Cigarroa delivered keynote address at NCAA Convention
Jan. 24, 2011
I am delighted to be here today and to welcome all of you to Texas, and I congratulate you on your choice of San Antonio. Before I became chancellor of The University of Texas System, my family and I made our home here for many years, and raised our children in this great city. There is a word in Spanish that describes it well – a querencia. A place of the heart, a place where one feels serene and from which one draws strength. That is what San Antonio means to us. I hope you enjoy your visit here.
Of course, I must also mention that this great city is soon to be the site of one of the NCAA’s newest Division I football schools – The University of Texas at San Antonio. Many of you know Lynn Hickey, who has done such a tremendous job as Director of Athletics at UTSA. Through Lynn’s hard work and persistence, UTSA has hosted 14 NCAA events, including men’s and women’s basketball Final Four events, in the last 15 years. With football as an additional attraction, we hope to be hosting you more often.
I have to admit that before becoming chancellor, I did not focus much on the governance of college athletics. I am a pediatric and transplant surgeon, and was the president of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio – which is a large and complex health institution. It has affiliations with more than 100 hospitals, clinics and health care facilities, and employs more than 4,000 staff and 1,700 faculty members. It provides health services for more than 700,000 outpatient visits every year. Then in 2009, I became chancellor of one of the nation’s largest public higher education systems, which has nine academic universities and six health institutions. The UT System is responsible for more than 5.2 million outpatient visits, educating more than 202,000 students and employing more than 84,000 faculty and staff. So, you can imagine that between being a surgeon and handling the challenges and opportunities on the administrative side of things, I thought I had seen just about everything.
A year later, the Big Twelve reorganized. And I realized very quickly that I had not seen everything. In fact, it became obvious that a liver transplant is easier. Well, we all survived it without rejection or immune suppressors … and came out of it with a much greater appreciation of the intricacies most of you deal with every day. As chancellor, I preside over a higher education system that is represented in all three divisions of the NCAA. As such, I have the opportunity to see the importance of your work and the significant role that sports play in college life. And I have seen that while the divisions may have different levels of participation and emphasis on sports, the focus of all the programs is the same – the success of the student athletes who are given the opportunity to excel in competition and academics.
Heywood Broun, the American journalist, said that, “Sports do not build character. They reveal it.” I believe that observation is true not only for individuals but also for institutions. The basic virtues of discipline, integrity, inclusion and fair play are on display every time an athlete takes the field. They are also highlighted by the structures we develop, the rules we set, the way we enforce those rules and the relationship we forge between sport and education.
Specifically, we all have the same mission. That mission is education – primarily the education of young people. Sports are a tremendous compliment to achievement of that mission. They assist us in ways obvious and not so obvious.
At The University of Texas at Austin, they are extremely fortunate to have an athletic program that literally contributes financially to its academic mission. And we are grateful for the leadership of President Bill Powers; outstanding athletic directors, DeLoss Dodds and Chris Plonsky; and the coaches, advisors, and counselors.
Like at UT Austin, athletics make a remarkable contribution on every campus. They instill a sense of institutional pride, not only in student athletes, but in all our students, our alumni, in citizens of the community and the state. The support given to sports is essentially inseparable from support for the university. The old rivalries, the enduring traditions, the sense of camaraderie and loyalty have real meaning in people’s lives.
Sports build diversity on many of our campuses – diversity of race, gender, even national and international diversity. Chief Justice Earl Warren used to say that he always turned to the sports pages first because they record people’s accomplishments, while “the front page is nothing but man’s failures.” I am sure Dr. Franklin would agree that one of the accomplishments Justice Warren would admire most is the modern image of college athletes of every race, nationality and gender representing their institutions.
It is important to note that many of these athletes represent the first of their families to attend college. Sports offer these young students a way to compete in athletics and in the classroom. That is something we can all be proud of. It is something we also need to nurture. At the UT System, we are very proud of the life skills support offered to our athletes. Young people just out of high school, away from home for the first time, undertaking college level classes and college level sports for the first time, need help finding balance in their lives. And these life skills programs are designed to provide that help.
We want our student athletes to be successful in the classroom and their sports. We are all concerned about graduation rates; that is a given. Beyond that, we need to be concerned about producing graduates who have grown in wisdom as well as knowledge. Many of these young adults will be sought out as community leaders and role models. Our institutions can expose them to experiences that spark their interest and deepen their commitment to the larger world. After their college athletic and perhaps, professional exposure, our students will be productive citizens and life-long learners.
It is a real tribute to all of you that college athletics continue to be so popular and such a significant part of our common social experience. In the 105 years since the NCAA was created we have seen the advent of radio, broadcast television, cable television and the internet. Each of these events has only broadened interest in the competitions and, in fact, increased attendance in our home venues.
Today, it seems like truly ancient history when we think of President Theodore Roosevelt summoning college athletic leaders to the White House to discuss the need for the regulation of college sports. The subject then was football and concerns about injuries to players and financial inducements to attract players. So it may not seem so ancient after all.
The core issue, though, was – as it always is – public trust. Could the universities regulate themselves? Could they conduct their sporting events in ways that encouraged safety and preserved the ideal of the student athlete? Back then, they were discussing those same basic virtues that animate our conversations today – discipline, integrity, inclusion and fair play.
In a world where change is the only constant, even great institutions must constantly evaluate and reevaluate their processes and procedures. We all have come to understand that no matter how great the achievement, how much we excel, how hard we work – doing better is always necessary, and participating in athletics certainly teaches us that. In the matter of public trust, we must always do better; we are content with the status quo at our own peril. As DeLoss Dodds has stated, the first public you must be concerned with is your attentive public – the faculty, the alums, the families who send their kids to you. They deserve to hear from you, to know what is going on in athletics, to understand what you are trying to do and how you fit into the larger scheme of things at your institution.
You must explain your rules and your decisions to the public, whether those rules and decisions make sense, whether they are regarded as fair and equitably enforced. It is a shared responsibility between the member institutions and the NCAA. That is why it is so important for this organization to help its member institutions and the public understand the rules with clarity and ensure that reasonable systems of monitoring and fair enforcement are in place. If there is a loss of trust in the NCAA, there is a loss for every college athletic program and every student athlete in the country.
H. Y. Benedict, who served as president of UT Austin during the Depression years, said that, “Public confidence is the only real endowment of a public university.”
We count on the NCAA and all of you to protect that confidence and trust. We are grateful for your work and thankful for every success.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you today, and I wish you and your institutions success in all that you do on behalf of our deserving students. Thank you.