When the Core Cracks

How’s your team doing…Really?

In the world of Collegiate football, we saw an interesting lesson on team yesterday.  It goes to the notion of “Core Cracking” first put forth by longtime NBA coach Pat Riley years ago…Namely that when the core of your team cracks, you are in trouble.

The Story:

The defending national champion and erstwhile Big 10 juggernaut Ohio State Buckeyes endured their first regular season conference defeat in years yesterday.  The Buckeyes fell to the Michigan State Spartans 17 – 14 on a last minute field goal.  Close game, worthy opponent (well, worthy to all but the most insufferable Buckeyes), tough loss, great team.  Not much to argue there.

However, after the game, the team’s core cracked.  Elite Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliot attacked his coaches’ play calling acumen in the press and announced his intention to leave the school for the professional ranks.

“Honestly, this is my last game in the Shoe, I mean, there’s no chance of me coming back next year.”


“I deserve more than [12] carries. I really do. I can’t speak for the playcaller. I don’t know what was going on.”

That was followed quickly by the announcement (on Twitter, of all places) of last year’s hero quarterback, Cardale Jones, that he would not return to Ohio State.


This has resulted in some amusing posts and analysis, like this doozy from Lost Lettermen:

But, there’s more to this story.

A quick analysis

I’m not one to elevate 18 – 22 year old young men in entertainment industries to hero status.  Full stop.  That’s why you rarely see me leverage college sports in discussing leadership and strategy.  Young people are…young.  It’s clear that Elliot and Jones were both very disappointed in a tough loss; and they put their disappointment on display in some very public ways.


They also displayed a very important leading indicator of a team core that has cracked.  They brought things out of the locker room that would have best been handled inside it.

They also betrayed a more selfish focus in a very public forum than one would necessarily expect from team sport athletes and entertainers.  They showed, in moments of honesty, that it was time to move on.

To be clear, that’s fully okay.  It’s also not a team mentality.

Applications for us all

Any one of us is at any point a team member or leader. That applies to family and it applies to work.  We lead or are part of teams.

But a team isn’t just a group of people doing their jobs.  It’s a group of people doing a job.  Note the difference.

When you cultivate a group of people who focus on doing their jobs, and who focus on the paycheck that job gets them, you have only cultivated a means to an outcome.  A team, with all its implications of loyalty, leverage, and performance, is far, far more than that.

The Ohio State University has had an outstanding football program for a long time, and is really more the object of this post and not the subject.  The subject is team.  If you have a team, it has a core.  If that core cracks, you no longer have a team.

When your most senior leaders repeatedly reference their own self interests, their own careers, and their own intentions more often than those of the overall organization…Well…

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