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A Troubling Trend For University Athletics Searches

“Executive recruiting is arguably the most important task in the world of business…”

Those words, used in Wharton School professor’s endorsement of our book, Deciding Who Leads, also invariably apply to the world of big time (and big revenue) college and university athletics.

If you’re not convinced, just consider some of the key observations shared in a recent USA Today article headlined Search Firms Come Under Scrutiny After Rutgers Flap. These include:

  • “College sports is very insular, which leads to waste, inefficiency and incompetence.”
  • “All it takes is one poor decision to change an entire college’s culture and reputation.”
  • “One might wonder whether there is a buddy system operating in how schools pick the search firms…”

Whether you’re familiar with the circumstances of the Rutgers fiasco or not, there are legitimate questions your Search Committee needs to ask and outside influences on the succession process it needs to understand if your institution is to avoid the kind of unwanted publicity that can rattle the confidence of alumni, students, fans and other constituent groups.

Rutgers isn’t the first university to be stung by the effects of a high profile, overly influenced search process that spiraled into a seismic scandal that raises more questions than it answers. In fact, over the past few decades, a string of embarrassing search- and succession-related debacles have discredited the leadership and stained the reputations of a number of other institutions that should have known better.

So long as critical college and university searches are grounded in and driven by a network of personal interests and relationships that are consistently prioritized over what’s best for the institution – particularly when the organization makes no attempt to understand the influences on the process and its outcome – more head-scratching scandals will follow. It’s only a matter of time.