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Summer 2003
Field of Dreams
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Wooden — who retired after 27 years at UCLA as the winningest coach in NCAA history with a record 88 straight victories and 10 national basketball titles — taught that the merits of a champion flow from the headwaters of the soul. He would say to his players: “Discipline yourself and others won’t need to,” and encourage them to “be more concerned with your character than your reputation. Character is what you really are; reputation is what you are perceived to be.”

His winning formula boiled down to a simple axiom captured in his famous Pyramid of Success: Respect yourself. Respect education. Build integrity and high standards off the court first.

COLLEGE ATHLETICS seems to straddle two parallel universes. The first is the universe of conventional wisdom and expectation in which the most important question often is “How do you build a winning program?,” to which the conventional answer touts fancy facilities, sometimes-flexible academic standards and expensive coaching staffs.

Clearly this is not, and has never been, UCLA’s universe. Nor could UCLA compete on such terms. Academic standards are rigid, Pauley Pavilion is an historic facility in need of a facelift and the football team has never had a campus home stadium — and probably never will, given the school’s small footprint and its proximity to densely populated communities. UCLA’s coaching salaries have historically been below the national average for the big-money sports of football and basketball. (Ben Howland’s salary as new head basketball coach — a base of $900,000 a year and incentives that could push his income to over $1 million, paid from revenues generated by the athletic department — is the most lucrative ever offered by UCLA. Even so, it still falls well below that of many top collegiate coaches in the U.S., some of whom earn in the realm of $2 million annually.)

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