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Using crisis communications in college athletics

By Colleen O'Connell

How crisis communications is becoming more necessary in college athletics

35219301_sAllegations and subsequent scandals have rocked some big-name college athletics programs over the last several years. Given the 24/7 news cycle that currently operates, these instances show a shift toward the need for crisis communications for an industry whose traditional media coverage focuses on the outcome of a game.


Athletics is a unique industry that is always generating some sort of news. There are national cable networks dedicated to sports, local media members covering the hometown teams, as well as countless websites for certain fanbases. Social media even allows for fans to directly connect with their favorite teams. Constantly under a microscope, athletics is an industry that can have a crisis situation overshadow any positive news coverage.


Ohio State found itself engulfed in a serious controversy earlier this summer. What started out as a story about an assistant coach’s termination quickly turned into a crisis communication situation after head coach Urban Meyer made misleading comments during Big Ten media days. The school then issued conflicting statements as more information came to light, resulting in mixed messaging that received quick judgment from the media and the public.


In any crisis situation, you want your messaging to be clear from the beginning. Perhaps the most important rule is to be factual and speak the truth. Transparency goes a long way. Say what you know and be upfront with the fact that you are still gathering information. Be the authoritative figure; it will help define how the public perceives your initial messaging and how any future actions reflect the beliefs and values instilled in any program or organization.


Storylines in athletics do not necessarily go away overnight. After all, an athletics season is months-long. In Ohio State’s case, its crisis situation is a storyline that will continue to linger as the football season progresses. The next step for any program facing a crisis is moving forward in a positive direction through reputation management.


Axia Public Relations has resources to help you prepare for and navigate through crisis situations as they arrive. Check out our webinar on how to manage your business in a crisis today.

Crisis Management webinar

Clients love Colleen's knowledge and expertise in athletics. She has more than a decade of experience working in intercollegiate athletics at the NCAA Division I, Division II, and NAIA levels. Colleen graduated from Virginia Wesleyan College with a bachelor's degree in communications and earned her master's in sport management from Florida State University.


Featured image credit: 123rf.com 

Topics: crisis communications

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