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From the Desk of the AD: Why is Winning Important?


July 17, 2014

I had a wonderful conversation with some young alums recently and the topic of graduation and winning was referenced. They half-seriously/half-jokingly talked about an inverse correlation between graduation rates and competitive success and we talked about the compromised values of admissions profiles and curricular rigor that appear to be influencing institutions in their quest to win at all costs.

So I playfully asked them, "Why is winning important?"

Their responses were the various attributes of competitive success often referred - more institutional pride, improved community participation, increased giving to the University, amplified school spirit, greater alumni engagement and expanded media coverage. All noble outcomes - all desired effects. I would, however, add two variables to the question and their answer: Integrity and student formation.

There are many ways to win. Cheating or gaining an inequitable or unfair advantage can contribute to winning. Compromising admissions standards, reducing rigor of coursework, minimizing conduct violation consequences, diluting positive drug test ramifications, redistributing institutional control and/or violating NCAA rules can provide competitive advantages over opponents but obviously do not align with our values at Boston College. In addition, negotiating student time with media rights holders, broadening the windows for televised games, distributing revenues toward the `haves', increasing the number of games, expanding travel requirements and cutting varsity sports potentially contribute to a more highly valued role of winning.

When winning is grounded in the context of compromised values it reframes the question to "Why is winning with integrity important?" And when integrity is integrated into the question the answer within higher education becomes much easier to answer. Winning with integrity - when facilitated by talented coaches in athletic classrooms - is inherently formational for the students who participate. Cheating to win does not develop students in developmentally meaningful ways but rather teaches shortcuts and unethical behavior that will shape future decisions in students' lives in the same way that winning with integrity contributes to a moral obligation to compete and lead in any future endeavors in ways that make them better than they are found: Making the world a better place.

Once integrity is inserted into the outcome we turn to the threshold of winning with integrity that satisfies student formation:

- Does a student develop and grow if the team comes in last place? I suspect there is student maturation because this is higher education and students can learn from the bad as well as the good. - Do students develop and grow if they come in seventh place? Fourth place? Second place? Of course, whenever the sport is treated as an athletic curriculum with teaching methodology and pedagogy there will be student formation.

The power of winning with integrity comes when a team strives toward a shared vision of excellence, experiences daily adversity, public scrutiny and community cooperation within an intensely competitive environment and ultimately realizes their vision of excellence by winning a championship and/or postseason opportunity: I believe they have maximized student formation by winning with integrity.

And that is why winning with integrity will always be a primary focus of Boston College Athletics - it is developmentally meaningful!