The Digest previously has reported on compliance problems faced by Boise State University (see
Referees Aren’t the Only Ones Carrying Whistles These Days posted on July 11). It was reported in various news outlets this week that the university has dismissed its long-time athletic director, Gene Blaymaier, who had served the university for 30 years. The announcement was made on August 10 by the school’s president, Bob Kustra.
Boise State met in June with the NCAA Infractions Committee and while waiting on its verdict has self-imposed sanctions in five sports, including its marquee men’s football program. The NCAA has already announced a finding that violations in the school’s women’s tennis program are considered evidence of a lack of institutional control on the part of the school.
Blaymaier was the person credited with installing the football stadium’s trademark blue turf that has become an icon for the program. He oversaw the program’s rise from NCAA Division II status to near the top of the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) of Division I.
It was probably inevitable that Blaymaier would shoulder the blame for the school’s problems with the NCAA. In his statement on the matter, President Kustra said “I did not come to this decision lightly. After careful management review and discussions about the future of the program, I have determined that new leadership will be needed as we commit ourselves to the highest level of attention and enforcement of NCAA standards, and also continue to move Boise State athletics to the next level of success”.
Blaymaier lobbied to keep his job but was unsuccessful. I did let him know that I wanted to stay,” Blaymaier said, “and I think he knows that I’m very disappointed. We’re very proud of what we’ve been able to do here in our time”.
The school has self-imposed sanctions, including a loss of scholarships for the next two years and a reduction in practice time. The violations in the football program occurred between 2005 and 2008. The school has also moved its Compliance Department under the direct control of the President’s office. So far, however, Chris Peterson, the ultra-successful football coach, has escaped direct association with the scandal.
The pattern for schools dealing with NCAA seems familiar by now. One or two individuals are identified as the source of the problems and they then are used as sacrificial lambs. Ohio State’s former coach, Jim Tressel, has publicly taken all of the blame for the problems in the school’s football program. Southern Cal blamed its problems on former Heisman Trophy winning running back, Reggie Bush and its former Athletic Director, Mike Garrett.
What is rarely seen in these scandals is a key administrator such as a Provost or school President taking any responsibility for problems. The public is asked to believe that massive problems involving rule violations, often extending over several years, were only known to a very few individuals and that people at the top of the organization never had a clue as to what was going on.
Sound management involves establishing checks and balances over personnel in an organization and setting up solid channels of communication. Students in programs such as those offered by the United States Sports Academy are regularly exposed to these ideas. Some people consider college athletic departments to be part of an academic organization and others think of them as business organizations. Either way, accountability is a concept that should permeate the entire organization.
Anyone who thinks that Gene Blaymaier should bear sole responsibility for what happened at Boise State must live in a fairy-tale world. Part of the problem today in college athletics is that in almost every instance of wrongdoing uncovered a scapegoat is identified and then everyone is assured that any problems were his or her fault and “isolated”, not systemic.
Such thinking needs to change if meaningful reform of college athletics is ever to take place. The sad truth is most followers of Boise State today are chiefly worried about whether what the NCAA ultimately decides to do in the school’s case will cause the football team to win fewer games.