Church Leadership

What the Fall of Jim Tressel Has to do with Pastors

Jim Tressel went from hero to zero in 12 months.

Winning had bought Tressel respect in the state of Ohio. First at Youngstown State and then on the national stage at Ohio State.

As the success increased so did Tresell’s insulation from everyday scrutiny. In the eyes of fans and the administration he could do no wrong. Certainly there were warning signs everywhere. Most notably was Maurice Clarett. As a freshmen, Clarett help the Buckeyes win the 2002 National Championship. But was soon overcome by scandal, eventually being dismissed from the university. There would be others. But none were as vocal or with the national voice that Clarett garnered.

All the while Tressel’s name stayed out of the spotlight. Clarett was a bad kid from the wrong part of town while Tressel was the misunderstood golden child. This would be the response to every allegation to come. Tressel was unaware of the problem and offenders were dishonest, bad kids.

Off and on Ohio State players were punished for infractions of NCAA rules. But Columbus is a one-horse town and no journalist dared to take on what everyone was seeing– lots and lots of NCAA infractions. With all of the success in the football program there was lots and lots of money flowing. No one inside of Columbus was going to blow the whistle and risk their livelihood. Everyone claimed Tressel knew nothing.

The wheels began to fall off nationally during the 2010 season as allegations surfaced that some players had sold or traded some memorabilia in exchange for tattoos. Suddenly, the spotlight was on the program to discover what was really going on. 5 players were suspended for 5 games in the 2011 season by Tressel. This was quickly followed up by a self-imposed 5 game suspension that Tressel took. The spin was that he chose to do it this way so that the players would see that he was the kind of leader who took it on the chin when he got in trouble.

Fans of Ohio State bought it. (And even revered him more for his valiant leadership.) But the national media and non-OSU fans smelled the rotting corpse of a cover-up in the trunk of Tressel’s trophy room.

It all crashed down a few weeks ago as Tressel stepped down when tipped off that Sports Illustrated was about to publish their investigation which revealed systemic violations over and 8 year period. The article documents that Tressel wasn’t ignorant of all of the violations. Instead, he was often involved in the cover-up, and in some instances actually orchestrated inappropriate benefits for players and their families.

Even in his resignation Tressel maintain his arrogant posture. He pretended to fall on his sword and say his resignation was not an admission of guilt but to protect the reputation of the university he loved.

It won’t work. While Ohio State fans are living in denial. The NCAA will act and the punishments will be severe. There’s a good chance that the NCAA may actually shut the program down for 1-2 years as a result of the systemic problems. In all likelihood, since he’ll have to serve suspensions earned while at OSU at any future NCAA job, Tressel is out of college football for life.

It is a sad ending to anyone’s career. But was also entirely of his own doing.

Preventing Tresselgate as a Church Leader

We live in a time where church leaders are put on pedestals similar to that of Jim Tressel. (At least in Evangelical circles) People identify with their pastor so strongly that it’s not uncommon to associate the name of the church with the name of the pastor. People go to Rick Warren’s church, Bill Hybel’s church, Andy Stanley’s church, Rob Bell’s church, Joel Osteen’s church, Mark Driscoll’s church, John Piper’s church, etc. It’s completely ridiculous that we do that, but we do.

A dangerous double-edged sword. On the one hand the church benefits from the notoriety of their pastor. On the other the notoriety of the pastor is the largest threat the organization faces to its present reality and future success of large organizations. The net result is that the pastor lives in a protected bubble. That doesn’t mean he can do no wrong. It just means that if he does wrong everyone in his life is going to do whatever they can to keep that from the public since his failure impacts their financial security.

Practically speaking, how do we prevent Tresselgate?

  1. Leadership Transparency- I’m all about elder rule in a church. And I’m all about staff teams largely governing their day-to-day operations. But elder meetings should not meet behind closed doors with no ability for anyone in the church to intimately know what’s going on, ask questions when appropriate, and foster a sense of transparency. Likewise, the elders should be congregationally selected and scrutinized as overseers of the congregation and the staff. (The staff can’t pick elders– That’s illogical for their role as overseers.) And their meetings should be open to the general public. Just like municipal boards they should have open and closed sessions. But reserve closed sessions exclusively for personnel and legal matters.
  2. Whistle blowers protected- In most secular work environments there is some level of protection for staff who blow the whistle on inappropriate behavior. The #1 reason this got so big at Ohio State was that no one in the athletic department blew the whistle on Tressel’s years of stuff going on. (The SI article documents this well.) There is no protection for church staff. If little things get dealt with without fear of reprisal they don’t escalate to big things later. A little bit of money miss-spent, a little bit of power abused… that’s just life and can be dealt with. But not dealing with it creates a snowball effect that will one day destroy the entire mission.
  3. Time off from the platform- Early in my leadership development a mentor taught me that leadership prowess wasn’t determined by what happened when I was there. She measured my performance as a leader by what happened with my team when I wasn’t there. We need to create that environment in the church today. It’s great to have figurehead leaders who are amazing communicators. But if those people are truly leaders of a movement of God, they will be measured by their ability to put others in their place. Andy Stanley had a nice-sounding sermon a few years ago built on the premise, “What do you do when you are the most powerful person in the room?” The answer to that question is to be like Jesus and disperse the power to your disciples… and then step away. The power of Jesus’ church isn’t central leadership. It’s that it’s empowered every person to be a priest with direct access to the Father! We need to affirm the priesthood of all believers and get our leaders off the platform.
  4. Don’t believe the hype about yourself- I don’t believe any church leader wants to be on a pedestal. Any “powerful” church leader I’ve ever met is wholly uncomfortable with the reverence they receive. It seems to me that gross failures happen when the person starts to believe the hype about themselves. Fundamental to the problem is that many of these people are the most successful people they know. God blessed them and it just happened. If you find yourself on a pedestal do whatever it takes to find some friends where you are an absolute nobody. It’ll do your soul good.
  5. Cheaters never prosper- Eventually, whatever it is that you are hiding will be public. Plausible deniability never works for long. The best thing you can do is to operate a clean program… even if that means you win less.

What are other ways you think church leaders can prevent Tresselgate from destroying their ministry?


Fixing College Football

Mark Cuban is admirable for trying to fix college football.

Let’s start with this: It’s broken.

2010 is case in point. In mid-January Oregon will play Auburn in a game labeled “the BCS championship game.” But, if TCU wins the Rose Bowl they deserve to be co-national champions, too. We’ll simply never know who is the best team in the college football in 2010.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. It’s happened a lot in college football. And it’s always the big money conferences shutting out the Little Sisters of the Poor. (As Ohio State president & chairman of the board of the foot-in-mouth council calls them.)

It’s about the money

We all know it. No one believes that it is about the athletes academic calendar… as the NCAA so stupidly claims. They certainly allow a playoff in every other sport, regardless of academic issues.

It’s about TV rights, protecting lesser bowls, visitor bureau’s, guaranteed payouts, conference affiliations, and a whole litany of people who are getting paid on the side.

It’s not about championships

We will never know who the football national champion is until we have a playoff. Why? We are leaving it up to computers and polls and fluke plays to determine who the champion is. Are Auburn and Oregon the best teams right now? Ask Ohio State, Michigan State, and Stanford that question.

Imagine just putting Duke vs. Kansas every year in the finals and calling that a basketball championship? What makes March Madness so fun for the whole country is that we take the best teams and let them decide who the champion is by playing the game.

The solution– Keep all of the bowls; have a 16 team playoff

First, shorten the regular season to 10 games. Then have a conference championship game determine who gets the automatic bid. Allow 5 at-large bids, top 11 conferences get an automatic bid.

That would be: ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big 10, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, Pac 10, SEC, Sun Belt, and WAC.

Second, identify the top 8 bowls the week of Christmas. Play in a 2 day rotation of 4 games each day.

That would be: Independence Bowl, Little Caesar Bowl, (formerly Motor City Bowl) Las Vegas Bowl, Gator Bowl, Champs Sports Bowl, New Orleans Bowl, New Mexico Bowl, and Holiday Bowl.

Third, the round of 8 would be played on January 1st. The Final 4 would be played the second Saturday of January. These would be the six big games we all love. They’d be competitive and they would mean something. This would make January 1st an incredible day of college football. A rotation of the top 6 bowls would cover these.

That would be: Sugar Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Rose Bowl, and Gator Bowl.

Fourth, the championship game would be played the 3rd Saturday of January. (Or, maybe more ideally, the Saturday between the AFC/NFC Championship & Super Bowl game.) I would argue that the game should be played annually in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl. Let’s face it, the Rose Bowl is the most amazing place in college football to play a big game. It’s perfect in every way.

Two ideas for fixing the money problem

  1. Each participating school would earn an equal share of tickets, television, and all other monies paid to the NCAA for the coverage of this, just like in basketball.
  2. The rest of the remaining teams & bowls would be invited to play in the exact same system we already have. That’s 20 bowls left untouched! A 16 team playoff only effects and enhances 15 bowl games. We all know everyone would make more money.

This shows this isn’t just about money. It’s about pride. The SEC, Big 10, Pac 10, Big East, and Big 12 are just plain scared to play teams from other conferences. I don’t know how fans of those conferences can be proud of teams who are afraid to play anyone on any day.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame vs. Michigan

Today is a big game for two coaches going in opposite directions. A win here cements the quick turnaround by Brian Kelly for Notre Dame. (But the loss for Kelly is kind of neutral.) A loss for  Michigan and Rich Rodriguez is firmly on the hot seat and would have to beat Ohio State to keep his job.

For both Notre Dame and Michigan the annual game is clearly one which you circle on the calendar. They each have other rivalry games each year, but this rivalry game is always the early on the calendar and defines the season.

For me, it’s the one week a year where I cheer against Michigan.

The keys to the game seem to be:

  1. Can Notre Dame’s defense contain Denard Robinson? He looked phenomenal against UConn. But there’s definitely a quality difference between Notre Dame’s defense and UConn’s. If they force him to throw, that’ll be key.
  2. Can Notre Dame’s offense take advantage of Michigan’s weak secondary? They’ve had injuries and transfers. And Notre Dame’s Kyle Rudolph and Michael Floyd are legitimately top quality receivers in college football.

My prediction: Notre Dame 41 Michigan 33

Notre Dame Sports

College Football Season is Here

All summer I’ve waited for college football. With the NBA and NHL completely irrelevant to me, both Phil and Tiger non-competitive on the PGA Tour, and MLB failing to find a storyline to draw me in, it’s been quite a sports draught since the end of the World Cup. In truth, I stop caring for the World Cup when the United States was eliminated.

Back to football.

This is a turning point year for the team college football teams I am most vested in.

San Diego State University

I’m not a native fan. But SDSU is a couple blocks from my house and for less than $200 I was able to get season tickets on the 50 yard line. (This year I moved back about 5 rows for a better view)

With second-year coach Brady Hoke settling in the Aztecs were noticeably better last year. There is a tremendous amount of talent in high school football in Southern California and Hoke knows that if he can put a winning team on the field, establish some tradition, and get a couple players drafted high he can pull a lot more talent from the area. So I was excited to see that Hoke has added a couple of traditions for this year. Before they open against Nicholls State tomorrow players will make the “Warrior Walk” from the bus to the stadium. It’s not much, but it is a step towards creating a football feel around town.

With a veteran QB in Ryan Lindley and star WR Vincent Brown… it will be clear that the Aztecs can move the ball. The question will be if they can hold teams under 20 points.

My prediction: They will go 7-5, but will include one showcase victory against either BYU, Utah, or TCU.

University of Notre Dame

Photo by Ryan Greenberg via Flick (Creative Commons)

Growing up near the campus has secured me as a life-long fan. And as a life-long fan it has been a tough decade. As much as I liked Charlie Weis and was sad to see him let go I think everyone knew he had given up and didn’t have any solutions to get the Irish back to prominence.

In came Brian Kelly. A proven winner at every level of college football yet desiring the one thing that has alluded him– a BCS Championship. He seems to have figured out what both Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis missed, that winning and losing is only half the battle in South Bend. More than just winning and losing, the head football coach in the ambassador of the county’s largest employer. It’s a very big deal that the locals like coach Kelly.

Two categories separated Notre Dame from a BCS bowl appearance last year. Their pass defense was horrid. And their red zone TD percentage was embarrassing. As I’ve kept tabs on the news stories it has become clear that these were points of emphasis for the new coach. Let’s hope they can get in the top 50 in both of these categories.

Coach Kelly’s offensive scheme doesn’t really depend on talent at every position. He’s always lacked talent and found ways to win. It’s a fast-paced style that will confuse most of their early opponents. Even if Dayne Crist is mediocre as a starting quarterback, TE Kyle Rudolph and WR Michael Floyd are NFL quality and will score a lot of points. The key to the offense working is preventing the defense from loading up outside the box and slowing down the pass game by successfully running the ball and controlling the clock. It concerns me that the Irish are weak at RB.

Another concern about Notre Dame this year is their lack of away games. While Notre Dame is an amazing place to play college football, it is actually a tough place for the Irish to win because of the national TV coverage. They only go on the road to play Michigan State, Boston College, and USC. In recent years they have gotten pounded at those stadiums. Their only hope for those games is at USC. With fewer professional athletes on the field USC’s offense was fine last night, but giving up 36 points to Hawaii shows they are a joke. The tradition lately has been that first-year coaches win 10 games. But I think Kelly is on more of a Lou Holtz trajectory than a Tyrone Willingham one. With a new QB and a completely new system, I see the Irish struggling early and often. (Unless the pace just outsmarts people)

My prediciton: They go 8-4 and advance to a the Gator Bowl to play Cincinnati. I think they start off their first 5 games 2-3 but rally later with a schedule that includes Navy, Army, Tulsa, and Western Michigan. I do think they beat Michigan and USC– which makes him a winner in South Bend no matter what.

USC sidenote: Anyone give Kiffin more than 2 years? That dude’s mouth would make Bob Knight blush. And how many more weeks until the NCAA reveals that Pete Carroll is under investigation? I have a feeling they have the death penalty coming.

Church Leadership Sports

Football, Church, and polls

bowdenAugust 1st arrives and I find myself drawn to coverage of football. I’m not really into baseball. With 164 regular season games I struggle to care between April and September. The NBA playoffs last almost as long as the regular season so that has never interested me. March Madness is fantastic, but it only lasts a month. And I can’t get into watching hockey on TV so that is out. College football is, by far, my favorite sport to get into.

The Pre-Season polls are starting to come out. This is the one thing that truly irks me about college football. So much is determined about the outcome of the football season before the ball is kicked off in September. It simply makes no sense to me that you pre-rank teams before they’ve played a game knowing that the polls will eventually determine who gets ot play in the national championship game. The same 25 teams are in the top 25 each fall. It’s as though the script for college football has already been written. Tim Tebow, back for his senior season, will play either Texas or Oklahoma for a national championship… depending on who wins the conference championship game. A playoff is the only thing that will fix this. And even that will be effected by pre-season polls.

church-rankingsA few years back I was hanging out with some friends and we were discussing setting up a fantasy church league. You know, put out church rankings based on attendence, power of sermon, quality of worship service. Add to the mix some Church Center replays and postgame talk… we could probably get enough interest to put out weekly rankings. “Late in the sermon it looked like Craig Groeschell was losing his audience. Heads dipped and the internet interaction started to slow. But then he threw in an unexpected hail mary altar call and brought it down! What a pro finish!” or “John Piper’s delivery was flawless on Sunday. His precision in slicing and dicing that passage, tying in the joy application, that was a thing of beauty. Church Center play of the week nominee, for sure.” But then we thought it’d make the whole thing just weird if it blew up and pastors started spiking Bibles and dudes started getting endorsement deals. Can you imagine a postgame interview from Perry Noble? “First off, I need to give all the glory to Jesus Christ. Second of all, I couldn’t have done it without my Pepsi Worship Team and the Tommy Nelson Gospel Choir. Without them, we wouldn’t have won today.

Thankfully, we came to our senses on that one. The last thing anyone wants is for megachurches to start lobbying supporters for all-star votes!

Football wouldn’t be the same without rankings. Church wouldn’t either.

Notre Dame

Is Notre Dame any good?

As a lifelong fan of the Irish, two weeks into the season I am left with this question. “How good are they?” In week one they looked “2007 bad” while in week two they looked like “2005 lucky.”

Of course, there is irony galore. Just when the nation and especially Irish fans began to look on Charlie Weis as an idiot instead of genius… he gets whacked and will now attain hero status. For those who missed it, here’s what happened to him.

If they keep up the enthusiasm, and the quarterback continues leading the team to relax and have fun… it could be a great year. Have you seen their schedule? Winning 8-9 games shouldn’t be too tough.

Not a Notre Dame fan? Or can’t understand why I would be? Here’s a cool video.

Notre Dame Sports

My favorite football teams

College football gets into full swing today. Technically, it started last week yet it wasn’t a full schedule. I thought it was good to clarify just who I get excited about in college football for this season.

#1 Notre Dame (I grew up about a mile from the campus, been to a ton of games, love me some Fighting Irish.)

#2 Michigan State (Not sure why I like them, but I enjoy watching the Spartans. I think they can have a decent year.)

#3 Michigan (This is a rebuilding year for them. I don’t expect them to be above .500 as the new coach wasn’t left with a lot of talent. But I still like watching them. The crazy thing is that it doesn’t matter how bad they are, they still have a shot against Ohio State.)

#4 San Diego State (I know they aren’t good this year, but they are the closest D-1 team to us. They play about 3 miles from our house.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame Football is #1

Unfortunately, they are #1 at “least efficient dollar per win.”

Allegedly, Charlie Weis made $1.16 million per win in 2007.

Here’s the list