As a young boy, I loved watching the Indiana Hoosiers play basketball. Under Bob Knight's tutelage, you could always expect the cream and crimson to play tough man-to-man defense, run a nearly flawless motion office, take only high percentage shots, and minimize turnovers. You also knew that their student-athletes were going to class. They were going to graduate. They were going to toe the dramatically conspicuous line that the General drew for their academic, public, and private lives. Otherwise, they had no place at Indiana.
You can't beat the results, either. From 1971-2000, Knight's Hoosiers went 661-240 and won three National Championships.
Here's the thing, though. Even when they didn't win...they played the game the way it was meant to be played. Philosophically, they were as pure as a Steve Alford jump shot. Basketball fans, whether they loved Bob Knight or thought he was the devil incarnate, had no choice but to be drawn to the purest form of basketball since Dr. Naismith's peach baskets became iron rims.
How is the credit union game supposed to be played? If Raiffeisen, Desjardins, Filene, Bergengren, and Maxwell are our Naismith, Wooden, Newell, Smith, and Knight, how would they define a successful season? Is winning the focus? If so, what does "winning" mean? If not, what is the objective? Is the goal to fill the bleachers, the classroom, or the coffers? Is there ever justification to set aside credit union core principles for a specific end result?
I'd argue no.
I'm a cheerleader for the credit union movement because I think, with extremely few exceptions, we're playing the game the right way. I know that the purists among us -- the credit unions that are doing things the right way -- didn't get involved in the risky lending and investment practices that led many banks down the path to ruin. Subsequently, the vast majority of these credit unions are healthy, well capitalized, and continuing to provide the same, top-notch member service and dedication to constant improvement that they always have. Failure by any of these credit unions will only come as a result of uncontrollable environmental factors: loss of a primary SEG, natural disaster, massive staff reductions in partner SEGs, etc. They are playing the game the right way, but are simply losing.
That scenario, while sad, is much easier for me to digest than hearing about a select few credit unions, whose particular environmental factors suggest that the fundamental credit union model should thrive, reaching out their hands for TARP money. It's one thing to display blatant contempt for our founding philosophies. It's quite another to tarnish the good name of all credit unions because of your actions. The 99.9% of us who are doing things the right way deserve better. Your members deserve better. Our credit union founding fathers deserve better. Taxpayers deserve better.
Knight is the winningest coach in NCAA history because he preached discipline, respected the game's history, and held his program to the highest of standards. Thank God most credit unions do the same. I wish our trade associations would take note - and stop lobbying for legislation that would permanently scar the movement's image just to save a few Kelvin Sampsons. Or at a minimum, set up a public forum within which your member credit unions can openly discuss the pros and cons of such moves.