What the Indianapolis Colts Can Teach Us About Higher Education

This article by Karen Gross, the president of Southern Vermont College, takes us back to Week 15 of the NFL season. The Indianapolis Colts have a chance to have a perfect 16-0 season but instead decide to bench all of their starters. Despite their undefeated record and the possibility of making NFL history, the coaching staff thinks it is more important to rest their best players so that they will be ready for the playoffs and will not sustain any injuries. According to Gross, the Indianapolis players and fans do nothing to support the second and third-string players who took the field. The “understudies” are unprepared.

So how does this all related to education? Gross explains:

And, in higher education, we strive to support all our students, not just those with a 4.0 GPA. With help, many initially less successful students start to thrive. They complete their college education and move into the workplace or on to graduate or professional schools. In this process, our 4.00 students often serve as their tutors and mentors, providing their peers with a greater chance to succeed. It’s a model that recognizes that we owe it to each other to help lift those who need more support.


Those of us in higher ed can use what happened to the Colts as a reminder that outcomes are affected both by helping students learn to take risks, however hard that is, and by supporting our weaker students and encouraging their success. These very acts open the door for meaningful payoffs down the road. Playing it safe in higher ed leads to failure, not success.

Professors naturally gravitate to the best students. They are most like us. I have found that many professors tend to be liberal when it comes to helping (or at least writing about) the poor and oppressed in society, but when it comes to teaching they are elitists–gravitating toward the best and the brightest and the privileged. What are we doing to develop the B- student?