Good evening, and thanks for spending part of your day with Extra Points.
I write about a lot of different things here at Extra Points, but I've been really revisiting the same handful of themes over the last few months. NIL. College athletics transformation. What we know and what we don't know about where money is going in college sports.
I keep writing about these topics not just because they're interesting, but they're the major storylines on this beat right now. I cover the off-the-field forces that shape college athletics, and college athletics is in the middle of massive, structural changes.
When I hop on the phone with anybody in this world to discuss these changes...whether they think the changes are good, bad, or something else...there's another story underneath, one less explicitly covered. People are tired.
I'm going to be writing about burnout a lot more over the next few weeks. My sister publications have been working on some research that we'll share more about soon, research that involves talking to lots and lots of folks who work at all levels in college athletics. But we also have evidence to suggest that athletes are also struggling to balance everything. Athletes at all levels have made it clear to the NCAA...they have mental health concerns. This will not be the last time I write about this topic.
So I'll be happy to share more about what we've heard from coaches, ADs, junior staffers, athletes, and more. But real quick...I'd like to talk a little bit about what I've been feeling.
My wife shared a video with me, one that put into words something I've struggled to articulate:
The thesis of this particular video is that we experience burnout not just when we feel overworked, but when we feel that we are now unable to live our values.
This is something I've been hearing anecdotally from folks working in college sports almost as long as I've been writing Extra Points...before COVID, before NIL, before the transfer portal.
Let me give an example. Most people do not initially get into coaching because they love money or fame. They get into coaching because they love their sport, they love teaching, they love mentoring and being part of the lives of young people.
But as one progresses through their coaching career, as they move from GAs to assistants to coordinators, the job changes. Sure, they're still working with young people, still teaching, still 'talkin' ball.' But they're also fundraising. They're managing boosters, managing parents, managing administrators. If they're fortunate enough to become head coaches, they may find themselves doing more executive leadership than actually coaching young people.
If a coach sits down and suddenly realizes that they now spend the bulk of their time and energy doing things that do not align with their passions, their professional values, conflict arises. That's true for ADs too. May even be true for athletes. I get it.
There's also the idea that long hours or changing workplace demands can make it more challenging to live your values outside of the specific context of your job.
Most people have identities outside of their jobs, right? They don't just want to be successful at work, they want to have families, they want to have hobbies, and they want to be involved in their communities. If their other identities and goals are subjugated to the increasing demands of college sports, well, you get conflict. You get burnout.
I don't mind saying this to y'all. I am feeling this conflict on both ends.
I love college sports. I love writing Extra Points. This is the best job I've ever had. I'm not quitting Extra Points or winding this down or anything. But these pressures are real.
Before launching this newsletter, I ran college team brand programming for SB Nation for several years. That was a long-hours gig, especially during football season, but generally, I didn't work too many evenings during the summer. There was an offseason to our calendar, which gave us time to catch our breath, plan long-range projects, or just write silly things...like this.
I've worked deep into the evening at least four days a week for like, two years now. Part of that is because child care has rarely been consistent, and I have to take time out of my day to transport children to and from school, and daycare, or watch them when those places randomly close. But part of that is also because, on this new beat, there isn't really an offseason.
COVID was a major summertime story. So was Alston, which published the one time I tried to take a real vacation. NIL, NCAA transformation, conference realignment...those are all huge stories happening now. And trying to go deep on these topics, given my schedule limitations, means burning some of the midnight oil.
I adore this job, am fascinated by the subject matter, and badly want this project to succeed. But more than that, I also want to be an involved husband and father, a leader in my Chicago community, a dedicated member of my faith, and somebody who cultivates interests outside of college sports. Juggling all of that is part of my value system, and keeping that in balance has been a struggle.
I also have to admit I am constantly worrying about the best places to deploy my thoughts and energy within this beat.
When I sit down to write Extra Points, my goal is to inform, educate, or entertain. I try to help laymen understand the sausage-making of the college sports industry, help leaders get the best information they need to make good decisions, and maybe make a few people laugh. I understand that I am not saving babies or working at the cancer vaccine factory, but hey, most people don't, right?
I worry a lot about trying to find the right tone to convey nuance about NCAA investigations or NIL without being a cheerleader for amateurism or for institutional power. I worry about trying to document a changing industry without providing cover for corruption and exploitation under different names. I worry about trying to get my arms around such massive and important issues like mental health and meaningful educational development and feel inadequate to the charge.
And friends, I have to be honest. I was an educator. I'm a parent. And there are days like this week where I pick up my kids, look out into the world, realize I'm about to go back at my desk to write about D-II conference realignment or something and wonder, what the fuck am I even DOING?!?
I know I'm not alone, because I know many of my reporter colleagues are grappling with some of these questions. I know folks in the industry, both with .edu in their email and not, have these concerns too. I do not have good answers.
I say this not because I want a pity party.
I'm a sportswriter, and one that doesn't have to worry about working for a despotic corporate overlord. This is a blessing.
I'm not writing this because I want to quit, or even write less.
I mention this only, I guess, to point out that everybody you read about here is human. The administrators and coaches, some self-serving, some not, are trying to grapple with enormous changes all at once, and even under the best of circumstances, it can be draining. The athletes, who were already facing more pressure than most fans understand, are now experiencing new demands, new opportunities, and new challenges.
And everybody is trying to negotiate this new world while the rest of society feels like it's on fire, like, all of the time.
So I don't mind sharing that I'm tired. Real tired. The kind of tired that three days away from the newsletter with a cold beverage doesn't really fix. The kind of tired that copious Mountain Dew Rise only masks, not resolves. It's a more existential tired, and I know I'm not alone.
Maybe some of the folks we'll talk to and some of the data we'll share over the next few weeks will have some good ideas, some good answers. If I hear them, I'll happily share them.
But as of today? I've got nothing. Just the resolve to somehow, even when it feels stupid, to get up and try to be better tomorrow.
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