The University of Texas at Austin is launching what the school calls a one-of-a-kind effort to shape the on- and off-field lives of high school, college and professional athletes.
UT President Bill Powers announced Dec. 15 the creation of The Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation, a new program that will mostly leverage existing campus resources and a $300,000 annual budget to mentor athletes and their coaches.
The idea stems in part from a September meeting between Longhorns football coach Charlie Strong and National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss how the first-year UT coach implemented five core values through which he holds his student-athletes accountable. There has also been much talk about how to prevent off-field troubles for athletes following multiple national incidents in 2014 in which the NFL in particular garnered criticism.
"This [issue] has been given a lot of attention around the country, and we looked at ourselves and said why not UT, which has great success in athletics, a history of integrity and developing the emotional health, the physical health and the academic success of our athletes," Powers said.
The new center will debut in June by hosting a two-day coach certification program that trains in best practices for improving athletes' character and detecting potentially problematic behavioral patterns that may lead to greater off-field issues later in an athlete's career. The pilot program will be a geared toward state high school football and women's basketball coaches.
There will also be a new financial literacy program launching next fall for UT student-athletes and a slew of new academic research related to athletes' behaviors.
Daron K. Roberts, a UT lecturer and television analyst on the Longhorn Network, has been named the center's founding director. Roberts said he will draw from his seven years of experience coaching at the high school, college and professional levels when leading the new effort.
"I've seen the student-athlete at several different points in the pipeline. Before this point, most of the interventions have been focused on the professional athlete and the college student athlete," Roberts said. "We want to push these interventions further down the pipeline."
There will be no central location that houses the center, according to a UT spokesman, although the school's athletics department will work closely with the new program.
"Student-athletes first and foremost want to know a coach cares—and that's before playing time. They want to know their coach cares about their development as a person," Roberts said, explaining that 75 percent of U.S. school-age children participate in sports. "[High school coaches] have a key opportunity to mold them."
Funding for the new center will come from the president's office for the first three years, largely supported by revenue gained through a TV contract with the Longhorn Network. The school also intends to seek private financial support and partnerships to help operate the new program.
Editor's note: An inquiry has been made to see whether Austin ISD has any knowledge of the new center or any intention of participating in the June coach's certification pilot program. A spokesperson for the school district was not immediately available for comment.