When the College Football Playoff National Championship visits a new city, the game’s philanthropic arm, the College Football Playoff Foundation, makes a legacy investment in local teachers.
That’s nothing new for Indianapolis, which on Jan. 10 will become the eighth city to host the championship game. The city has often benefited from legacy spending when major sporting events come to town.
In 2012, Super Bowl organizers helped the East 10th Street corridor leverage $154 million in investments to revitalize the area.
Leading up to the 2021 NBA All-Star Game, an event rescheduled for 2024 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse, the host committee distributed $50,000 checks to 21 youth-focused not-for-profits two weeks before the pandemic shut down in-person activities.
Now, the College Football Playoff Foundation is helping Indiana educators who teach kindergarten through 12th grade guide student learning during the challenges of the pandemic. The foundation helped develop the online Indiana Learning Lab that serves as a free professional development hub for teachers and also assists parents at home.
Sue Keene, an instructional coach who works with teachers at the Blue Academy elementary school of Decatur Township, said the online lab is a valuable resource for educators facing challenges unlike anything she’s experienced in more than four decades of teaching elementary-school students.
“A lot of it is just teaching kids how to be in school again,” said Keene, who pointed out that third-graders who didn’t attend kindergarten are wrapping up the first semester of their first “real year” of school. “First grade was messed up for them. Second grade was messed up for them.”
The Indiana Learning Lab, which provides free user accounts to all teachers in the state, is a clearinghouse for lesson plans, video workshops and opportunities for collaboration. Keene said she visits the lab to check Indiana academic standards that apply to specific grade levels.
“We have to look at what kids have missed with the learning gap we’re dealing with because of the pandemic,” she said.
Susan Baughman, president of the national championship host committee, said an Indianapolis advisory committee started to consider education initiatives, billed as Extra Yard for Teachers by the College Football Playoff Foundation, when the city was named as the 2022 game site four years ago.
Although a digital learning concept was in the running, the pandemic caused a significant shift in that direction.
In 2020, the Indianapolis eLearning Fund, in collaboration with the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, contributed $1.6 million to launch the Indiana eLearning Lab, which later became the Indiana Learning Lab. The championship-game host committee contributed $800,000 to the project.
During stay-at-home orders, the Indiana eLearning Lab addressed the needs of teachers, students and parents as they navigated school building closures and hybrid learning.
In the current school year of in-person learning, teachers can earn Professional Growth Points needed to renew their educator licenses by using the resources of the Indiana Learning Lab. The lab crossed the 10,000 user mark in October, and the platform is on target to reach 20,000 users by summer.
“We tried to think, ‘How does the lab remain viable?’” Baughman said. “It’s not only an at-home teaching tool. It’s a lifelong tool for teachers to use.”
After the host committee dissolves, the Indiana Learning Lab will continue with oversight from the Indiana Department of Education and administration by Jeffersonville-based Five Star Technology Solutions.
Overall, the host committee and the College Football Playoff Foundation made a $1.5 million contribution to support education in Indiana, including media center makeovers at four central Indiana schools and a $200,000 investment in the Teach Indy partnership between Indianapolis Public Schools, the mayor’s Office of Education Innovation and The Mind Trust.
Britton Banowsky, executive director of the College Football Playoff Foundation, shared the origin story of the Extra Yard for Teachers initiative at the Nov. 18 unveiling of championship-game entertainment festivities at Union Station.
The College Football Playoff title game debuted in 2015, succeeding the BCS Championship format.
“We decided to embed a community investment element,” Banowsky said. “The game was going to go from site to site, and it just made sense that, as it moves, we do something really special in those communities.”
He estimated the foundation has funded upgrades of 60 media centers in cities such as Atlanta, New Orleans and Miami. This year, Southport Middle School, Garden City Elementary School, James and Rosemary Phalen Leadership Academy and Victory College Prep received makeovers.
“We find an old library that’s tired and doesn’t have technology,” Banowsky said. “We reinvent it and remake the space so it’s innovative and a really great environment.”
The foundation lists recognition, resources, professional development, and recruitment and retention as its “core pillars” of supporting teachers.
Before the Jan. 10 game at Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis will host three events that support Extra Yard for Teachers: a Jan. 8 conference for teachers at the NCAA Hall of Champions, a Jan. 9 5K run/walk that begins and ends inside the Indiana Convention Center, and a Jan. 9 Taste of the Championship dining event featuring 25 local chefs at the Indiana State Museum.
After the pandemic led to the postponement of the city’s hosting of the NBA All-Star Game from 2021 to 2024, the host committee for that event decided to increase its legacy grant recipients from 21 not-for-profits to 24. It also will select 24 new high school seniors to receive “rising star” scholarships.
Greenfield’s Agape facility for therapeutic horse riding, one of the organizations from the original pool of recipients, will celebrate its grant with an upcoming ribbon-cutting for a new surface area for its equine activities.
Mel Raines, president of the NBA All-Star Game host committee, said a legacy investment was anything but an afterthought for her team.
“I think it’s the best part of these events,” Raines said. “For the All-Star Game, there wasn’t a legacy component to the bidding process. It’s something we added to our bid because we knew our community, both in the man hours that people devote to an event and the financial resources that primarily are donated by the corporate community, has an expectation that it’s more than just what happens on the week or the days of those events. There’s something you leave behind for the community to make it better.”
Before this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament in Indianapolis, the NCAA and the Indiana Sports Corp. organized a personalized reading tournament, titled “Read to the Final Four,” for third-grade students in Indiana.
Mark Howell, chair of the host committee for the college football championship, said the city makes the most of its time in the spotlight.
“In very creative ways, we can use these championship events as a platform for good,” Howell said.•