February 17, 2012

Go Frogs!

Football in the State of Texas is a religion all its own. My college denomination is TCU, that’s right the Horned Frogs.

In recent years, Frog Football has helped to reconcile the ghosts of past coaches. Today a different issue haunts the campus as a police sting nabbed scores of students including four football starters who sold drugs to undercover officers.

Gone are the moral victories of being David versus Goliath. As Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Randy Galloway wrote “But gone forever is that one element that always had separated TCU from most of the rest. The clean image has been stained. No matter what else, it’s a stain that remains.”

While this is a set back, it is also an opportunity.

TCU did well in establishing a culture of transparency and consistency of message.  Calling a news conference within hours of the arrests; the communications team posted a letter from the University’s leadership and openly discussed the issue on social and new media throughout the day.

But the heavy lifting will continue at a marathon pace. These are the critical weeks for all universities as high school seniors are making decisions about their post-graduation schooling. While nearly every university has some kind of drug problem, getting national negative attention during decision week is not necessarily in the playbook.

TCU needs to continue its path of transparency and consistency of message.

The first 24-48 hours of crisis communications management focuses on replacing speculation, accusation and clues with facts. TCU has done this through effective statements and even releasing the number of football players that failed drug tests.

Just as TCU set a new standard in football, the university leadership can now set a similar standard in the processes it will use to win back the trust of students, faculty, parents, alumni, opinion leaders and fans. The focus of the discussion shouldn’t dwell on the arrests and failures; there has been enough self flagellation. The leadership needs to shape the discussion towards solutions and processes to remain focused on providing a successful college experience.

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