Thresholds of Acceptance

College athletics at the beginning of the 21st century was a true cash cow. Buoyed by outlandish media contracts, athletic departments were prone to over-spend to protect their brand. Lawsuits had given athletes opportunities to cash in as well.

But it was too good to last. What was once a must-see for fans of their favorite college teams was no longer. Only a few teams in America remained competitive as they adopted a “spend whatever it takes” approach. Athletes were stockpiled at schools where they could get the most money.

As a result, attendance at games had fallen drastically. Viewership had also declined to a point that the lucrative media contracts became a thing of the past. Something had to be done, but no one was willing to accept the reality of a bleak future; except for Jane Abbott.

Abbott had experience with difficult change situations. Without any sponsorship, she began to talk with the key stakeholder groups. Her efforts were largely unknown with the exception of those she met. But she consciously avoided leaders of stakeholder groups because she felt those discussions would just be a repetition of talking points. She met instead with lower-level representatives of various stakeholders.

Her first round of discussions was used to frame the issues as seen by those who accepted the reality that something had to be done. Once she identified the issues, she had a subtle discussion of what she called thresholds of acceptance. As the discussions continued a new model for college athletes began to emerge.

Once she had a sense of what a new model might look like, she then began to bring together those she had talked with. These were small group interactions with the focus on what would make you say yes. Since each person had been involved in the issue development, the participants were much more inclined to raise their threshold of acceptance.

The result of their round of discussions was a convergence on a model for the future of college athletics. The new model was then shared with others within the respective stakeholder groups. At this point, the new model became known to the leaders of the stakeholder groups. Obviously there was an initial pushback by the leaders, but the fact that the model was accepted by their membership made their pushback more muted. Gradually the new model was adopted and sanity in college athletics was restored. Whether the changes would restore the engagement of the public was uncertain.

Changes often occur out of the spotlight when a change maker starts building understanding within stakeholder groups. Such understanding doesn’t occur at the leadership level but by those who don’t have egos to protect. At some point thresholds of acceptance are raised as stakeholders understand each other’s needs. When group members understand each other’s needs, those at the top begin to reduce their reluctance to change.

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“We cannot change anything, unless we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.” – Carl Jung (Psychologist)


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