Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Strange Sort of Moral Character

... an example for what college athletics should be--turning out men of high moral character. ~ BSC Betrayed

Back in May, I wrote in praise of the move by Birmingham Southern to move to Division III athletics. "BSC Betrayed" took serious exception to my opinion in a flame which included the quote above. Well, let's see how those builders of high moral character are doing these days.

Les Miles strings Michigan and LSU along while he tries to get his BCS Championship game bonus and still jump to Michigan. Michigan gets tired of that game and signs Rich Rodriguez, without bothering to get permission from Coach Rodriguez' employer, West Virginia, to even be talking to him.

Coach Rodriguez, who played footsie with Alabama last year to sweeten his contract at W. Va. not only jumps his contract but threatens to sue the university to avoid the buy-out clause that the coach agreed to a year ago. He claims the university has not kept unspecified promises that were made (apparently the gold-plated toilet in the coach's john didn't come through).

Bobby Petrino, who signed a ten-year contract with Louisville only to jump to the Atlanta Falcons and sign a five-year contract, skips out before the end of his first season to sign another five-year contract with Arkansas. He arrives saying all sorts of wonderful things about being in Arkansas. It's safe, I think, to predict that he will be named as a primary candidate for the first big-paying coaching opening that comes along next year.

Jimbo Fisher gets named official coach-in-waiting at Florida State. Guess who's being hyped as a prime candidate for the West Virginia gig?

That's just the college ranks. In the NFL, the current sport seems to be to spit in Arthur Blank's eye. Mr. Blank owns the Atlanta Falcons. After getting figuratively kicked in the head by Michael Vick, he's abandoned by Bobby Petrino. Five of the men of high character who play for the Falcons pulled up their jerseys to reveal t-shirts saying, "Free Mike Vick" (or something close to that). As if that's not enough, Bill Cowher turns him down for the coaching job (despite the fact that I stated quite clearly what a good fit that would be).

Just to add insult to injury, another man-of-character-from-being-in-football, Bill Parcels sort of agrees to be VP of football operations, except that he has no intention of going to Atlanta. It seems that he's merely using Arthur Blank as leverage with the Miami Dophins. Frankly, Parcells and Wayne Huizenga deseve each other.

Speaking of Florida State, they've got 25 or so players suspended for cheating on exams, with the assistance of the tutors assigned to supposedly help them actually learn something. They may well end up forfeiting all or most of their seven wins this season. The only silver lining to this cloud is that a real man-of-character, Joe Paterno, would once again be the winningest coach of all time.

I love watching college football, but it's getting to be harder to enjoy all the time. Coaches jump ship at the drop of a hat; coaches get fired for not having perfect records every year. Players get arrested in bunches at times of day when they should be tucked in bed, if coaches still actually enforced curfews. The "rules" of college football allow players to be on teams so long that they would qualify for a pension if they were pros. We're treated to such terms as "sixth-year senior" (Auburn's Brandon Cox is one) and to the knowledge that some players are taking one course to maintain eligibility (like Matt Leinart taking ballroom dancing or another star who took a course in billiards).

This is character building?

It's not just the coaches, players, boosters, and athletic directors who are at fault here. The presidents of these supposed educational institutions need some character-building, too. The president of Michigan should take a few of the ethics courses offered at his school to remind him that stealing coaches is not an honorable activity (Michigan has now swiped both the basketball and football coaches from West Virginia). The president at Florida State has obviously let the athletic program get completely out of hand. And the president of Appalachian State should stop cavorting around during playoff games with his team's trophies from previous wins. Perhaps if he would behave himself, his student body and fans wouldn't tear down goal posts (a dangerous and expensive thing to do) as if the team had never won a game before.

Enough already. It's time for some real rules. First of all, players get four years of eligibility. Period. If a player gets hurt, they still get their athletic scholarship as long as they stay academically eligible, allowing them to get their degree--which is why they were supposed to be there in the first place.

Second, as I've said before, coaches get one-year contracts with a one-year mutually renewable option. But, let's go one step further. Just as their are rules governing when and how many times a player can be recruited, the NCAA needs to put in rules about contacting coaches or their representatives during the season. Basically, no contact would be allowed from the beginning of fall practice to the last game of the season (including bowls and championships). A school that violates the rule get puts on the same kinds of probation that they get for recruiting violations. A coach who initiates the contact could also be suspended. And these rules would include boosters and agents.

Oh, and the college presidents should concern themselves with the educational aspects of the institutions they run. They hire athletic directors to run the athletic programs. Set a budget for the athletic department and let the AD manage it. The presidents have more important things to worry about.

Like building character, not tearing it down.

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