Greed + Ego – Loyalty = No Trust: Lessons From College Football Conference Realignment

This past week the landscape of college football conference membership shifted again when Syracuse and Pittsburgh announced that they would be leaving the Big East to move to the Atlantic Coast Conference. The universities issued statements discussing academics, geographical relationships, and peer institutions as reasons for the switch, but everyone knows the motivation is money. Syracuse and Pitt believe they can make more money playing in the ACC than in the Big East.

Earlier this month Texas A&M announced they would leave the Big 12 conference in 2012 to seek a new conference affiliation, preferably with the SEC. In announcing this decision, university President, R. Bowen Loftin, said it was “in the best interest of Texas A&M” and that they were “seeking to generate greater visibility nationwide for Texas A&M.” (Translation: We’re tired of playing in the shadow of the Texas Longhorns and we think we can make more money in a different conference.) The combination of Texas A&M’s decision, and the news this week about Pitt and Syracuse, caused Oklahoma to start shopping itself to other conferences as well. Oklahoma and the other Big 12 schools are envious of Texas’ move to create their own Longhorn TV network and keep most of the money for themselves. David Boren, President of OU, was quoted as saying that Oklahoma wouldn’t stay in the Big 12 and just be a “wallflower.” No ego in that statement.

Of course, conference realignment isn’t anything new. It’s happened over the years to varying degrees, but these recent developments clearly point out the hypocritical nature of college athletics. University Presidents and Chancellors can talk all they want about the student-athlete experience and academic integrity, yet it’s clear that each school is out to get the biggest piece possible of the multi-billion dollar pie. Former Big East Commissioner, Mike Tranghese, stated in an interview this week that he believes these decisions are clearly motivated by greed, money, and display an extreme lack of honor and loyalty by the leaders of these schools.

I considered Tranghese’s words in relation to leadership in general and the effects that greed, ego, and a lack of loyalty have on trust.

Greed is the excessive desire to possess wealth or goods. Although we most commonly associate greed with money, in the organizational leadership context I think greed rears its ugly head when we strive for excessive power, position, or authority. Power, position, and authority are amoral; there is nothing right, wrong, good, or bad about them in and of themselves. In the hands of an authentic and virtuous leader, power, position, and authority are tools for doing more good for their followers and the organization. In the hands of a self-serving leader, they can become objects of worship. People will not have high levels of trust with leaders who are greedy because they know that those leaders value fulfilling their selfish needs more than they value serving their followers.

Ego is the shadow side of leadership. Being in a position of power and authority can be a heady thing. You often have access to privileges and opportunities not afforded to others and over the course of time you begin to think you’re entitled to these benefits, rather than recognizing them for the gifts that they are. The opposite of being an egotistical leader is being a leader of humility. Ken Blanchard likes to say that being humble is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking about yourself less. Humble leaders tend to have a stewardship approach to leadership. They understand that their position of leadership is something that they’ve been entrusted with to use to the best of their ability, not as a right that has been given to them to use as they please.

Loyalty is a primary characteristic of trustworthy leaders. Why is that? It’s because loyal leaders are predictable and consistent in their behavior and that creates a level of security and trust with followers. Trustworthy leaders display loyalty when they assume best intentions of others, don’t automatically place blame when mistakes are made, and advocate for the best interests of their followers. Being loyal doesn’t mean turning a blind-eye to bad performance or troubling situations; that’s negligence. Loyal leaders are committed to helping their people and organizations realize higher levels of performance and success.

As you would expect, the university leaders of these college football powerhouses are smart people. They definitely have this equation down pat: Greed + Ego – Loyalty = No Trust.

5 Comments on “Greed + Ego – Loyalty = No Trust: Lessons From College Football Conference Realignment

  1. Super example. This has always been part of the problem with big time college athletics (well, I can only speak about since the 60s).
    There needs to be a solution, but I’m darned if I have any ideas. It is important for the rest of us to learn those lessons, though.

    • Nebraska – Thanks for your comment. I agree with you that it’s a complicated situation, but it seems to be getting out of hand. The NCAA has no direct control over conference affiliation; that’s all up to the leadership of the individual schools. The hypocrisy is what bothers me. Just call a spade a spade…it’s a big time business so start running it like one!

      Good luck to your Cornhuskers, although as a Michigan fan I hope we come out ahead!


  2. I keep wanting to replace “loyalty” with “honesty.” Gang members are loyal but dishonest, therefore untrustworthy. On the other hand, an honest leader is also loyal and trustworthy. In the case of college football’s current malaise, ABC Sports reported Saturday that the A&M President was talking to the SEC 18 months ago while signing a pledge to remain loyal to the Big 12 only last summer. We heard similar statements regarding OU’s advances toward the SEC after signing the pledge. Moreover, Texas Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds states that Texas offered A&M a shared network in 2008 and A&M turned it down, and there has been speculation about an OU network for some time similar to those already in place for BYU and Notre Dame. Why the lack of honesty?

    • Great point, Jack. I agree that you could easily substitute honesty for loyalty. So much of the decision making seems to be based on the temporal circumstances and not focused on any long-term solutions for the conferences as a whole. It’s like a husband who cheats on his wife, gets divorced, and then ends up marrying his mistress. Why should the mistress think he won’t cheat on her? When the next opportunity to get a better financial deal comes along, those schools will be looking to jump ship (hence the reported $20 million exit fee the ACC is establishing).

      Take care,


  3. Randy, Just a note, I try fairly hard to avoid the Husker disease, it’s not too hard when when you’re a Boiler Alum. And I won’t print the ‘Victory Hymn’ parodies, either.
    The Cornhuskers are decidedly part of this problem. I agree, a lot of the problem is the hypocrisy. you are right, if they just ran it as a business, it would make a lot more ethical sense, and maybe even help the schools finances instead of only the AD.

Leave a Reply