Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Old News: Money Rules College Football and the Big-Time Universities Are Hypocrites

There are two recent developments that telegraph a big loud message: Big-time college football is a joke, as are the universities affiliated with it.

First let’s examine the recent firing of Karl Dorrell as head coach at UCLA. Interesting facts: Dorrell had a 35-27 record in five years, including a 10-2 record in 2005, a huge (and unlikely) upset of rival USC in 2006, and a 24-18 overall conference record. The current squad finished at 6-6 in 2007 and is headed to the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 22 against 10-2 Brigham Young.

Dorrell, reputed to be a very decent human being, helped push the program in positive directions regarding academics and citizenship and behavioral issues where the student-athletes were concerned. He managed to post an above. 500 record in doing so, and took his team to bowl games each season of his tenure.

Yet athletic director Dan Guerrero fired Dorrell, citing the coach’s inability to "build this program into a consistent winner, a program that would be in the national discussion on a regular basis."

Since when isn’t UCLA in the national discussion? It’s one of the best-known schools in the nation. It plays in the Pac 10. It plays a major-league schedule, and it wins the majority of its games. So why, I ask, does Guerrero feel he isn’t doing his job unless he fires Dorrell? What pressures are on Guerrero, and where does that pressure come from? If it comes from above, then exactly who are we talking about? University officials? The college president? The board of regents?

UCLA is just a case in point. This stuff goes on all the time. Yet once again the question must be asked: Is the tail wagging the dog in American colleges? And just where is the integrity of college academic officials when a man of high character like Dorrell, who ran a competitive program, is fired because...well, presumably because he didn’t get his team in to the BCS and hence earn for the university a lot more money than it’s going to get from the Las Vegas Bowl.

It’s a good thing that university professors aren’t presented with the same challenge. (“Sorry, Dr. von Braun, you didn’t win the Nobel Prize for physics this year, so we’re going to have to let you go...”)

If guys like Guerrero aren’t receiving pressure from their academic overlords—though we’re not counting out that possibility—then where does his mind-set come from? Two possibilities: His own warped sense of “success“ and the comparative pressure that comes from his own career goals; or the ubiquitous university boosters, a notorious breed of clown that derives an even more warped sense of self-esteem from seeing the university football team win games and will gladly break NCAA rules if it can get away with it in order to assure that the high-end athletes attend their alma mater.

Ty Willingham went through this crap at Notre Dame a few years back, and don’t think that current Irish coach Charlie Weis isn’t feeling the pressure of his own recent 3-9 season, no matter how white he is or how much success he had in the pros as an offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots.

Sure, a college athletic director has every right to want a competitive football program. Karl Dorrell provided that, and he got fired. As in many things, the answers usually lie in following the trail of money. It’s remarkable how silent UCLA’s academic voices are when a man like Dorrell gets the ax. One can only conclude that the college president is in cahoots with Guerrero—in other words, a silent but complicit partner in putting the almighty dollar first, while talking out of the other side of his mouth about integrity, learning and the high character of higher education.

UCLA’s academic and administrative hierarchy should be ashamed for looking the other way, for allowing a good man to get away, one who was competent and had the integrity we normally have a right to expect of college officials.

Interesting sidebar: Under former president Gordon Gee, Vanderbilt University managed to maintain its academic standards and sense of personal character and still field a competitive (if always underachieving) SEC football program. Gee recently became the president of Ohio State, where boosters will kill their mothers in order to win football games. One wonders what he’d have to say about recent events at UCLA. Especially since, while at Vandy, Gee administered and enforced a tightening of university control over the athletic program, wherein decisionmaking and policies came down from on high and not from within a system of independently autocratic athletic director-cum-coaches. Let’s see him try that one on Jim Tressel. It’d sure be fun to watch.

Issue #2 is the BCS. There are so many inequities in this bogus system of determining a national football champion that one can only pine for the days of the AP and UPI polls, where sportswriters and coaches alone determined the final rankings. In that old-school system, there were occasions when two national champions might actually have been crowned. Still, I’d prefer that kind of debate rather than what we’ve got now, which is another system of have/have-not power-centric crap and illogical and/or manipulated bowl matchups designed only to feed the money monster that is the NCAA.

In the old days, when a #1- and #2- ranked team lost, they moved down the polls, while #3 and #4 moved up. And so, when #1 Missouri and #2 West Virginia lost last weekend, #3 Ohio State moved up to #1, and #4 Georgia...moved down to #5? I don’t get it.

Georgia—with a record of 10-2—got to #4 by getting on a hot streak and moving logically up in the rankings. They were idle last weekend, as was Ohio State, and should’ve just moved up along with the Buckeyes. Instead, with the aid of BCS computer-generated numbers, LSU, a team that has also lost two games—one to a 7-5 Kentucky! Bad!—vaulted from #7 to #2.

In other words, in the face of all kinds of hype from scribes and talking heads about LSU’s greatness (uh, two losses, folks, not great), and the stupid computer, Georgia got screwed. So did Mizzou, which defeated Kansas just two weeks ago, but has to sit by and watch the Jayhawks get invited to a prestigious BCS bowl game.

Meanwhile Georgia gets to play Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl, which maybe might be the real national championship, since Hawaii is 12-0 (the only undefeated ranked team, by the way) and comes from the WAC, the conference that last year produced a Boise State team that defeated Oklahoma in last year’s incredibly exciting Fiesta Bowl.

Let me try to understand this: Hawaii is a Division I-A school. They are undefeated. They have one of the highest-powered offenses in the history of college football. So when do they, and teams like them, get a chance in a national championship game? The answer? Never, so long as the entire deal is run by schools like Ohio State, Oklahoma, LSU and USC, who do everything in their power to affirm the myth that their programs are the only truly legitimate power programs out there. You could probably program a computer to believe that as well.

Let’s see, LSU loses two games. Ohio State plays a wimpy Big Ten schedule, loses at home to an Illinois team with three losses (including one to Mizzou) and, by the way, will have been idle for 50 days come the national championship game on Jan. 7. Yet these are the two teams that have wangled their way into the big dance.

It’s nonsense. Actually, probably the best two teams out there right now are USC and Oklahoma, and if it were the “old days,” when discerning observers got to cast their votes, this might be the matchup we’d get. Instead, the BCS “system” and BS hold sway.

Now, if you want to pit undefeated Hawaii against spurious #1 Ohio State, that’s a game I’d like to see. As always, the Buckeyes are overrated, and because of the warped system, we’ll never get a chance to know how good these so-called lesser programs have become. (And especially after last year’s Fiesta Bowl, the big programs really don’t want to know.)

The fact is, you don’t have to be USC or Oklahoma anymore to get stud athletes to come to your school. You can be tiny little Troy State and produce a manhandling defensive behemoth like DeMarcus Ware, now of the Dallas Cowboys. The success of smaller schools, which often require even less on the academic side of things than the noted football factories, poses a definite threat to the big boys. Too bad they don’t have the big balls to take on the little guys.

This crazy college season all started when Appalachian State beat Michigan in Ann Arbor. But guess what, folks? That wasn’t as big an upset as we first thought. And it’s time for the BCS to re-program the computer.

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