities, Sports Management|Comments Off on Security Models in Mega Sport Events between Safety and Human Rights (Case of Vancouver 2010)

College Choice Factors for Division I Athletes at an Urban University


Purpose: Recently there has been much research attention focused on the college and university choice factors of potential student-athletes. Kankey and Quarterman (2007) developed a questionnaire, which was tested on Division I softball players, and advocated for more research utilizing different athlete populations to further analyze college and university choice factors among student athletes. As a result, the purpose of this research is to apply Kankey and Quarterman’s (2007) questionnaire to one athletic department with student athlete respondents from all sports funded by a Division I athletic department in order to ascertain: What factors are important to these Division I athletes when choosing to attend their present school? Methods: Division I student athletes were surveyed regarding the importance of certain factors influencing their decisions to attend this particular urban-serving institution. Online surveys were solicited through sport programs for volunteers. Student athletes took the online survey, which was used to develop an electronic database for analysis. Surveys with missing or skipped information were discarded leaving a sample of 101 respondents (n=101). Results: Statistical analyses indicate the most important choice factor to be the coaching staff. Other important—and highly rated factors—include personal relationships, financially based reasons, and academics/ career development. The least important factors included media related issues, technology outlets, and past coaches. Conclusion: Hossler and Gallagher’s (1987) student choice model is integrated with Symbolic Interactionism in order to understand results. It appears that a variety of factors are important to student athletes, which illustrates the multifaceted identities of student athletes. Applications in Sport: Collegiate sport practitioners and/or coaches working with constrained student development programming and/or recruiting budgets are better able to streamline these processes with a better understanding of student athlete choice factors. Knowing which factors to emphasize during the choice stage of choosing a college/university will better assist urban-serving universities during program development or recruiting.


A sizable proportion of colleges and universities within the United States support athletic opportunities for their respective student bodies (Kankey& Quarterman, 2007). One common notion is those athletic programs supported by colleges/universities are integral to the overall college experience for potential and/or current students. Indeed, Coakley (2007) articulated the common perception that student athletes positively impact universities because sport programs increase student enrollment and revenue generating opportunities. Another potential expense to colleges or universities is the process of bringing those student athletes to campus, which can be a costly venture. Urban serving institutions of higher education tend to have constrained financial resources, which mirror the social inequities of urban public schools (Jordan, 2007). Athletic departments within these institution scan benefit greatly from understanding how to efficiently recruit potential student athletes. Finally, “conducting research regarding college or university choice factors, especially when organized within a social framework,helps both practitioners and academics in understanding the identities of student-athletes by illustrating what is important to them during the recruiting process” (Vermillion, 2010, p. 1). Indeed, previous research identified the need for examining how student athletes view their identities,academic careers, and the factors influencing them to attend specific institutions of higher education. (For example, see Letawsky, Schneider,Pedersen, & Palmer, 2003; Kankey & Quarterman, 2007; Vermillion,2010).

This research focuses exclusively on Division I student athletes in an urban-serving institution and attempts to extend Kankey and Quarterman’s(2007) findings regarding factors influencing the university choice of NCAA Division I softball players by utilizing their questionnaire for student athletes of all sports. As a result, the purpose of this project is to readily identify what college or university factors influence Division I student athletes to attend their present urban-serving schools. To accurately ground this project within the previous literature, a brief background discussion of factors influencing the college or university choice of the general student body, student athletes, and sport specific student athletes is summarized.Vermillion (2010) noted the usefulness of amalgamating social theory with other education theories in order to develop a holistic, interdisciplinary framework for discussing college choice factors with student athletes. As a result,Hossler and Gallaher’s (1987) model, and Symbolic Interactionism (Blumer,1969) are combined in order to explain or describe not only the data collected,but also the results and recommendations.


There has been a relatively constant stream of college and university choice factors research for the last 50 years (for example, see Astin, 1965, Gorman,1976, Kealey & Rockel, 1987, Lourman & Garman, 1995, and Hu &Hossler, 2000). Summarizing this research, several key college or university choice factors—regarding the general student body—have been identified. These key factors include academic reputation of the institution,friendship influences, proximity to family, financial aid availability, the location of the institution, and program availability. Kankey and Quarterman(2007) noted the increase of research being conducted regarding college or university choice factors as related to student athletes. The emerging line of scholarly inquiry includes, but is not limited to, research regardingwomen’s athletics (Nicodemus, 1990), male athletes in general (Fielitz,2001), male, sport-specific athletes (Ulferts, 1992; Kraft & Dickerson,1996), freshmen male athletes (Fortier, 1986), and Division III male athletes and non-athletes (Giese, 1986). Common conclusions from the aforementioned studies and other research indicates the head coach, opportunity for participation, various academic factors and amount of available scholarships are important factors influencing student athletes. However, Letawsky,Schneider, Pedersen, and Palmer (2003) noted while athletic -based factors are important to student athletes’ decisions to attend colleges or universities, non-athletic factors also contribute to the decision to attend apresent college or university. To our knowledge, there has been little to no exploration of college choice factors of student athletes in one athletic department with respondent representation of all athletic programs.Additionally, there has been very little research done examining urban-serving institutions and their respective athletic departments. In order to adequately understand college choice factors and urban serving schools’ athletics, a theoretical framework is needed to guide not only research questions, but also interpretation of the descriptive statistical results.

Conceptual Framework

The original conceptual framework utilized by Kankey and Quarterman (2007)to organize and represent their data and findings was Hossler and Gallaher’s (1987) model. Hossler and Gallaher’s model has also been adapted to better understand this research. Specifically, it is a three-stagemodel that identifies and describes the college selection process of individuals and is composed of three stages: predisposition, search, and choice stages. The predisposition stage is the time when students decide if they want to continue into higher education by pursuing colleges or universities, while the search stage encompasses the individual’s evaluations of college or universities, which includes large amounts of interaction. Finally, the choice stage focuses on the submission of application to a targeted pool of colleges or universities.Regarding sport, Kankey and Quarterman (2007) focused primarily on the last stage within Hossler and Gallagher’s (1987) model, which is when the student athlete develops serious intentions about a select few colleges or universities. The student athlete engages in a cost-benefit analysis in order to determine the positives and negatives of each college or university and attempts to make a sound decision. For student athletes, this stage could encompass not only being recruited, but also critically examining the factors that are the most pertinent to their specific situation and taking official visits. Focusing on the “choice stage” is also salient for this project, which addresses college athletes attending an urban serving institution. Understanding why some student athletes choose to attend one college or university over another competitor is important for understanding student athletes’ educational, athletic, and social motivations to attend institutions of higher education.

Symbolic Interactionism

Vermillion (2010) noted Symbolic Interactionism (SI)—a sociological theory focusing on identity, social interaction, and symbolinterpretation—is easily applied to many areas within the institution of sport. Using a micro level of analysis, SI provides a description or explanation of the constructed reality of spectators, athletes, or coaches(Coakley, 2007). Additionally, Cunningham (2007) noted SI understands how people give meaning to their participation or consumption of daily activities.Recently, SI has been used by a variety of scholars to examine a wide variety of sport-based social dynamics, including student athlete choice factors. Some of this research includes, but is not limited to: understanding sport subcultures and the resulting socialization process of rugby players and rock climbers (Donnelly & Young, 1999); examining the role of athletics in gay or lesbian athletes’ lives (Anderson, 2005); explaining the disproportionate lack of women in sport organization leadership positions(Sartore & Cunningham, 2007); understanding how students interpret and consume indigenous sport imagery (Vermillion, Friedrich, & Holtz, 2010); or examining the college choice factors important for influencing community college softball players to attend their current school (Vermillion, 2010).

SI is composed of three basic assumptions. Hughes and Kroehler (2005)summarize Blumer (1969) and Fine (1993) and stated the following theory tenets:1) we interact with things in our social environment based upon shared meanings, 2) these meanings are not inherent, but rather, are social constructions, and 3) shared meanings are in a perpetual state of change and evolution. Interactions and communication within a specific social environment adheres to the aforementioned assumptions and helps to form an individual’s “constructed reality,” which is an individual’s interpretation of the social world and dynamics around them(Eitzen & Sage, 2009). When combined with Hossler and Gallagher’s(1987) choice model, we are better able to understand the social psychological processes interacting within the decision to attend or not attend a specific urban -serving institution.

Explaining or describing choice factors important to athletes in urban-serving institutions is important by highlighting the social psychological processes associated with the decision to attend a specific institution of higher education. SI’s focus on the “meaning”athletes give to their participation is useful for examining the power the“athlete role” has on not only the identity of the student athlete,but also the decisions that student athlete makes. Stryker (1980) addressed oneof SI’s limitations—lack of a focus on social structure (Ritzer,2000)—by combining SI with role theory. This adapted version of SI identifies the importance of social roles within the lives of individuals,which are forms of social structure. Student athletes, for example, have multiple roles that they “play” throughout the day, including being a student, university representative, son/daughter, sibling, friend, and athlete. Examining the social-psychological process of how impactful these roles are upon the individual in question provides practitioners insight into the programs, services, or infrastructures that should be emphasized during the costly process of student athlete recruitment. As previously noted urban-serving, institutions tend to suffer from constrained fiscal environments, which are similar to those constraints faced by urban public schools (Jordan, 2007). SI’s usefulness lies in the fact it understands individuals are decision-makers, and provides a structured, analytical way for highlighting how the decisions student athletes make impact not only their social environments (Hughes & Kroehler, 2005), but also the colleges oruniversities they attend (Vermillion, 2010).


This research project is significant in a number of ways. First, there is very little research done examining the choice factors of: 1) all sports (and resulting athletes) in one athletic department, and 2) athletes from an urban-serving institution. The purpose of this research is to address these gaps in the previous literature. Secondly, the research would also be useful to college or university athletic programs. Specifically, the research will help to streamline the recruiting process for many athletic departments—ofsimilar composition—by addressing the most important choice factors for student athletes in these types of schools. As a result, a better and more efficient allocation of recruiting funds may be developed in order to maximize shrinking recruiting budgets. Moreover, this research is particularly timely as athletic departments attempt to build relationships with other university,academic-based programs. If certain academic programs are identified as particularly salient to potential student athletes, then athletic department personnel can work with other academic administrators in order to: 1) bridge the increasing division and distance between academic programs/the campus community and athletic departments, and 2) demonstrate a commitment to a holistic student athlete experience, which includes the social, athletic, and professional/academic development of the student athlete.

Finally, urban-serving institutions, historically, are comprised of student populations that differ from institutions not classified as such. Urban-serving school districts have higher rates of poverty, racial/ethnic diversity, and equalized access to strong community and educational infrastructures (Howey,2008). As Jordan (2007) noted, urban-serving colleges or universities mirror many of the same inequality patterns found in urban, public school districts.As a result, more research is needed in order to understand collegiate athletics within an urban- embedded university context. It can be hypothesized that universities within urban settings—or designated as urban-serving institutions—have athletic departments that must recognize the relatively unique nature of these campus communities, which may manifest itself in unique athletic facilities, programs, and/or recruiting efforts and strategies.

Research Questions

The research question guiding this research was influenced by previous sport-based research centering on college or university choice factors for student athletes. Based upon Hossler and Gallagher’s (1987) model, are cognition of the uniqueness of urban-serving institutions of higher education, and utilized in conjunction with SI’s theoretical influence,the following research questions is posed: Which college and university choice factors are the most influential for having Division I athletes attend their present urban serving institution? That is, what factors are the most important to Division I student athletes when deciding to attend their present school?



Respondents for the study were selected from the student athlete population of a large, state university located in the southern high plains of the United States. The university is designated as an urban-serving university and is embedded in an urban environment within a predominantly rural state. It is important to note the university is designated as a Division I (formerly known as Division I AAA) by the NCAA. This is the label given to Division I athletic departments that do not fund or field football teams. As a result, the potential survey population is slightly smaller as compared to FBS (FootballBowl Subdivision) or FCS (Football Championship Series) athletic departments,formerly known as Division I A and Division I AA respectively. Surveys we readministered as online surveys and once surveys were completed, responses were automatically entered into a spreadsheet, which was imported into SPSS 17.0 in order to develop an electronic database. Surveys with missing (skipped)questions or ambiguous answers were discarded and not included in the database.While not all student athletes responded fully, there was representation of all athletic programs administered by the athletic department at the time of data collection. After data collection a total of 101 usable surveys were included in the analysis (n=101).

In order to determine the demographics of the respondents, basic questions were asked to determine gender, academic status (freshman, sophomore, junior,and senior), country of origin, race or ethnicity and sport they participated in. The resulting sample included more females than males (65% vs. 35%) and was composed of freshmen (23.2%), sophomores (30.3%), juniors (29.3%), and seniors(17.2%). The majority of respondents listed white as their race/ ethnicity(64.6%) or African-American/Black (30.2%) and their country of origin as the United State (84.5%). Finally, table 1 illustrates the percent of respondents based upon sport.

Table 1

Percent of respondents by sport categories (n=101).

Sport Percent (%) N
Baseball 9.1 9
Softball 6.1 6
Women’s Basketball 10.1 10
Men’s Basketball 5.1 5
Volleyball 10.1 10
Men’s track 11.1 11
Women’s track 24.2 24
Men’s golf 4 4
Women’s golf 3 3
Women’s tennis 4 4
Men’s tennis 4 4
Cross Country 9.1 9


The data collection survey consisted of the aforementioned five demographic questions and college choice factors used by Kankey and Quarterman (2007). Permission was obtained by the primary researcher to use the Kankey and Quarterman factor list for additional research and was adapted to this research focusing on Division I student athletes. The possible answer choices regarding the importance of the college choice factors included “extremely important,” “very important,” “moderately important,” “slightly important,” and“unimportant,” which were numerically coded with “extremely important” rating a five (5) while “unimportant” was rated as one (1). As a result, the higher the rating, the more important the college choice factor was to the student athlete.


Student athletes were asked by their coaches or athletic program administrators to complete the online survey. Additional follow-up contacts were made to specific programs to ensure that there was student athlete representation from all sponsored sports in the athletic department. Informed consent was done electronically with the disclaimer attached to the electronic version of the survey. Student athlete participation was not mandatory, but it was encouraged. All results are not simply confidential, but also anonymous because a detailed respondent record cannot be tracked or charted in the current electronic database. Surveys were taken by student athletes while coaches and staff were not present to avoid any influence or tainting of respondent self-reports. The gathered statistical information was shared with the athletic department in addition to being used for this research. Electronic survey information, which was saved in spreadsheet format, was imported into SPSS 17.0 for data analysis.


In keeping with Kankey and Quarterman (2007) a descriptive analysis is used to initially describe and identify the college choice factors associated with Division I athletes attending urban-serving institutions. Regarding the research question (what factors are the most important to Division I student athletes when deciding to attend their present school?), initial univariate responses indicate that 87% of the factors presented in this research were at or above the midpoint of the scale (M= 3.00). In addition, almost half of the factors (15 out of 32, or almost 47%) had means over 4.00 with over 70% of respondents rating these factors as ‘extremely’ or ‘very important’ to their choice to attend this urban-serving university. The seven most highly rated factors, which had mean scale scores at or above 4.25,included coaching staff (M=4.68, SD=0.66); amount of financial aid or scholarship offered (M=4.47, SD=078); support services offered to studentathletes (e.g. study hall, tutors, etc…)(M=4.44, SD= 0.74); availability of resources (money, equipment, etc…)(M=4.31, SD=0.75); opportunity to win conference or national championship (M=4.27, SD=0.83); availability of major (M= 4.25, SD=0.94); and social atmosphere of team (M=4.25, SD= 0.88). See table 2.

The means of only three factors were rated below the scale midpoint. These factors included amount of media coverage (M=2.96, SD=1.94); high school coach(M=2.87, SD= 1.44); and team’s website, Facebook, Twitter (M=2.66, SD=1.21). Only about 30% of the respondents rated these three factors as‘extremely’ or ‘very important’ in their decision to attend this particular urban-serving institution and participate in athletics.See table 2.

Table 2

Mean, Standard Deviation, and Percent (%) of Factor Choices Influencing Division I Student Athletes to attend their Urban-serving Institution(n=101).

Factor Mean SD % rated extremely or very important
Coaching staff 4.68 0.66 94%
Amt of financial aid/scholarship offered 4.47 0.78 86.2%
Support services offered to student athletes (e.g. study hall, tutors, etc…) 4.44 0.74 89.1%
Availability of resources (e.g. money, equipment, etc…) 4.31 0.75 85.1%
Opportunity to win conference or national championship 4.27 0.83 83.2%
Availability of anticipated major 4.25 0.94 84.2%
Social atmosphere of team 4.25 0.88 81.2%
Athletic facilities 4.21 0.83 83.2%
Career opportunities after graduation 4.20 0.95 78.2%
Team’s competitive schedule 4.20 0.80 84.2%
Meeting team’s members 4.12 0.98 74.2%
Amt of playing time 4.10 1.02 77.3%
Overall reputation of the college/university 4.10 0.90 80.2%
Academic reputation of the college/university 4.10 1.00 71.2%
Team’s overall win/loss record 4.03 0.86 73.3%
Team’s tradition 3.89 0.85 68.3%
Location of university 3.86 1.04 66.4%
Opportunity to play immediately 3.82 1.08 59.4%
Conference affiliation of team 3.82 0.96 61.4%
Cost of college/university 3.76 1.26 64.3%
My parents 3.76 1.37 59.5%
Housing 3.66 1.04 57.5%
Campus visit 3.64 1.13 62.4%
Fan support of the team 3.60 1.12 52.5%
Social life at the university 3.54 1.13 51.5%
Campus life at college/university 3.53 1.01 48.5%
My friends 3.26 1.39 46.5%
Size of the college/university 3.24 1.10 39.6%
Team sponsorships (e.g. Nike, Adidas, UnderArmor) 3.24 1.39 42.5%
Amt of media coverage 2.96 1.24 30.7%
High school coach 2.87 1.44 37.6%
Team’s website, Facebook, Twitter 2.26 1.21 34.7%


The purpose of this research was to identify the college choice factors mostsalient to Division I athletes attending urban-serving institutions. Table 2highlights the factors that were most readily identified by these studentathletes as impactful and relates to Hossler and Gallagher’s (1987)choice stage. Using symbolic interactionism (SI)—a social psychologicaltheory examining how sports are related to peoples’ choices and identities—may be beneficial for understanding the most and leastimportant factors for student athletes (Vermillion, 2010). As reported bystudent athletes, there are many factors that go into the choice to attend this particular urban-serving institution. Personal or social relationships (e.g.coaching staff, social atmosphere of team), career goals (e.g. support services, availability of major, career opportunities after graduation),finances (e.g. amount of financial aid/scholarship offered), and program success (e.g. opportunity to win conference or national championship) wereself-reported as influencing their decisions. Conversely, media coverage,technology outlets (e.g. website, Facebook, and Twitter), and previous headcoach had little to no impact upon their ultimate decision to attend thisuniversity.

These categories of factors illustrate how multi-faceted student athletes are regarding both their personal and athletic identities. Specifically, SI notes sports are important to an individual’s identity; with this information both academics and collegiate sport practitioners are able tobetter understand motives of student athletes when choosing colleges/universities and athletic departments/programs. In keeping with much previous research (e.g. Kankey & Quarterman, 2007), the importance of relationships—especially with coaches—tops the list of college choice factors. Indeed, Seifried (2006) noted the importance—on manylevels—of coaches within the lives of student athletes. Although the importance of “coaches” is not unexpected, additional results reveal the highly variegated nature of student athletes’ perceptions of themselves.

Athletic-related reasons, such as opportunity to win a conference ornational championships or the availability of resources, are still factors influencing the student athletes in this sample. However, Letawsky et al.(2003) noted the importance of non-athletic factors in deciding on a college/university. Regarding this sample, non-athletic factors appear salient,as well. For example, financial reasons (e.g. financial aid/scholarships) andpreparation for a professional career after sports (e.g. availability of major,support services offered to student athletes, and career opportunities after graduation) all had mean scores above 4.00, with almost 80% of respondents listing these non-athletic factors as ‘extremely’ or ‘very important’ in relationship to their decision to attend their urban-serving university.

Interpreting these findings from an SI framework would focus on the lack of role homogeneity within the sample. That is, these student athletes appear to“see” themselves as having multiple roles, which relates to amultifaceted or holistic identity. As a result, this research is in alignment with Letawsky et al.’s (2003) conclusions that non-athletic factors are important to student athletes, while simultaneously acknowledging that winning and athletic success is important to student athletes. Both of these models,i.e. student athlete development and performance and success, can be promoted effectively during recruiting processes.


The purpose of this research was to identify the most important college choice factors regarding Division I student athletes attending urban-serving institutions. Utilizing the college choice factors identified by Kankey and Quarterman (2007) and their analysis as a guide, student athletes were surveyedin an attempt to better understand their motives for attending an urban-serving institution. The research contributes to not only academic scholarship, but also advocates for the integration of social theory into athletic department data management strategies and recruiting. Streamlining the recruiting processis important in a collegiate athletic climate that is fiscally constrained and extremely competitive, especially at the Division I, FBS, and FCS levels.Smaller, less visible sports and/or athletic departments must find ways to become more efficient with student athlete recruitment. Additionally,common sensical or popular notions of funneling money into newer athletic facilities and media or technological outlets do not appear productive for all levels of collegiate sport; they are not a panacea for recruiting barriers nordo they automatically translate into traditional definitions of success. While these highly popular endeavors are important to maintaining a visible athletic department profile, this research hypothesizes—based upon the aforementioned results—they should not be viewed as the most productive recruiting tools. This research has identified how multifaceted student athletes may very well be, and that a commitment to a holistic student development model may be an efficient recruiting tool for student athletes,especially within Division I, urban-serving universities.

Limitations & future research

As with any research, there are limitations that should be identified.Firstly, the university student athlete population that was surveyed did notinclude a football team, which not only decreased the number of potentialsurvey respondents, but also limits the generalizability of the results. Additionally, using a Division I athletic department also decreases thegeneralizability of the research. Future research should extend the college choice factor scales to include FBS and FCS schools. Focusing on urban-serving institutions is a productive endeavor, but more research needs to be doneinvolving the athletic departments in these types of colleges/universities.According the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities, there are almost 50 nationally recognized urban-serving schools (Great cities, great universities,n.d.), many of which fund athletic programs.

Another limitation involves extrapolating group level summaries (such asmeans of college choice factors) to the individualistic level. SI recognizes the importance of group dynamics upon the individual. However, recruiting and the decision to attend one particular university is a decision that ultimately comes down to a single person, as evidenced in Hossler and Gallagher’s(1987) model, which focuses on the individualistic decision. Student athlete recruitment is a dynamic social psychological process that appears to be acombination of many factors. Sole reliance upon the factors identified in this research would be a disservice to not only collegiate sport practitioners, butalso the recruited student athletes.


Division I student athletes see themselves as more than solely athletes;they have many “roles” to play throughout a given day, week,semester, or season. These roles include, but are not limited to: the athleterole (wanting program success), the social role with others (coachrelationships and social atmosphere of the team), and the student role(focusing on academics and preparing for a professional career after sports).It is important for collegiate sport practitioners involved in recruiting torealize that funneling resources exclusively into media/technology outlets orfacilities does not appear to be efficient or productive recruiting tools. Instead, these practitioners during recruiting efforts should focus on:programs for student success, professional preparation opportunities,highlighting the social and personal relationships within their athletic department/program, and programmatic success. The aforementioned focal pointsillustrate not only holistic student athlete development but also present athletic departments an opportunity for increasing campus wide collaborative efforts.

Of particular importance to urban-serving universities and athleticadministrators, the factor “location of the university” had a meanof 3.86 (midpoint of scale, M=3.00) with over 66% of respondents indicating itwas ‘extremely’ or ‘very important’ to them. It could be interpreted—cautiously, of course—that the stigma of the urban environment education as a disadvantage is unfounded and that, to some studentsor majors, the urban-serving mission and context could be perceived as a unique advantage.


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2016-04-01T09:11:40-05:00November 29th, 2012|Contemporary Sports Issues, Sports Facilities, Sports Management, Sports Studies and Sports Psychology|Comments Off on College Choice Factors for Division I Athletes at an Urban University

Intercollegiate Athletics vs. Academics: The Student-Athlete or the Athlete-Student


Athletic programs at many colleges and universities are inconsistent with the school’s mission statements. The term “student-athlete” basically
means that they are students first, and then athletes. We have reached a point here it can be argued that they are instead more athlete-students.
Regardless of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules and regulations that stipulate that they are not allowed to, some student-athletes still receive
preferential treatment and extra benefits while in college. Some recruited athletes are not prepared for the cascade of academic college work along with the additional
demands that NCAA athletics require. The athletic pressures that accompany NCAA athletic scholarship can leave the unprepared student athlete with little time
for academics.
With collegiate athletics becoming a big business the rules associated with how we treat the student athlete must change. It is not unreasonable to suggest
that is the business of college athletics changes then the way we treat the student athlete must change as well. Something needs to change in the way the
NCAA conducts its business. Considering the large amount of revenue that is, and for the foreseeable future will be, generated each year in this industry,
it is only fair that some sort of a stipend system be put in place to compensate student athletes.

Athletic programs at many colleges and universities are inconsistent with the school’s academic missions. The focus on maintaining a strong athletic
program has taken precedence over the scholastic quality of the student-athlete that is accepted into the institution. For the student-athlete this can mean
lowered academic admissions standards and preferential treatment in school. On the other hand, many student-athletes are attending college but not learning,
and are being overworked and undercompensated (Ting 2009). Overall the issue here is about the big business that intercollegiate athletics has become versus
the academic missions of the colleges and universities. The term “student-athlete” implies that the individuals should be students first, and then athletes. We
have reached a point where it can be argued that they are instead more athlete-students.
Athletic programs were first incorporated into institutions of higher learning for several reasons: it was believed that participation in sports helped to
build character, it provided entertainment, and it generated positive school and community spirit. “It was also believed that athletics could contribute
to the institutional mission through resource acquisition in the form of money, widespread visibility, increased student enrollment, and enhanced alumni support”
(Gerdy, 2006, p. 46). However, it seems that ever since collegiate athletics began in the late 1800’s, there have been noted problems. In the first
organized collegiate football game Rutgers University beat Princeton, but the team included three players that were failing a math class (Igel & Boland,
2010). Over time, the problem has grown: in the 1980’s 57 out of 106 Division IA institutions (54%) had to be censured, sanctioned, or put on probation for
a major NCAA rules violation (Mandel, 2007). Fifty eight out of one hundred and fourteen did the same in the 1990’s (Friday, 2011). Because of the
current state of most intercollegiate athletic departments, particularly those belonging to the NCAA Division I, colleges and universities have become more
than just institutions of higher learning; they are now also huge players in the commercial entertainment industry (Clotfelter, 2010).
Overall, many athletic programs have become something bigger than the school itself; without the program’s success the schools would not be as attractive
to incoming students (Pope &Pope 2009). The success of these athletic programs lies in the hands of the student-athletes, and they need to be taught that success
on the field does not always mean success in the classroom or in life. Athletics should be extracurricular to the academic priority (O’Toole, 2010).
The Athlete-Student
It is not a question of whether or not the experience for a student-athlete is different from that of a traditional student. Instead, the issue at hand
here is whether or not student-athletes are students that participate in extracurricular competitive sports, or have become athletes that also go to classes whenever
their athletic schedules allow. On one hand, it can be argued that the student-athlete benefits greatly from the relationship that he or she has with the athletic
department and its stakeholders. On the other hand, many claim that the athletic departments have reached a point where they are unjustly exploiting

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and overworking
these athletes, using them to further grow their multimillion dollar corporations.

Some student-athletes still receive preferential treatment and extra benefits while in college in clear violation of the spirit of NCAA rules and regulations..
Colleges and universities routinely lower admission standards for athletes (Laderson, 2002) (Bracken, Scoggins & Weiner 2006). On average, student-athletes enter
in the bottom 25% of their freshman class (Eitzen, 2000). They may even be promised “grades” to get them to attend a particular institution. (Lumpkin,
2008) Some might argue That such unethical behavior would not be necessary if student athletes were encouraged to hold their studies as their highest priority.
Student-athletes also receive extra benefits in the form of money and gifts as rewards for attending a particular university or for a good game-time performance.
Many athletes do not attend college to learn, but rather hope to use their collegiate competitive athletic experience to land positions on professional sports teams
(Ladenson, 2002). They have a distorted idea of what it should mean to be a student-athlete, and believe it to be more like a required minor league that
allows them to get enough exposure to someday make it to the major leagues. With the focus on athletic competition and away from academics, collegiate athletics
has become simply one game after another, after another, devoid of a larger educational purpose or vision, just like professional sports (Gerdy, 2006).
Recruited athletes are not prepared for college work, and then even more athletic demands than they are accustomed to, are placed upon them that allows little
time for academics (Gerdy, 2006) (Ting 2009). Student-athletes entering their first year hold more responsibilities than the non-athletic participating student,
and it may be more difficult for them to transition through changes in athletic participation demands on top of the new social and academic changes. McEwen
(2010) conducted a study using a sample of eleven freshman female student-athletes that were interviewed at the beginning and then the middle of the season. He
found that although all successfully adapted to their new social and athletic lives, only two of eleven (18.2%) were able to transition academically as well.
Athletes spend 30-40 hours per week on their sport which is mentally and physically exhausting, allowing them little time or energy to put toward their studies.
This is one of the reasons why coaches tend to require they take “easy” courses and “easy” majors so that they have a better chance of maintaining
academic eligibility and can still compete (Eitzen, 2000) (Manzo 1994). By promoting an emphasis on athletics being more important than anything else in college,
this also sends a poor message to the future college student-athletes, that athletics provide a “get rich quick avenue from the realities of hard
work, personal sacrifice, and a commitment to excellence” (Haynes, 1990 PAGE NUMBER HERE!). This could not be further from the truth; however, as less
than one out of ten thousand athletes make it into professional sports (Haynes, 1990).
Collegiate athletics has been estimated to be a sixty billion dollar industry (McCormick & McCormick, 2006). It is interesting to note who benefits from
this enormous amount of money. The big conference coaches are allowed agents and sign contracts that bring them hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars
per year in salary alone. The NCAA and the universities benefit from the billions of dollars made and do not have to pay taxes on their earnings as they are claiming
that athletic functions are in line with their academic missions. Corporations and the media benefit as they get business from the exposure at the athletic
events. The student-athletes are the only group involved that are not able to benefit proportionally from the billions of dollars raked in each year.
The NCAA claims that student-athletes are classified as such for a few very important reasons. First, athletes need to be able to claim amateur status.
They do this by remaining academically in good standing and by also not receiving any pay or gifts for their performance or presence as a student-athlete. This
way the NCAA can require them to perform work as athletes for free because it is considered part of the educational mission, which also means that they do
not have to pay taxes on their profits (Eitzen, 2000). McCormick and McCormick (2006) claim that student-athletes at Division 1 NCAA sports at revenue generating
schools are actually employee-athletes and they argue that they should be able to profit as well. The NCAA revealed that football players devote more than
forty hours a week to practicing, playing, and training, but only twenty of those hours are mandatory. This means that putting in the extra hours is a well-known
but non-documented requirement. Being required to participate in any work over forty hours a week is the equivalent to a full time job (Smith, 2011). Like
no other industry in the U.S., the NCAA is allowed to employ one type of labor (athletic participation and performance) without paying a competitive wage for
it (McCormick & McCormick, 2006). The student-athletes instead are provided with scholarships to attend school, which is a positive, but in comparison to
the billions of dollars brought in every year, the tuition money is equivalent to payment in ‘peanuts.’ The student-athletes are being exploited
economically, making millions for their institutions, the NCAA, and other corporations but are provided only with a subsistence wage or room, board, tuition and books.

The long hours that the student-athletes are required to put in are due to the athletic department’s attitudes of having to “win at all costs.”
This can lead to heavily publicized athletic scandals of schools that will pay athletes in money or gifts to attend their schools, or grade changes in order
to keep athletes academically eligible (Lumpkin 2008). Fans and stakeholders of big time programs would rather win and later get busted for cheating than
finish 8-4 or 9-3 every year with a straight-laced program of student-athletes (Mandel, 2007).
Eitzen (2006) suggests some ways to correct the current state of intercollegiate athletics in order to align the departments with their respective institution’s
academic missions. He suggests that institutions should no longer make admissions exceptions; eliminate freshman eligibility; provide remedial classes and training;
reduce time demands; allow athletes the freedom to transfer schools whenever they would like; give them the right to consult with agents just like coaches
are able to; and give them the right to make money from endorsements, speeches, etc. Smith (2011) suggests that all scholarship athletes should be able to receive
a guaranteed undergraduate education including living expenses, for each year that they participate as an athlete on a varsity team, which they should be
able to redeem at any time. This would allow them to focus on their sport if they choose to do so. At a certain point, taking the sport to the next level
will either pan out or it will not, and at that time the offer should still be on the table for the athlete to complete their degree. The NCAA has been
somewhat receptive to changes regarding the compensation of student athletes. A reform agenda has recently been passed by the NCAA’s Division I board
of Directors that allows schools to increase aid and lengthen scholarship terms to individual athletes (Cohen 2011).


Collegiate athletics has become a big business, but athletes are expected to stay the same? How can they be expected to be responsible for contributing to
the growth of a multibillion dollar industry but be the only party to not see any benefits from it (Toma & Kramer, 2009)? Balance needs to be maximized
between academic and athletic programs. If we are going to refer to individuals as student-athletes then they should indeed be held to the highest standard
of both student and athlete. Something needs to change in the process of how the NCAA conducts its business. The NCAA is going to have to admit that the
requirements for a student-athlete, particularly in Division 1 revenue producing sports, are the equivalent of that of a full time job. Considering the huge
amounts of money that are generated each year in this industry, it would only be fair if the student-athletes were all paid a monthly stipend for their participation.
Focusing on the “athletic” aspect of being a student-athlete more than the “student” is unfair and will limit the experiences that
the student-athlete should have while enrolled at the college or university of their choice. In order for the student to be well-rounded, programs must
focus on the concepts of self-sufficiency, independence, and personal goal getting (Haynes, 1990). Almost all student-athletes will end up as a professional in
something other than sports. It needs to be ensured that the students will succeed off the field as well as on the field (Smith, 2011). College is meant to prepare
students for the real world. By failing to adequately prepare our student-athletes the institution also fails to serve this important function.
The argument can be made that collegiate athletics overshadows academia at many schools. However, many feel that the whole university community benefits greatly
from a very successful athletic program. Although preferential treatment may be given to certain student-athletes in order for them to be able to attend
and complete an academic program and play for the athletic department, many believe it can be justified. It can be argued that many of these athletes would
never make it in a higher education program if there were no sports programs to help them get there, and no motivation for them to try to attend. On a small
scale, the university, directly the athletic department, benefits from the athletes because they help in growing the program and making it a success. A large number
of the student-athletes benefit from the university because it provides them with a quality and aspect of life that they normally would not be able to experience.
It is only a tiny minority that benefit from the institution preparing them for a future in professional sports.




Brackin D.,Scoggins C.,Weiner J., (2006). Academic standards lower for U athletes,
McClatchy – Tribune Business News.
Cohen, B. (2011). Big-Time College Athletes Ask, ‘Who’s the Amateur?’ — With
the NCAA now a big business, the stars of the show want their share of the proceeds.
Wall Street Journal, 29 October 2011.
Clotfelter, C. T. (2011). Is Sports in Your Mission Statement? The Chronicle
of Higher Education,
24 October 2010. Retrieved: http://chronicle.com/article/Sports-Are-Good-for-Colleges/125038/

Eitzen, S., (2009). Sport in Contemporary Society: An Anthology, 8th ed. Boulder:
Paradigm Pub.
Friday, W. (2001). Athletics vs. Academics: Both Sides. Matrix: The Magazine
for Leaders in Education.
Nov.-Dec., 2001. Retrieved from: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_6_ai_94510120/

Gerdy, J. R. (2006). Air Ball: University Press of Mississippi. University,
Haynes, III, L. L. (1990). Athletics vs. Academics: A Focus on the Future. NASSP
Bulletin 1990, 74(8).
Retrieved: http://bul.sagepub.com/content/74/530/8.full.pdf
Igel, L. H., & Boland, R. A. (2010). National Collegiate Athletic Association
(NCAA). Encyclopedia of Law and Higher Education. Retrieved from: http://lawhighereducation.com/92-national-
collegiate-athletic- association-ncaa.html
Ladenson, R. F. (2002). College Athletics: Ethics Case Study Detail, Case 81.
Eighth Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl at the Annual Meeting of the Association
for Practical and Professional Ethics in Cincinnati, February, 2002. Retrieved:
Lumpkin, A. (2008). A Call to Action for Facutly Regarding Intercollegiate Athletics.
Phi Kappa Phi Forum.
Mandel, S. (2007). Bowls, Polls, and Tattered Souls. John Wiley & Sons Pub.
New York.
Manzo, K. K. (1994). True Test: NCAA Questions Quality of Correspondence Courses,
Integrity of Exams. Diverse Issues in Higher Education.
McCormick, R. A., & McCormick, A. C. (2006). The Myth of the Student-Athlete:
The College Athlete as Employee. Washington Law Review Association, 81, February
McEwen, C. (2010). A Qualitative Examination of Sport Transisitions in First
Year Collegiate Female Athletes. M. Sc. Dissertation, Wilfred Laurier University
O’Toole, J. (2010). ‘Student Athlete” Should Not be an Oxymoron.
Los Angeles Times. Retrieved: http://www.kansas.com/2010/06/24/v-print/1374800/student-athlete-shouldnt-be-an.html
Pope, D. G. & Pope, J. C. (2009). The Impact of College Sports Success on
the Quantity and Quality of Student Applications, Southern Economic Journal75.
3, 750-780.
Smith, B. (2011). Lifetime Chits Would Allow Athletes to be Students, Too. Chronicle
of Higher Education, 57(19), A22.
Ting, Siu-Man Raymond (2009). Impact of Noncognitive Factors on First-Year Academic
Performance and Persistence of NCAA Division I Student Athletes, The Journal
of Humanistic Counseling, 48.2: 215-228.
Toma, J. D. & Kramer II, D. A. (2009). The Uses of Intercollegiate Athletics:
Opportunities and Challenges for the University. New Directions for Higher Education,

2020-06-02T11:24:59-05:00November 19th, 2012|Contemporary Sports Issues, Sports Facilities, Sports Management, Sports Studies and Sports Psychology|Comments Off on Intercollegiate Athletics vs. Academics: The Student-Athlete or the Athlete-Student

Analysis of the Reasoning Behind the Firings of Mike Leach and Jim Leavitt


This paper is a thematic analysis of press coverage surrounding the firings of coaches Mike Leach and Jim Leavitt from the 2010. In an effort to understand
the rationale behind their dismissals, this quantitative research uses attribution theory as the basis of the analysis. While the schools stated the firings were
due to the way these two coaches questionably handled a player, the press coverage displayed other reasons. This paper contextualizes the rationale behind their
firings in an effort to explain the current high stakes of major college football.


There are very few professionals with less job security than major college football coaches. Entering the 2010 season, there were 24 new coaches in the
Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). That turnover represented 20% of all FBS programs. Two of the 24 coaches who lost their jobs following the 2009
season generated national attention from their relatively regional programs. Both Mike Leach of Texas Tech and Jim Leavitt from South Florida lost their
jobs amid controversy and intensive media coverage centering on their off-field actions with some of their players. Prior to the firings, both coaches were
hailed as successful leaders. Issues surrounding their departures cast doubt upon the official reasons stated by the universities. When perceived reality
contradicts public discourse, there is a tremendous opportunity for public relations scholarship. This paper uses thematic analysis of news coverage to demonstrate
how the meanings the universities tried to construct for these firings were essentially refuted in the sports press.

Relevance of Research

The rationale behind the firings of these coaches, beyond what was publicly stated by their employers, is an important topic for researchers
to analyze for multiple reasons. First, as it relates to the growing field of sport communication, it provides content that focuses on the expansive growth
of the college football industry, the salaries provided to coaches, and the overall investment schools are willing to make to be successful on the football
field. Additionally, this research is an important topic as it relates to the fields of mass media, public relations, and journalism. College football is
at such a prominent level in terms of revenue, advertising, and marketing that it shares an escalating symbiotic relationship with the mass media. This media
coverage helps raise the financial stakes of those schools participating at the highest level of college football. The sport has always had this relationship
but since the inception of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) in 1998, the monetary rewards have risen exponentially. The BCS is the system that selects 12 schools
that participate in the top six post-season bowl games. Those 12 slots are highly coveted since they bring the most money and media attention to the participating
schools (Dunnavant, 2004). The power of the BCS has escalated to a point where politicians are now questioning its possible violation of anti-trust laws (Staples,
2010). This past bowl season, the six conferences that received an automatic bid to a BCS game garnered $145.2 million in revenue from the BCS. That sum
is compared to the $24.7 million awarded to the five conferences that didn’t receive an automatic BCS bid (Murphy, 2011). The manner in which college football
has become such an integral part of the mass media landscape makes any controversy that occurs in the industry worthy of address by academic researchers (Oriard,

College Football and Higher Education

The rise in college sports, in terms of revenue and media prominence, creates a public relations conundrum. Under the traditional educational perspective,
still touted in their marketing materials, colleges and universities have the primary mission of educating young people and preparing them for adult life.
For the select few student-athletes competing in the high-visibility sports at the Division I level, athletics is still presented as just another outlet
that prepares them physically and mentally for adulthood. However, the financial investments schools are making in their sports programs put this traditional
model in jeopardy. Now, athletes are more than students; they are necessary participants in the school’s profit motives (Sperber, 2000).

The role of the coach is also different in the evolving collegiate sports model. With the amount of money major colleges invest in football and the turnover
rate for head coaches, it is difficult to argue that winning isn’t the coach’s first priority (Stein, 2004). Because the multi-year contracts top coaches command
typically do not permit termination just for losing, a pretext may be needed to fire a coach. While schools are often forced to fire losing coaches because
of disgruntled fan bases, it remains a difficult financial decision. For an academic institution, it would appear that firing a coach for breaking rules
should be an easy decision to make. However, there are a number of college coaches who blatantly violated university or NCAA rules but still kept their jobs. Having
a rule-breaking coach remain on staff appears to violate the principles of an institution of higher learning. Yet, on the football and basketball sidelines
there remain a number of coaches almost impervious to being fired. There must be an underlying reason some schools are willing to be more lenient with rule-breaking


From a theoretical perspective, research into the rationale behind the firings of Leach and Leavitt relates to attribution theory. An expert in attribution
theory, Bernard Weiner (1985), often wrote about the human characteristic in which people have a driving need to search for the cause of events. This theory
relates to the persuasive messages used to explain how people account for the actions of others (Woodward & Denton, 2009). Attribution theory is storytelling
and the belief that a persuader tries to figure out how certain behaviors or messages will be perceived by others. The resulting story communicated by persuaders
best suits their needs and goals (Coombs, 2007). Attribution theory relates to public relations and crises communication since responses made by an organization
during the time of crisis will frame the public perception and impact its overall reputation (Heath, Toth & Waymer, 2009). After researching the influence
Word of Mouth Communication (WMOC) has on brand recognition, Laczniak; DeCarlo and Ramaswami (2001) concluded that poor WMOC significantly devalues the public’s
perception of the brand.

Even though there is a relationship between attribution theory and crisis communications, scholarly analysis connecting the theory to sports-related issues is almost
non-existent. In fact, there is almost no academic research into the broad topic of sports coaches being fired. Most of the literature deals with the impact,
in terms of wins and losses when a coach is dismissed during the season (Koning, 2003; Frick, Barros & Prinz 2010; White, Persad & Gee, 2007). One case
addressed by a scholar was the dismissal of basketball coach Jim Valvano by North Carolina State University in 1990. Michael Selvaggi (1993) used legal
analysis to examine the lawsuit filed by the university asserting that it had proper grounds to fire Valvano because of the poor academic progress of his
players. This research determined that this was the first time a school had fired a coach because of a stipulation in his contract regarding players’
academic progress.

Legal scholar Martin J. Greenberg (1991) noted that there is no other business in which contracts are broken more often than the sports industry. Since there
is so much at stake in terms of revenue and publicity, colleges and universities are in a precarious situation when administering punishment for coaches and
players who break rules. Keeping a coach or player out of action because of a violation could endanger a school’s chance of winning a game. That in
turn would lead to economic ramifications (Stangel, 2000).

Based on the cases of Leach and Leavitt and the possibility that they were both fired for other reasons than stated by their employers, this paper will
look to connect attribution theory to each controversy. Based on the research of Laczniak; DeCarlo and Ramaswami (2001), these controversial cases impacted
the overall brand value for both Texas Tech and South Florida. The following research questions will be used to better rationalize the firings of Leach and

RQ1: Were there other reasons for the firings of Leach and Leavitt besides the rationale provided by their employers?

RQ2: How do the cases of Leach and Leavitt compare to other BCS coaches who kept their jobs after violating NCAA rules during the same time frame?


This qualitative research paper is a case study of the firings of both Leach and Leavitt in an effort to better explain the reasoning behind their dismissals.
A case study is expected to “catch the complexity of a single case” by “coming to understand its activity within important circumstances”
(Patton, 2002, p. 297). By using thematic analysis of press accounts, this paper will argue that the universities reasons for the firings of Leach and Leavitt
were not entirely supported by the media reports.

Since college football is still predominantly a regional sport, as noted by Cave and Crandall (2001), this research paper relies heavily upon the relevant
local media outlets that cover Texas Tech and South Florida football in-depth. Those outlets include the Dallas Morning News, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, and
Tampa Tribune. In order to present a national perspective to this analysis, stories from noted publications such as ESPN.com, USA Today, Sports Illustrated
and The New York Times were also used. These media outlets in particular cover college football in depth and often include critical coverage of off-the-field
issues. Also, these media outlets are highly regarded as the premier sources of national sports journalism.

The research obtained for this paper was a result of a thorough LexisNexis search using the terms Mike Leach, Jim Leavitt, Texas Tech football, and South
Florida football. Due to the fact that both coaches received little national media attention for their programs prior to the 2008 season, the search was
limited to the time frame from 2008 to early 2010. This allowed for the collection of press accounts that detailed the rise of both coaches and then the ensuing
fallout from their crises that occurred in early 2010.

The resulting press accounts served as the data for a thematic analysis of the crises surrounding Leach and Leavitt. This method of collecting data enables
researchers to combine and catalogue related patterns into sub-themes (Aronson, 1994). This method enables researchers to search through data to identify any
recurrent patterns. Themes are then linked together to find similar meetings and patterns. Anne Golden (2003) also utilized a thematic analysis of the sports
media when she examined the differences in the press coverage of the 2002 Winter Olympics and the 2002 Winter Paralympics. Relating to the method used for this
research, Mirca Madianou (2002) conducted a thematic analysis of television news coverage to investigate the coverage of how Greeks are identified in the

To contextualize possible motives underlying the schools’ decision-making, this paper will also compare the cases of Leach and Leavitt to four other contemporary
coaches who broke rules (during the same time frame as the incidents surrounding Leach and Leavitt) established by their employers and the National Collegiate
Athletic Association (NCAA). The four coaches examined in this research: Pete Carroll, Jim Tressel, Urban Meyer, and Nick Saban are universally regarded by
the sports media as the top college coaches in the country. Through the use of media reports, this element of the thematic analysis will exhibit the reasons
that these other rule-breaking coaches were able to maintain their employment during the time frame of the study.


Mike Leach

Mike Leach was the Texas Tech head football coach from 2000 to 2009. His Red Raiders went 84-34 with nine bowl game appearances (5-4) because of their pass-centric
offense that featured the 11 offensive players on the field lining up further apart from each other than what was commonly used by other coaches. Leach’s
success culminated with the 2008 campaign which brought the school its first ever 11-1 season that included a win over top-ranked Texas and a share of the
Big 12 Conference South division title. He was named Co-Coach of the Year in the Big 12, but the Red Raiders were left out of a BCS bowl berth because of
a little known tie-breaking rule. Texas and Oklahoma represented the Big 12 in the BCS while Texas Tech played in the lesser Cotton Bowl, where it lost
to Mississippi.

Oklahoma wound up losing the National Championship Bowl against Florida. Not making a BCS bowl game is a major issue since the Big 12, like the Big East
where South Florida resides, gives a bigger share of the game’s profit to the schools that appear in one of the top post-season games. Other conferences
divide BCS bowl money evenly among all members. This is not the case for the Big 12 and Big East. Therefore, there is a tremendous financial incentive to
be a conference representative in a BCS bowl game for a Big 12 and Big East squad (Warmbroad, 2004).

During his career in Lubbock, Leach’s name was often mentioned with coaching vacancies at other larger programs. Leach stayed with the Red Raiders as he
received a pair of contract extensions. In 2008, he signed a five-year extension worth $12.7 million. This contract gave Leach unprecedented clout at the school
(Leach, 2009).

Crisis: Leach places player in shed

Leach’s crisis began in late December 2009 when Texas Tech suspended him after allegations arose that earlier in the month he had an injured player
sent to an equipment shed as a form of punishment. The player, Adam James, the son of ESPN announcer and former NFL running back Craig James, had suffered
a concussion and was unable to practice. This unconventional move by Leach became a newsworthy topic both locally in Texas and nationally (Dodd, 2009). The ensuing
media hype continued to rise when Leach refused to apologize for his actions and James became the spotlight of local and national sports media (Lubbock Avalanche-Journal,
2009). In just a matter of one season, in the eyes of the national and local media, Texas Tech went from being the upstart program that played a compelling
wide-open offense to the school that employed a coach who humiliated an injured player. This forced the school into an on-going crisis communication phase.
Ultimately, the organization’s crisis communication management would use public relations techniques to attempt to protect the institution’s reputation.

Texas Tech officially fired Leach on December 30th. The firing came one day before Leach was due a substantial $800,000 bonus and a guaranteed $1.7 million
salary for the upcoming season (ESPN, 2009). The amount of money paid to Leach was far more than Texas Tech had spent on coaches in the past. However, it is
similar to the salaries of the major national coaches also in the Big 12. For example, Mack Brown of Texas received $5 million per year and Bob Stoops of
Oklahoma received $4.2 million per year (Rohode, 2010).

After Leach was fired he went on the media offensive criticizing the school and its athletic department. He claimed that the school “conspired”
to fire him because of the $800,000 bonus he was due. In court documents, his lawyers argued “TTU would obtain the benefits of Leach’s performance
but chisel him out of his compensation” (Associated Press, 2010). He also said the animosity between him and the school was a result of the contract negotiations
he went through the previous year (Evans and Thamel 2009). Since Texas Tech had such a productive 2008 season going 11-2, Leach’s name was constantly
attached to openings at large programs including Auburn and Washington. Subsequently, in an effort to keep Leach in Lubbock, Texas Tech was forced to renegotiate
the coach’s contract. Larger football schools must commonly increase incentives in order to keep a head coach if he wins. Texas Tech was essentially in an unfamiliar
situation from a financial perspective to be bidding against itself to keep Leach.

Leach said of his relationship with Texas Tech administrators, “It’s shocking to me that there’s people working together that were trying to
get me fired last year after an 11-1 regular season,” Leach said. He added: “I believe in everybody working together and that together we could all
accomplish great things together, but then I discover that’s not the case and that the very foundation is crumbling out from under me. Betrayal’s
really hard” (Evans and Thamel, 2010). Providing support to Leach’s claims that the school’s top administrators did not want him running the
program regardless of the James situation, the Dallas Morning News acquired internal emails from 2008 to 2010 between Tech administrators, primarily Chancellor
Kent Hance and athletic director Gerald Myers, and athletic booster Jim Sowell of Dallas during Leach’s contract negotiations. The emails display a general
lack of support for Leach even though the school was going to offer him a major pay raise. One message had Sowell recommending to Hance and Myers that Tech
should stand firm in its negotiations with the coach. “You should sign a contract that would not cost us too much to fire him,” Sowell wrote.
“He has to have a big buyout. He has shown no loyalty” (Dallas Morning News, 2010). Leach’s attorney also stated that reports show that Hance
informed an attorney investigating James’ claims against Leach that they were “too milk toast” and “too mild” (USA Today, 2010).

Leach also contended that the celebrity status awarded to James because of his father’s NFL career and status as an ESPN commentator accelerated
the firing process. (Evans and Thamel, 2010). Texas Tech officials denied these claims and fired Leach with cause because of his insubordination and lack of
assistance during the James situation and the resulting investigation (Carver, 2010). The back-and-forth claims eventually led Leach to sue the university
on a number of claims. A district judge ruled that Leach could sue on one count of breach of contract. To date both sides are still entangled in a legal battle
(Blaney, 2010).

Jim Leavitt

Leach and Texas Tech’s national rise almost paralleled that of Jim Leavitt and the University of South Florida. Leavitt was ostensibly the godfather of
Bulls football. He coached at the school from 1997 to 2009. Beginning in 1997, South Florida was a I-AA program that eventually joined I-A’s Conference
USA in 2003. After just two seasons in the conference, South Florida made another significant jump, this time to the Big East and its BCS conference status. Once
again Leavitt was at the helm as the USF program grew and won simultaneously. South Florida made five straight post-season games from 2005 to 2009.

The peak of Leavitt’s career and the height of South Florida football came in September 2007 when the program made its first-ever appearance in the
Top 25. As the Bulls kept winning that season, they made it to No.2 in the BCS rankings. Only Ohio State had a better position than the Bulls. South Florida
lasted in that spot only one week as it fell to conference rival Rutgers in a nationally televised contest. Two more losses came in ensuing games as Leavitt’s
squad eventually dropped out of the rankings. The Bulls finished the season 9-4 with a loss to Oregon in the Sun Bowl.

Even with the late season dry spell, Leavitt was rewarded with a contract extension that would pay him $12.6 million from 2008 to 2014 (USA Today, 2010). Much like
Leach, other major programs also courted Leavitt prior to his signing this contract extension. Schools such as Alabama, Arizona State, Kansas State, and Miami were
reportedly interested in Leavitt’s services (Donahue, 2006). Leavitt often cited his allegiance to the university as the main reason he stayed in Tampa.
His allegiance was rewarded with a new contract, an uncommon policy for the school that only a few years prior had become a Division I program.

Crisis: Leavitt has altercation with player

The Jim Leavitt case mirrors Leach in many ways. Leavitt coached USF from 1997 to 2009 to a 94-57 record. Like Texas Tech, USF never made a BCS bowl appearance
even though it came very close. To stay competitive in an extremely difficult market, USF gave Leavitt a raise to keep him as its football coach. This raise
came just before a controversial incident, as was the case with Leach. On November 21, 2009, during halftime of a game against Louisville, Leavitt apparently struck
one his players, sophomore Joel Miller, a claim that Leavitt denied to school officials. Fanhouse.com first reported the story of the halftime incident (McMurphy,
2010). Afterwards, Leavitt responded: “It’s absolutely not true. It’s so wrong. It’s so far out there. I’m very disappointed something like this would
be written” (Auman, 2009). Leavitt contended that he was trying to raise the spirits of an upset player.

When first contacted by the media following the breaking story, South Florida representatives neither supported nor criticized Leavitt. “The University
of South Florida is aware of the story and will review the matter promptly,” said Michael Hoad, USF vice president for communications. “We’re committed
to ensuring due process for everyone involved. To ensure fairness, the university doesn’t comment during a review” (Auman, 2009).

An investigation followed and it was concluded that Leavitt grabbed Miller by the throat, slapped him in the face and then lied about it (ESPN.com, 2010).
USF made the findings first known to the media through a press release. The investigation conducted by the school also revealed that Leavitt lied to investigators
and had encouraged players and coaches to do likewise. In the wake of the report, Leavitt said he did not hit the player or ask others to lie on his behalf. USF
President Judy Genshaft and athletic director Doug Woolard asked Leavitt to admit to the incident as a result of his momentary loss of control. The coach
refused to do so, saying he was “sticking to his guns.” Just hours after he refused to admit to his misbehavior as stated in the investigation
to the school’s top administrators, Leavitt was fired on January 8, 2010 (Peterson, 2010). In a press conference announcing the firing, “neither
Genshaft nor Woolard took questions and specifics about Leavitt were not discussed” (Fox Sports, 2010).

Financial considerations were also present in the Leavitt firing. ESPN.com reported in January 2010: “Leavitt just finished the second season of
a seven-year, $12.6 million contract extension that calls for a base salary of $800,000 in 2010. The terms of the contract stipulate that if fired with
cause Leavitt is entitled to one month’s base pay, in this case $66,667. If fired without cause, the university would owe him 75 percent of what he’s owed
for the remainder of the contract.”


Table 1. Themes of press coverage surrounding firings of Mike Leach and Jim

Themes of Press Coverage of Leach and Leavitt
1. Coaches are praised for putting their programs on the national stage.2. For the first time, Texas Tech and USF must keep renegotiating contracts
with coaches.
3. Texas Tech and USF get close to BCS game but fail to make it.
4. Focus on Leach and Leavitt immediately goes from praise to their scandals.
5. Firings become national stories as journalists look to explain the situations.

6. Both schools attribute the firings to just the incidents in question.

7. Both coaches were due raises but were fired before they were paid.
8. School administrators characterize both as difficult or odd – other motives
regarding firings emerge.
9. Coaches who get schools to BCS games can encounter multiple offenses
and not lose their jobs.

Even though both Texas Tech and USF in their press conferences and reports to the media stated that the firings were a result of the way the two coaches
handled the players in questions, other motives clearly emerged in the press. The amount of national media coverage regarding these two regionally based coaches
indicates journalists were in search of deeper meanings behind their dismissals. To answer RQ1, the other reasons appear to be financially motivated, along with
administrators from both schools growing discontented with the coaches’ behaviors.

In the Leach case, there is an email trail that clearly displays the displeasure Texas Tech administrators had with giving Leach so much money and prestige.
If Leach brought BCS riches, it’s likely the school would maintain its relationship with him despite its displeasure. Since Leach did not provide the
school with its ultimate goal of being in a BCS game, Texas Tech was unable to take the national criticism it received as a result of Leach’s actions
(Jonsson, 2009). Spencer Hall (2009) wrote” It makes sense in a world where Leach, an oddball among oddballs, finally reaches the limit of tolerance
both on his part and on the part of his bosses in the TTU administration. Leach’s contract negotiations were, to put it politely, contentious. His flirtations
with other jobs were brazen. The university’s patience with his high-profile antics was running low.” The idea that there was more to Leach’s
firing than just his behavior with James was further supported by Magary (2009), “Just last year, he was nearly dropped by the school in the wake of contentious
negotiations. Just as the James saga was likely the last straw for the school to keep Leach around.” Based on attribution theory, Texas Tech explained
Leach’s firing for just one reason, not for the multiple reasons as stated in the media.

This rationale also holds true for Leavitt, a coach without a BCS bowl game to his credit who got a big pay raise right before a controversial incident.
South Florida was unwilling to tolerate national criticism created by a high paid coach that did not deliver the school the coveted BCS prize. As deplorable
as it is for a coach to hit a player, conflicting stories about the incident, including statements by Miller, make Leavitt’s abrupt firing questionable
in its motives (Schad, 2009). Even though Leavitt listened to other job offers, it does not appear that the ill will between him and the school ran as deep
as it did between Texas Tech and Leach. Rather, Leavitt’s biggest mistake was not winning a conference championship prior to the incident with Miller.

		"If his team was coming off a Big East title he might be able to survive 
	  this (for right or wrong), but when his teams routinely fizzled over the second 
	  halves of seasons, and with the way his team was a disaster in the classroom 
	  (with one of the nation’s worst rankings according to the Academic Progress 
	  Report), this wasn’t that tough a call for the university” (College 
	  Football News, 2010)."

Richard Cirminello echoed these sentiments with

		"Leavitt had become a caricature in recent years, racing around the 
	field as if he was that team trainer with less than all of his faculties. While 
	it was a cute act when USF was climbing up the ladder in the early days, it 
	stopped being endearing when the program stopped improving. The Bulls peaked 
	in October of 2007, rising to No. 2 in the country. Since then, they’ve 
	gone just 16-14, slipping into the middle of the Big East pack. As a program 
	builder, Leavitt had an epic run. As a program elevator, he appeared increasingly 
	out of his league. The incident involving Miller may have been just the ideal 
	opening the administration needed in order to make a change” (College 
	Football News, 2010)."

This “ideal opening” correlates with attribution theory since it allowed USF to tell a particular persuasive story about Leavitt’s firing
that was in the best interest of its stakeholders.

Comparison of Leach and Leavitt with BCS winning coaches

Around the same time Leach and Leavitt faced intense scrutiny from their employers; several other major coaches were also found to have violated rules. The coaches
used for comparison to address RQ2 are Pete Carroll (USC), Jim Tressel (Ohio State), Urban Meyer (Florida), and Nick Saban (Alabama). The media coverage
of these four coaches demonstrates each repeatedly violated NCAA rules and regulations. However, unlike Leach and Leavitt, these four coaches had success in bringing
their schools to BCS games. Also, these coaches did not lose their jobs after breaking the rules. Based on the research, as it relates to RQ2, there appears
to be a double standard for college football coaches. Winning coaches can withstand a crisis or rules violation unlike those coaches without the same BCS success.

For example, Carroll, the former coach of USC, was able to maintain his job from 2001 to 2009 even though he presided over the program that committed a
number of major NCAA violations. So much so, that in June 2010 the NCAA put USC on a two-year post-season ban while also forcing the program to eliminate
30 scholarships and forfeit a number of wins from 2004 to 2006 (Klein and Wharton, 2010). Most of the illegality of Carroll’s program came during the recruitment
of Reggie Bush.

Noted Los Angeles Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke (2009) criticized Carroll’s tenure and his knowledge of the recruiting illegalities by writing “he
goes from saint to scallywag. Carroll says he didn’t know about the Bush violations. That now seems impossible… …he made $33 million from violations that will
cost his old school its reputation, and folks here will never look at him the same.” Carroll was able to keep his job during a period of time the NCAA
was “troubled” by “the campus environment” that he created at USC (Lev, 2010). The NCAA also criticized USC for disregarding Carroll’s
blatant use of allowing influential visitors access to his team by stating in a critical report of the school “”the institution’s failure to regulate
access to practices and facilities” (Gardner, 2010). Clearly, Carroll’s BCS accomplishments helped insulate him from the immediate and harsh punishment
given to Leach and Leavitt.

Ohio State’s Tressel guided his team to three BCS championships, winning one, during his 10 years in Columbus. Those impressive numbers included five
straight Big 10 conference titles. Because of this success, he was one of the top paid coaches in the country with an annual salary that eclipses $3.7 million
(Berkowitz, 2010). However, Tressel faced scandals several times during his Ohio State tenure. Longman (2007) wrote that both his career first at Youngstown
State and then OSU have been tarnished by a number of issues. “At both colleges, his top quarterback took money from boosters in violation of NCAA
rules. Maurice Clarett, the running back who played a vital role in Ohio State’s national championship in 2002, sits in prison after a sad descent. A number
of other Ohio State players have encountered legal or disciplinary problems since Tressel became head coach in 2001, and his academic record, while improving,
remains mixed.” Longman (2007) also wrote that Ohio State’s athletic director was a “staunch ally” of Tressel. As it relates to Leach,
he certainly was not an ally of top Texas Tech officials.

There was a similar relationship at Florida between Meyer and athletic director Jeremy Foley. Meyer was the recipient in 2005 of a seven-year contract worth
$14 million handed out by Foley (Low, 2009). This salary was a result of Meyer’s two national championships and the highest winning percentage in the BCS. However,
during this time in Gainesville, 27 of Meyer’s players were arrested. The charges varied from larceny, stalking, to assault. The arrests forced Meyer
to defend himself by saying “it’s not a dirty program” (Associated Press, 2010). Tressel was fired by OSU in 2011 and Meyer retired in late 2010.

Alabama’s Saban, a winner of three BCS games and a national championship, encountered scandal in the summer of 2010 when a number of his players were
involved with illegal dealing with agents (Mandel, 2010). Saban did his best to distance himself from the issue, but this followed another scandal where
a number of Alabama players were caught in unauthorized selling of their free textbooks as a result of their scholarships (Miasel and Schlabach, 2010). During
his time at Alabama, Saban has dealt with “text book scandals and felonies” (Brizendine, 2008). While Alabama was forced to vacate 21 wins and placed on
three years-probation, Saban’s job was not in jeopardy as a result (Hooper, 2009).


The one-dimensional storytelling via the media conducted by both Texas Tech and South Florida regarding the firings of Leach and Leavitt has a direct relationship
with attribution theory. Since these schools omitted other relevant and significant factors, such as disputes with administrators, uneasiness about renegotiating
contracts, general odd behavior, and poor academic performance by the players, their messages to the media suggest they were doing so to protect themselves
and their stakeholders. These other factors were well documented by journalists.

For Texas Tech and USF, this protection was a manifestation of attribution theory in action. The rationale behind the firings of Leach and Leavitt was
public relations and marketing driven. Texas Tech and South Florida did not want to expand publicly on these other issues and instead focused their messages
on the intolerant behaviors Leach and Leavitt displayed in an effort to perpetuate the image that the schools are institutions of higher learning, not just football
academies. Also, by crafting a public story focused just on the singular activities of Leach and Leavitt, it gave the schools the rationale of firing a coach for
just cause. Texas Tech and South Florida called upon the persuasion techniques of attribution theory to create a story that would have fans, and some journalists,
believe the outcomes of the events were solely a result of the singular actions of both Leach and Leavitt.

These two schools were able to employ their crisis communication techniques of creating a favorable story line because so many media outlets were willing
to carry their message in an effort to gain more content and programming. The addition of ESPN’s Craig James into the story generated even more media
attention. Most of the coverage about the other issues surrounding the firings came from the national outlets. This finding is noteworthy as it underscores
the symbiotic relationship the local Texas and Florida news outlets share with Texas Tech and South Florida. The local media outlets may have shown restraint
in creating critical coverage of these two universities. The exception was the Lubbock Avalanche- Journal that did run a number of pieces illustrating the
problems between Texas Tech administrators and Leach.

In the context of this research, there appears to be a double standard within the highest ranks of college football. Coaches with BCS wins apparently can
withstand a crisis and receive greater support from their employer than those coaches without BCS wins. Unfortunately for Leach and Leavitt, they didn’t
have the same success as the likes of Carroll, Tressel, Meyer and Saban. Relating to the concepts of the attribution theory, a school is unlikely to make public
statements that a coach was able to keep his job because he won BCS games. The school would instead provide other reasons that supported its status as an institution
of higher learning.


The media coverage surrounding Leach and Leavitt in wake of their scandals demonstrates that the worst action a college coach can do is simply not win
enough. Universities, using the application of attribution theory, are not likely to publicly state this as it would tarnish their overall reputation. However,
it can serve as the foundation for a firing based on another incident that otherwise might not seem related. This idea of using an alternative rationale brings relevance
to this paper’s topic and attribution theory. As part of a school’s crisis communication plan, it might tell a public story that best serves itself
and its stakeholders.


This paper expanded the literature of sport communication to include attribution theory. As previously stated in this paper, attribution theory is not often
included in sports media literature. This paper is one of the few works to introduce attribution theory to sports public relations. A better understanding of this
theory as it relates to sports crisis communication will benefit both academic scholars and professional journalists looking to interpret and contextualize
the issues surrounding the firing of a major college coach. Since schools have so much money riding on the success of their teams, they will continue to dismiss
coaches who do not win enough games in efforts of finding someone who will. Such competition in the industry of higher education that is supposed to both
educate young people and profit from athletic investments will continue to create a constant flow of financial, ethical, and media issues worthy of deeper analysis.

Even though both Texas Tech and South Florida scaled back the amount of money invested in their football coaches, other schools are still pouring millions
of dollars into their programs in search of BCS riches. However, there only a select few games and only half the teams participating in those games can
prevail as the winner. So, there will continue to be more schools that fail in their BCS quest than win. This financial arms race and the adjoining media
coverage should continue to create worthy areas of academic exploration for future researchers. This paper could lead other researchers into examining the
rationale of how and why a football coach was fired by a college or university. As college basketball continues to expand in popularity, similar research could
evolve with that sport as well.


David Dewberry, Yun Xia, Cheryl Moore, Eliot Emert


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2014-11-24T05:48:54-06:00November 16th, 2012|Contemporary Sports Issues, Sports Coaching, Sports Facilities, Sports Management|Comments Off on Analysis of the Reasoning Behind the Firings of Mike Leach and Jim Leavitt
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