The sources typically used to verify facts when writing a monthly column of interesting and inspiring sport stories stem from a variety of media outlets including SportsBusinessNews Daily Wire, USA Today, and Sports Illustrated. Last month, the inaccurate report of San Diego State reinforced the journalism rule of thumb to check every fact and hire a good editor.
San Diego State men's basketball runs a clean program. The University of San Diego, however, was the culprit in the recent point shaving scandal that continues to demonstrate the pressure burner of Division I athletics that sometimes leads to deviant behavior in order to gain a competitive advantage - or money.
The source for this month's column happens to be from personal experience. Dealing with deviant behavior is almost a daily routine for Tiffin University's 2011 graduate commencement speaker, Dr. Janice Hilliard, one of the most powerful women in sports. Hilliard is the vice president of the NBA who oversees player development which includes everything from rookie orientation to damage control when a popular player twitters and sends the wrong messages to a world-wide audience.
Detroit is one of Dr. Hilliard's teams which may say something about her presence in the NBA. Where is that bad-boy image for Detroit that Bill Laimbeer helped personify years ago?
Dr. Hilliard was gracious as she stepped into the small town of Tiffin, Ohio. She reached out to kiss the cheek of Josh Diaz as he walked through the promenade of faculty applause en route to receiving his graduate diploma. Josh, last season's graduate assistant for men's basketball, had picked her up from the Cleveland airport the day before.
When answering questions at the Board of Trustee's reception, Hilliard laughed as someone cleverly noted she was playing at the University of Houston in the era of Team "Phi Slamma Jamma" featuring the talents of Hakeem Olajuwan and Clyde Drexler. Reluctantly, she admitted her hands weren't large enough to slam dunk back in the day.
When relaxing with several friends during a relatively quiet nightcap featuring Carmie's homemade ginger ale, Hilliard shared personal little stories like what she does during her daily 50-minute train commute from White Plains, New York to the city. She carries two BlackBerries and uses them often.
In the midst of answering questions for a media interview, Dr. Hilliard took the time to address a few questions from a slightly overzealous graduate student who snuck into the private luncheon to meet the NBA Vice President. Then, the towering figure who had maintained an air of class and sophistication in her role as a commencement speaker over the past two days, whipped out her flip camcorder to record some of the Tiffin University campus before heading back to the daily grind of the NBA playoffs.
The Friday afternoon Dr. Hilliard arrived to town was on the heels of the return of 10 Tiffin University athletics coaches, staff and students who participated in the NCAA Women's Leadership Symposium. Julie Roe Lach, vice president of the NCAA, encouraged participants to engage with a lineup of other powerful women in the industry including professional team executives, conference commissioners, a former vice president from Goldman Sachs, personnel from Notre Dame, Ohio State, Auburn and West Point, and with Molly Fletcher, a professional sports agent and entrepreneur.
Breaking away from the conference atmosphere, Molly took time for a quiet walk [with heels and a skirted business suit] over the downtown Indianapolis canal past the National Federation of High School Athletics, the NCAA, the NCAA Hall of Champions, the new construction for an expansion of the NCAA Headquarters and the IUPUI ball fields.
On a sunny but blustery spring day, we conversed more about the lives of our daughters than about ESPN scoreboards and highlights.
Molly lives in my former hometown of Atlanta and has three girls including one age 8 and a pair of twins, age 7. Last spring, one of the twins sustained a head injury from a foul ball at a Braves game and spent almost a week at Scottish Rite Children's Hospital.
Molly became a colleague about a week prior to the incident. That first conversation after the accident offered a glimpse into the softer side of a cunning negotiator that inked deals for John Smoltz, Tom Izzo and Matt Kuchar, one of the hottest players on the PGA Tour.
In the fall, Molly did a remote conference call into a sport management class for a Q&A with Tiffin University students who were assigned to read one of her books about the "5 Tools for Becoming Your Own [Career] Agent." In the winter, she arranged a private luncheon in Columbus during a high-dollar presentation for Nationwide Insurance. Just last week, she took the time for that quiet stroll, just to catch up on life's latest twists and turns. It was two days before Mother's Day.
What a great reminder that even for the powerful women who stand at the top of their profession in the male-dominated sports world, the greatest treasure among colleagues and friends is sharing the role of being a "somewhat" normal mom. The hyper-competitive culture of the industry is often said to conflict with a healthy work-life balance for employees who know the grind of long hours, especially when sports are viewed as global entertainment with mega dollars at stake. Molly Fletcher and Janice Hilliard, however, are testimonials that balance is achievable, especially for those who have endured in the industry. How many sport executives could really take the time away from the NBA playoffs to speak at a commencement ceremony or take the time for a quiet stroll when flying into and out of a city in one whirlwind day?
This and every Mother's Day, Janice and Molly can be proud their mama raised them right. Each has taken the time to smell the roses along the way while making their mark as two of the most powerful women in world of professional sports.
Stay tuned next month for more inspiring and amazing sport stories from our small community in northwest Ohio to around the globe.
Bonnie Tiell is the TU faculty representative to the NCAA.