I like to win. So does my alma mater—Louisiana State University (LSU)—where suffice it to say, our 90,000+ fans in Tiger Stadium expect the LSU Football Team to be Southeastern Conference champions ever year … and if we had our way, national champions every year as well. You can expect that we will absolutely demand to win when we play Alabama this November 3rd; both because we always plan to beat Alabama, and because of a recent national championship game for which we intend to be vindicated.
How does LSU football win? The team recruits the best players, holds those players to the highest standards, and demands continued performance from them day in and day out. Everyone works together to build a team that can deliver against opposing teams—who are made up of the best athletes held to those same high standards from all across the country. In short, LSU football raises standards for performance daily.
There seems to be a fear among some in my home state and elsewhere that the increases in academic standards for college athletes recently announced by NCAA President Mark Emmert will have a detrimental effect on college sports. The critics argue that our students, our athletes, our community, our country can’t meet the bar.
I have news for these folks: Want to win? Raise standards and keep raising them.
Don’t get me wrong—raising standards absolutely raises pressure, as a recent piece from Inside Higher Ed readily points out. And raising standards has to be met by increases in effort, coaching, and support for students, student-athletes, and everyone involved in this work.
Yet it’s also clear that when we raise standards, individuals (a child, a teacher, an athlete, an applicant, or a community) will strive to reach those standards. Take a few examples:
- What happened when the NCAA and the public demanded better graduation rates of our college athletes? Our athletes and universities met the challenge.
- What happened when the NCAA implemented its most rigorous measures of Academic Progress (APR) a number of years ago? The progress of student athletes has increased yearly ever since.
- Even my LSU Tigers got into the action by setting a goal of dramatically increasing the graduation rate a few years ago; now, LSU football boasts the second highest graduation rate in the SEC, a feat that many said would slow our winning seasons and decrease our dramatic performances (this hasn’t been the case).
The proponent of the NCAA’s most recent increase in academic standards is President Mark Emmert, who used to be the Chancellor of LSU. I had the good fortune of working in his office when I was a student, and had the opportunity to hear President Emmert speak repeatedly about the fact that LSU would never tolerate a failing football team. He would say: If LSU’s football team were failing, as a community, we would demand that the Chancellor fire the head coach and get the football team back on track. After nods of agreement from the crowd, President Emmert would then state that we should aspire for the same level of excellence for our research, for our academic performance and for all of our students.
As a teacher, I saw firsthand that when I set out “impossible” goals, my students rose to meet them and continued to do so throughout their academic careers. The critics might have said that my students wouldn’t meet those higher standards, but any number of them will be watching college football games in the student section at Tiger Stadium this fall.
I’m proud that President Emmert continues to raise the bar for athletes, for universities, and for those of us who love our alma maters. President Emmert and the NCAA’s actions state loud and clear: Want to win? Raise standards and your students, as well as your university, will rise to the occasion.