NCAA Athletic Compliance Meeting for Incoming Student-Athletes

September 8, 2010
By C. L. Max Nikias

Good morning. I’m delighted to be here to discuss USC’s university-wide commitment to sportsmanship, embodied in the NCAA’s rules and regulations.

I believe the rules and regulations serve together as our friend, as our ally. They represent the rules that we and other schools have agreed to abide by. They represent the foundation of sportsmanship and the foundation of our own efforts to reach greatness.

I am proud that we have been able to assemble an outstanding Athletic Compliance office, led by Dave Roberts and his deputy, Ellen Ferris… and by Professor Clare Pastore, who is our new Faculty Athletic Representative.

And what more can I say about our own Pat Haden? Here’s why I am so proud that Pat was the first major hire that I announced publicly while I was President-Elect.

I believe passionately that a great university can be the place for the highest level of excellence in academics and athletics. And if anyone disagrees that you can have the best in both areas, I can just say: “Have you looked at our athletic director?”

Pat Haden is someone who has made an incredible impact on and off the playing field. He won with honor at USC – and continued to win with honor every day.

That is why he is so beloved by the Trojan Family, and by millions of people around the nation who have seen his honesty and dedication.

No one bleeds cardinal and gold like Pat Haden.

And with Pat, I’m delighted to personally welcome you to one of America’s greatest traditions: USC Trojan Athletics!

It’s a tradition that brings the best student-athletes from this country, and from around the world… and helps them to achieve greatness on the playing field, and in the classroom, and over the course of a long life.

You may have heard an expression around here: You’re a Bruin for four years, but you are a Trojan for life!

Is it true? Of course it is: Rest assured, this Trojan Family will be here for you for life.

And in return we ask that you represent us with honor and with dignity.

But as we talk about the Trojan tradition of greatness, I want to ask you: What does “greatness” mean to you?

How do you define it for yourself?

What does greatness look like in the people you admire? What would it look like, as it develops within you?

Is it something that can be taken away by people or circumstances? Is it something you can be robbed of?

You must always be answering this question throughout your life.

Here at USC, we will be exploring these questions together, in an exciting way, while the eyes of the nation are on the Trojans.

Do you know what it means to be a Trojan? I grew up as a kid reading about the various legends of the ancient city of Troy, in Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid. The Trojan empire represented a classical tradition of bravery and honor. Against any odds, in any circumstances. Even when they were outnumbered.

The legend of the Trojans is that no one worked harder than them, no one fought harder. And their will to greatness could even bend the will of the gods toward their favor. The Trojans always seized destiny.

Now here is a key: Whenever the Trojans thought they had reached their highest point, they were called by Destiny to renew their commitment and their determination and their character, so that they could reach a new height.

For USC, for us, this is a season of renewal of the Trojan tradition. It is an incredible time to be a Trojan!

Do you know that USC has had more Olympians than any other school?

Here at USC, we love the Olympic spirit. We love our successes on that great international stage.

Picture that magnificent torch atop the Peristyle end of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. We think of it as the Olympic torch, going back to the 1932 Olympics held here. It is that, but it is much more than that.

The Olympic flame signifies the flame of Prometheus. In Greek mythology, Prometheus was the only one brave enough to steal fire from the gods and bring it down from Mt. Olympus as a gift to humanity.

With this gift of fire, taken from Heaven itself, Prometheus brings light to humanity. He brings the blessings of civilization.

That is what the ancient people celebrated in the Olympic flame, and that is what is implied each time the Coliseum torch is lit at the beginning of the fourth quarter of each home football game.

The athletic quest was not divorced from the intellectual quest in that great ancient society, which gave birth to so much of modern civilization.

They believed that, for human beings to reach their potential, they had to achieve excellence in the mind and body and spirit.

Excellence in all things: Like no other university community in America, the USC Trojans have brought that approach here in our day.

So is it any surprise that USC has produced more Olympians than any other school?

And we do not want to settle for less.

And please know that we are extremely aware of the demands and pressures you have accepted.

It can be very difficult to live the full life of the mind at a great university. It is far more difficult to live the full life of the mind and the body here.

It is hard to be a successful student. It is much harder to be a successful student-athlete.

At a place such as USC, you must make sacrifices that many ordinary students do not make. Sacrifices that many athletes do not make.

I understand that. I deeply appreciate that.

And I know that this is for a reason: Because you are not ordinary people. Allow me to repeat this: You are not ordinary people.

You have been marked out for greatness. You are learning discipline that is the key to success and greatness. Discipline that can open up unlimited new opportunities in life for you, and for those you love.

And we will be here for you, to help you reach your full potential.

In this regard, your coaches are your teachers, just like the professors in the classroom. And all of them teach discipline and character to you.

Why? Because without discipline you don’t win on the playing field. You don’t win in life.

Because the great Greek philosopher Heraclitus observed, about 2,600 years ago, that “Character is destiny.” A man or woman’s character is what inevitably shapes the course of his or her life.

Through the centuries, this timeless truth has been reaffirmed by figures from Pericles of Athens to George Washington to Abraham Lincoln to Albert Einstein, and yes to Vince Lombardi.

Ask yourself: Do you truly believe the quality of your character is the key to your destiny? After all, society usually tells us that “nice guys finish last.”

But character is not about being “nice.” Character is about having earned the trust of your coaches and teammates when the game or the race is on the line. Character is the discipline that allows you to make wise choices—wise choices about attending classes and pursuing an education, wise choices about where you will go and where you will not go…. What you will do and what you will not do…. Who you will call a friend and who you will not.

And character is about always resisting the easy path to greatness, because, my fellow Trojans, there is no easy path to lasting greatness.

Yes, we speak of NCAA “compliance” today, but let us continue speaking of character and discipline, which understands compliance, but which rises above compliance. Compliance is a stumbling block for most people, but it is a stepping stone for those with high character.

To win without integrity is to leave footprints in the sand that can be washed away with the next wave. To win, with integrity, is to build in concrete and stone. What we achieve through character can never be stripped away from us.

That is true greatness. It results from simple, hard work…and from good choices.

I am proud and pleased that you have made some wonderful choices so far.

You did not choose to pursue a degree from an ordinary college. You chose to have the life-changing experience of an extraordinary university with excellent academic programs.

You did not choose to live in an average city. You chose to spend your college years in one of the most exciting cities in the world.

You came here, to the heart of Los Angeles, the most exciting city in the world!

You’ll find the world’s best arts and humanities and communications programs here, which help enhance a young person’s imagination and wisdom. Take advantage of this.

You’ll find more international students here than at any other university, and they can help you learn how to live life, make connections, and build careers in a truly global century. Take advantage of this.

You will find students from more backgrounds and interests than anywhere else, as can be seen from over 600 student groups on campus. Take advantage of this, so you can become the kind of a person that your family and your community can be proud of. Forever.

No university in America combines USC’s undisputed commitment to championship athletics with excellent academics. No one else offers USC’s combination of quality and location, and worldwide alumni network and alumni life, and intellectual and social and cultural variety.

Forget whoever claims to be the gold standard for academics and athletics combined: USC will be the platinum standard.

Just as we will not compromise our standards, we want those with good taste and judgment. Only that person is meant to be a Trojan.

You are that person. And your coaches, as your teachers, will help you reach full greatness. So will the rest of us. We want you to represent us well every day, and on every play, and in every race, and after your sporting career has ended.

Allow me to conclude with one final thought. I consider education to be the greatest equalizer for a society. Education lifts up the weak from despair, and it teaches humility to the mighty.

Frederick Douglass was born in 1818 into slavery, and he came to understand that those who wanted to keep him enslaved believed he must remain uneducated.

Through pain and suffering and the risk of death, he gained an education, and he helped liberate millions of others by championing education. He was a firm believer in the equality of all people, whether black, female, Native American, or immigrants.

He was fond of saying, “I would unite with anybody to do right, and with nobody to do wrong.”

Similarly, athletics has represented the gateway to opportunity for so many young Americans, from our own neighborhoods and from communities across the country.

The athletic experience symbolizes the power of possibility, the ability to triumph over adversity.

That is why it has never been divorced from our colleges. No other nation in the world has the collegiate athletic spirit we do here in America.

As Americans we love our sporting life. And we also love our colleges. We call them, alma mater. Do you know what alma mater means? It is a Latin expression that literally means “the mother who feeds us all.”

The triumphs of athletics and the triumphs of education are the same, at their core. Body and mind, working together. That is the Trojan ideal. You, the USC student-athletes embody the Trojan ideal.

Remember: Most of your life will come after your playing days. The crowds will grow silent as you grow older.

Your life will then consist of what you have built here: good relationships, good education, and above all a good reputation.

So build wisely and well during your time here.

Make it something that can last through many decades. Give your Trojan Family the best, and we will give you our best, for the rest of your life.

So, welcome, thank you, and Fight On, always!