The Tail Wags The Dog

In far too many circumstances, we see examples of the tail (big time athletics particularly football) wagging the dog (a university nominally in place to provide educational opportunities). The late Dr. Myles Brand for whom I had little regard as the head of the NCAA said that it was time for the university presidents to reclaim authority at their institutions from athletic directors and coaches. Let me just say that has not happened yet.

Yesterday, reported that the University of Tennessee has cancelled classes and will close most of the campus offices on Thursday September 1 because that is the date of the opening football game of the season against Appalachian State. According to an e-mail from the school, they will add a day to the end of the semester to “keep the number of days in the academic calendar consistent”. They did not say “consistent” with whatever but I will assume they mean consistent with however long a semester has been at Tennessee recently.

Of course, the reason given is that there will be traffic congestion and parking issues on campus for that weeknight game and canceling classes will somehow make it easier for people to get in and out of the parking lot at the football venue in mid-day to begin their “preparations” for the game. For the record, I found 11 college football games that will be played on Thursday 1 September all of which will start between 7:00PM and 9:00 PM and none of the home teams decided they needed to cancel classes to ease traffic congestion on that day. Here is a link to that list. Oh by the way, there are lots of games scheduled on weeknights on plenty of campuses around the country this year. What is the OVER/UNDER on the number of schools that will cancel classes and close the campus offices on the day of the game for traffic reasons?

In the wake of the Baylor football mess – and that story is not yet concluded as there are now reports that some high rollers at Baylor want Coach Art Briles back next year after serving only a 1-year suspension – many folks have called for reforms to athletics and athletic departments. Only a fool would try to argue that the status quo is the best that it could possibly be. Some folks have called for a “College Football Czar” or College Football Commissioner” to set things right. Really? Let me toss out the names Roger Goodell, Bud Selig, David Stern etc. Are you trying to tell me that those men have handled disciplinary matters and scandalous behaviors in a model fashion? The existence of a “Commish” is not a panacea.

What we really need is an outbreak of common sense and common decency. In 2016, that is about as likely as finding a unicorn but that is what we need. Let me give you one example:

    The SEC – and the PAC-12 – to their credit have rules in place that forbid an athlete to transfer into any school there if that athlete left behind “serious misconduct issues” at his/her previous school. That is a positive step; there is no doubt about that. I will assume that as time progresses, there will be constantly improving levels of reporting of such incidents and more vigilant investigations by member schools to uncover any such incidents of “serious misconduct.” Kudos to the SEC and the PAC-12 here. Except …

      Mississippi State – an SEC school – just admitted as a freshman a top-shelf football recruit who punched a woman sometime before he enrolled. That was OK with the school and with the conference because he was not a transfer student and therefore was not covered under the existing rule. Puhleeez …

That is what I like to call a distinction without a difference. A football athlete who punches a woman has been involved in something akin to “serious misconduct”. If that “serious misconduct” happens at another college, then the perp cannot transfer to Mississippi State; if that “serious misconduct” happens at Mississippi State, the school will part company with him; however, if it happens while the perp is a “free agent” then – – – it’s all good.

If we had an outbreak of common sense and/or common decency, however…

One step in the right direction would be to institute the following restriction at every college in the country that participates in intercollegiate athletics at any level:

    No assistant coach, coach, factotum in the athletic department or athletic director should ever be part of the process that investigates allegations of player misconduct nor should any of those folks be any part of the decision process to mete out discipline to an athlete when an investigation turns up evidence of misconduct. Period. No exceptions.

If any of those folks are involved in any of these processes, you have built in a conflict of interest situation that cannot help the process come to a fair, reasonable and logical conclusion. If the NCAA had the ability to do anything akin to organizational introspection, they might come to realize that they have a principle that underlies many of the eligibility rules in their tome of a rule book. That principle is:

    No athlete should have access to benefits or privileges that are not available to all students at a member institution. This is a foundation element to the ideal of the “student-athlete”.

Well, that ought to mean that an athlete ought not have access to the benefit of an athletic director or a coach of his being part of any disciplinary processes that involve him when that benefit would not be available to any random student on campus.

The late Dr. Myles Brand was a university president before he took over as NCAA major domo. He wanted the university presidents to assert their authorities over coaches and athletic directors. It did not happen then and it surely is not happening now. In 2016, university presidents agree that it is OK to cancel classes because football season is about to begin. The tail continues to wag the dog.

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

6 thoughts on “The Tail Wags The Dog”

  1. I’d have to quibble with the “no participation” idea, since these individuals can be witnesses, co-defendants, subpoena targets, etc., preferably under oath, but what they cannot do is make any decision with respect to the progress and outcome of the investigation(s). The idea as presented here could (and doubtless will) be construed as a wall to prevent investigations at all.

    I do agree about the football czar comment, just like any other monarchy its effectiveness is very dependent upon who holds the office and how they are selected.

    Since your examples are all owner-selected with clear marching instructions issued by those same owners, can anyone really explain why the SEC, et al., would not throw their weight around to get what they want? Look at the nonsense with Harbaugh and the “satellite camps”. If the market hand were truly operative, why not allow Michigan (or anyone else, say Akron) to run camps wherever they please? It’s supposed to be about the kids’ choices, not the creation of collusive “spheres of influence” that reek of antitrust violations by restricting access to options.

    1. rugger9:

      My suggestion of “no participation” had only to do with being part of the investigative team. If in fact a coach or the AD needed to be interviewed – or deposed – as part of the investigation, that sort of “participation” would be mandated as opposed to restricted in any way.

  2. My simplistic view is that as long as college sports (particularly football) bring in millions of dollars to universities, good luck with common sense.

    1. Price kagey:

      The resolution of these issues resides somewhere between “Unlikely” and “Fantasyland”. The big money that comes in via the “football funnel” assures that zip code for any resolutions…

  3. Every year, analyses are done to determine the effect of football on the finances, and just as routinely, it is found that the vast majority of colleges lose money from the football program, which is why more than a few schools dropped the game. Between the investments needed in infrastructure and safety, combined with the Title IX hit (behind the moves to get cheerleading defined as a sport) on scholarship counts, there has to be a large amount of pride to justify the expense of putting the school “on the map”.

    1. rugger9:

      I would have more confidence in the profit/loss statements of various college athletic departments if the accounting was done by Price Waterhouse Coopers and/or the IRS Audit Division. There is at least a smidgen of motivation on the part of schools to pretend that football is a loss leader and not a cash cow.

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