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Gene D. Block Headshot

Our Obligation to Student Athletes

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As California's largest university, we've renovated many buildings here at UCLA, but one project that's about to be completed has a special meaning to everyone who's ever passed through here, and even to many who have never set foot in Westwood.

Tonight and tomorrow, after more than two years of work, the Bruins men's and women's basketball teams will play their first games in a fully renovated Pauley Pavilion, reopening with magnificent new facilities worthy of the place that coach John Wooden established as a temple to college athletics.

Just recently we dedicated a statue to Coach outside -- just down Bruin Walk from the Wooden Center, our extensive fitness facility for all students, faculty and staff. And while naming buildings and erecting statues are fitting ways to honor those who gave us so much, we owe them something more. We owe it to Coach Wooden to remember what he taught all of us, both on and off the court, and to pass those teachings along to our students and each other.

Of course, college athletics has changed by leaps and bounds since Pauley first opened in 1965 -- an era before million-dollar contracts, endorsement deals and sports agents made athletics the enormous business enterprise it has become. Bruins who graduated to the NBA at that time could expect to earn only a tiny fraction of the salaries professional players command today.

But despite all those changes, it says something that no one has matched coach Wooden's record 10 NCAA national championships in 12 years. He truly set a standard for college athletics in any era, at UCLA and beyond.

Last month, I joined the NCAA Division I Board of Directors. My goal there is to help shape NCAA
regulations in a way that makes sense for our student athletes. Simplifying the rules for how we recruit student athletes, for example, would allow the NCAA more time to focus on important infractions. We need policies that are fair, clear and enforceable. We must ensure that student athletes are treated fairly. We need to respect (and protect) their role as students every bit as much as, if not more than, we respect their role as athletes.

In many ways, the two are interconnected. The skill and initiative they pick up on the field, in training and from their coaches can discipline their approach to academics and serve them well later in life -- as many of coach Wooden's players can attest. Many employers, in fact, hire college athletes for their teamwork and motivation.

"Winning takes talent," coach Wooden would say. "To repeat takes character."

His Pyramid of Success is constructed of the values that apply to something greater than a game -- confidence, self-control initiative and loyalty. It's a recipe we've continued in our athletics program, which still holds the record for NCAA team championships with 108. At the same time, we have more student-athletes on the honor roll than ever before.

You can't manage to be a top-tier university and simultaneously hold a record like that without a culture that cherishes character alongside success. Fostering that value in our student-athletes is our obligation to them as a university.

I'm very hopeful for the future of our Bruin athletics program. Reopening Pauley, with a statue of Coach greeting students and visitors outside, is a great start to the year. In the coming months, UCLA and Pauley will host the 2013 NCAA Championships in women's gymnastics and men's volleyball, along with all the home games for our men's and women's basketball teams.

I'm certain Coach will be watching over it all and inspiring us to carry on the great work he started.

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