Benner/Sports and Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Opinion and Sports Business

BENNER: Athletic director pushes off-field game plan for IU

October 9, 2010

Last month, I received a letter and brochure from IU Director of Athletics Fred Glass.

And, no, he wasn’t asking for money.

Twenty-one months into the job, the ubiquitous Glass—and he does seem to be everywhere, from commercials in our living rooms to speaking engagements around the state to working the crowds both inside and outside Memorial Stadium at football games—was unveiling a visionary plan to transform IU athletics beyond the scoreboard.

Not that the wins column is no longer important.

But after months of discussions with coaches, faculty, administration and student-athletes, Glass has determined that IU athletics must be defined by a broader culture than simply wins and losses.

Thus, he has unveiled “The Spirit of Indiana: 24 Sports, One Team.”

“More than anything else I’ve been involved with here,” he says, “this is the one thing that gets me excited, that really gets my juices flowing.”

The vision is inspired by a “Creed of Sportsmanship” written by a former IU student and trustee, John S. Hastings, as part of the festivities before the opening of the original Memorial Stadium in 1925. In short, that creed nobly declared the principle of “school above self.”

So, not unlike “The Butler Way” that gained national notoriety during the Bulldogs’ march to the NCAA championship game last spring, Glass’ creed is expressed by seven tenets. They are:

We are people of integrity who play by the rules.

We reach our highest academic potential and earn Indiana University degrees.

We reach our highest athletic potential and win championships.

We are unselfish leaders and teammates.

We represent (IU) with passion, appreciation, respect and distinction.

We are positive, responsible, inclusive and integrate with our university.

We are part of something bigger than ourselves.

Sounds nice. But even Glass admits, “it’s empty rhetoric if not put into action.”

Therefore, he also has created the Excellence Academy to breathe life into the words, in particular for the student-athletes. The academy will support the student-athletes from freshman enrollment through graduation with help in transitioning into and out of college, life skills, nutrition, psychology, and other areas, enlisting the help of the university, such as the schools of Education and Health, Physical Education and Recreation.

“The academy is fully integrated with the assets of the university,” Glass says. “We have a curriculum and it’s sequential and deliberate. And we will be creating metrics [to measure] every line of the Spirit of Indiana. No one in the country is doing anything like this, and I think it can be so transformative that it will gain us notice not just in Sports Illustrated, but in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Glass often jokes—except it isn’t a joke—that, when it comes to budgets and fiscal resources, IU is a “PT boat competing against aircraft carriers like Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.

“The Excellence Academy, by being innovative and creative, is a way to distinguish ourselves with recruits and their families. This is more sweat of the brow than a whole bunch of money.”

Glass says he will expect his coaches to embrace the tenets and the academy.

“[Longtime IU President] Herman Wells once said it is the faculty that can make the university famous,” Glass remarks. “For us, it is our coaches who can make our athletics famous. I will create a dashboard tied to the Spirit of Indiana that I will use in the evaluation of my coaches.

“I will want to know how their student-athletes have done with the Graduation Success Rate, with the Academic Progress Rate, how many of them have made all-academic Big Ten. Coaches are great mice. They will know how to find the cheese.”

Yes, fans being fans and alumni being alumni, Glass knows IU teams—and his athletic department—still will largely be judged by the scoreboards. But he is to be applauded for seeking to balance the quantity of the wins with the quality of the student-athlete experience.

“This work will never be done,” he says. “It will be a constant work in progress with constant learning. But at the end of the day, I hope it serves as the hallmark of my tenure here.”•

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Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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