Happy 25th Anniversary and Farewell

Published November 14, 2017

This blog is about two big milestones for me – one to happen in a matter of days and one to happen in about six months. The first milestone is the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the little consulting partnership that Hilary Findlay and I started in 1992 (our incorporation papers are dated November 25, 1992 to be precise), and the second is my retirement from professional life, as I have known it. This latter also coincides with the end of my four-year fling with university teaching, which I have written about in a previous blogpost.

About the first milestone, the surviving and thriving of a little idea hatched a quarter century ago, I can only say that I am so proud of what all of us have created. The Centre for Sport and Law was initially a single income for a single person (and a small income at that) – at any given time one of the founding partners had a day job to help make ends meet – but eventually it supported two people, then three, then more, now seven!

Entrepreneurship has always fascinated me that way. Out of nothing but an idea and some elbow grease, something tangible takes shape and with the right care it flourishes. Nothing becomes something. A pumpkin becomes a Prince. Bring in other carefully chosen people who share your values, and that something grows beyond what you ever imagined. Today, the Sport Law & Strategy Group is equipped to help the Canadian sport industry with almost any management problem. We can cover your legal, policy, risk, governance, marketing, communications, planning, event delivery, human resources and financial concerns. Whether it is stickhandling a tricky issue or activating your vision, we can help you.

Recently I have stepped away from active involvement in the Sport Law & Strategy Group and I have done so without any regret. Many of my students are surprised that I would want to give this up – in their minds it is the perfect career that provides variety, challenge, autonomy, mastery, purpose and all those other motivating qualities that we learn about in class. But for me, legacy has always been paramount. Whether that is passing a family cottage to a 5th generation, spending money I did not have to restore an 85 year old wooden sailboat, or parting with a business that offers a livelihood to multiple people while also changing the sport community for the better – leaving the world a better place than I found it has always been my main concern. It is this desire to have a lasting impact that led me to teaching full-time.

In the spring of 2018 I will conclude nearly four years of teaching in the undergraduate Sport Management program at Brock University in Niagara. I had taught there part time for years, as a poorly paid sessional instructor. As luck would have it I was successful, despite not having a PhD, in coming on full-time as a well-paid faculty Lecturer in the summer of 2014. Unlike a Professor, I had no research obligations but I made up for that by having a double teaching load: eight courses a year, however I wanted to schedule them. This was really hard work but had some upsides – time off in the summer months, and the opportunity to engage with twice as many students as my faculty peers.

My time teaching has been wonderful but I am also happy to bring it to a close. That has nothing to do with the teaching and the students – I love them both – but with the reality of a university institution. I was spoiled for two decades having no boss but myself and no one to report to or spend time with except wonderful like-minded people that I had brought into our business. I had also grown accustomed to a “culture of helpfulness” in our consulting world (a phrase used by Margaret Heffernan, whom I discovered listening to TED Radio Hour on NPR), which is, with one or two notable exceptions, glaringly absent in the academic side of the university environment.

As far as the teaching is concerned, I have learned much in four years. Docendo discimus – to teach is to learn. It was thrilling to actually know that I could earn income by acquiring new knowledge, integrating it with my experience in sport, and sharing it with students in a learning environment. As time has gone by I have become more confident as a teacher and today my classes have a few quirky (and popular) trademarks – no essays, no textbooks to buy, no Times Roman 12 point font permitted, no APA style required, no running headers, no double spacing, please write in the first person, and if you want to do your assignment in an alternative format such as an audio monologue, a video, an interview, a rap song, a cartoon sketch, a screenplay, a tattoo design or an in-person conversation with me, then I am open to discussion.

I will take away from my time at Brock a love of teaching and friendships that I have made with many wonderful young people, now embarking on their careers in the sport industry. (As I write this, I am awaiting a reference call from the VP of Marketing at the Winnipeg Jets because they are about to offer one of my students, just 22 years old, his dream job in corporate sales). I will not miss the rigidity of university officialdom. An outsider might believe that universities are hotbeds of innovation and creativity but in fact, the opposite is true. As an unconventional teacher I quickly learned to not seek permission for my methods, but to ask forgiveness if required. I will admit to being hurt to find that I am not listed in the University online directory or on Sport Management’s flashy new website, even though I have more contact with students than any other faculty member in the entire department. I have been surprised at the low priority teaching has relative to other concerns – perhaps four of our department’s 14 professors show up at any given convocation ceremony, sabbaticals are scheduled with no regard to the teaching needs of the department, and some of my faculty colleagues offer just a single hour a week of ‘office hours’ during which they are available to students. The rules governing university academics are exhaustive, but they appear to benefit administration and faculty, not students.

As a young person I recall hearing Henry Kissinger famously say that academic squabbles are so vicious precisely because there is so little at stake! But in truth, for me there is a lot at stake, namely the educational and professional development of tomorrow’s leaders in the sport industry.

I have had ample time to get over missing the taxis, planes, hotels, airports, restaurant meals, evening and weekend work, and revolving door of problem-solving entailed in being a consultant with the Sport Law & Strategy Group. It will take more time before I stop missing the teaching. I could keep doing it for a long time as I provide good value for money for Brock University. But I have my health and my energy, the financial means to live modestly, a grandchild on the way, and much exploring that I want to do in the great outdoors.

In signing off, I want to give a shout-out to these wonderful students who have made my time at Brock so satisfying over the last few years ... Kyle E, Meagan, Steve P, Carlos, Brett, Martha, Brandon, Kimberly, Jess, Colin, David, Liam, Erin, Nycolas, Matt M, Hannah, Josh, Darby, Sonya, Lindsay, Jordan, Eric H, Spencer, Bawe, Curtis, Michael S, Brent, Matt R, Erika, Nedad, Geordie, Raiven, Paul, Mitch T, Kirby, Greg, Jonathan, Helio, Steve K, Kevin, Tyler, Stephanie, Amanda, Travis, Scott, Jake, Michael D, Kyle B, Danny, Jamie, Victor, Edward, Samuel, Matthew, Elizabeth, Luke, Adham, Courtney, Maria, Kailyn, Narissa, Connor, Eric S, Mitch K, Lucas, Jeremy and Evan. This is a meaningless random list for most readers of this post, but some students will read this too and I want them to know how important they are to me.

So this is me, signing off …. Goodbye!

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