College football is facing an identity crisis

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If NCAA President Mark Emmert had to give a State of the Union address similar to United States President Barack Obama, I’m not sure Emmert would know what to say. There would probably a lot of awkward pauses, some throat-clearing and a few hesitant laughs as he gazed at the hundreds of blank stares comprised of university presidents, chancellors and athletic directors looking back at him.

Emmert would not be in an enviable position because, as it stands today, it’s hard to define exactly where the state of college football resides. The same goes for most revenue producing college athletics.

College football has an identity crisis. If it was an 18-year-old college freshman, its major would be “undeclared”. The truth is that the sport has no earthly clue what to call itself.

Is it still considered an amateur sport? Every single player across all university-sponsored sports is given the title “student-athlete”. The mantra of athletic scholarships has always stated that the sport is the means to receiving a college degree.

But today’s college game hardly lends itself to that commandment.

With each passing year, universities in BCS conferences get richer and more powerful. The Pac-12’s new, reported $2.7 billion television rights agreement will ensure that every member equally gets somewhere in the ballpark of $20 million in revenue annually over the next 12 years. Big Ten schools have been pulling in similar numbers from the revenue-rich Big Ten Network. The sport is a hefty business.

And the words “amateur” and “business” are rarely uttered in the same sentence.

College football knows what it wants to be. It wants to be the NFL, where there is an entertainment price tag placed on everything fan-related. From television coverage to high-scoring spread offenses and everything in between, the goal of collegiate football bigwigs is to keep the fans happy and keep them coming back. But, for whatever reason, college football won’t admit they want to be just like its big brother.

Even though they’ve already started acting like him.

Paying Players: Legitimate vs. Entitlement

This was a stark indicator that college football wanted to evolve and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, of all people, got the conversation rolling. Should conferences that have the means to pay their players beyond what their athletic scholarship dishes out do so? Delany admitted that the proposal was not about creating a level playing field, but rather looking out for the best interest of the student-athlete in his conference.

Ironically, Delany argued that paying players more — a very non-amateur move — would help cover the total cost of being a college student – a very amateur ideal.

There are issues, to be sure. If universities begin paying athletes in revenue-producing sports such as football and men’s basketball, they will have to pay every student-athlete who participates in a university-sponsored sport. After all, and by Delany’s own logic, the purpose is to help with the total cost of college and the girls who play women’s tennis are no less a college student than the star player of the football team.

In some instances, they may be more so.

But where does the line between legitimate needs and entitlement get drawn?

When a football player signs a National Letter of Intent, they agree to forfeit a normal college experience and dedicate an astronomical amount of time to playing the game and going to school (or, just playing the game). Getting a job on the side, while not impossible, is practically unheard of. Many would argue that playing football is the athlete’s job. It certainly brings millions of dollars directly for the betterment of the university.

If a player wants a portion of that revenue, does that really make him an entitled person? I believe that’s a different question than asking “are there entitled football players?” to which the answer is unequivocally “yes”.

College football has already made several moves to de-amateurize the sport. While paying players extra money presents larger concerns, refusing to do so embraces an outdated philosophy in a new-age industry ruled by bottom line agendas.

(Im)proper benefits

Just about everything seems to be identified an impermissible benefit, and frankly, it’s getting old. That’s not to say the events at places like USC are acceptable  — they’re not — but punishing a kid for selling memorabilia that’s rightfully his is downright asinine.

The incidents involving Ohio State players receiving impermissible benefits have taken more twists and turns over the past year than all of M. Night Shyamalan’s movies put together. For Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, it’s been especially turbulent. If rumors that Pryor banked upward of $40,000 for signing autographs turn out to be true, the NCAA rulebook might spontaneously combust. Pryor, as a result, appears to be getting the hell out of Dodge and moving on from Columbus.

And, no, we still haven’t forgotten about former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. The NCAA’s investigation of Newton and his father, Cecil, was based around finding this unattainable “money trail” after Newton’s father reportedly admitted he solicited money from schools for his son’s talents. That solicitation alone would be a violation of NCAA Bylaws, but somehow, Cam’s eligibility remained intact because he was “unaware” that this whole deal was going on.

Yes, there are rules and they must be abided by. And that’s the problem. In no way am I condoning the allegations against Pryor or Newton, but the “do as I say, not as I do” attitude of college football is nauseating. The sport continues to make business decisions on a day-to-day basis, yet refuses to accept the idea that their players could do the same.

Memorabilia sales, alcohol sales and rising ticket prices — they’re all used to put a little more dough in the back pocket of athletic departments and schools like Texas, Penn State and Alabama do it better than anybody.

There are lots of financial benefits to college football. Who gets a portion of that pie is a selective process. I’m not sure paying players would stop players from receiving impermissible benefits, but removing the amateur title from them would.

This is the End

As a famous episode of “Seinfeld” once accused, “You just double-dipped your chip!”

College football double dips in amateurism and professionalism. More than it should. It acts like the NFL, but refuses to admit it. Like an adult, it does its best to get the most lucrative business deal available. Yet, like a child, it clamps on to the leg of amateurism, hoping that if they close their eyes and pretend real hard, the truth that sport is changing will go away.

Strangely enough, it’s the players who are affected the most from that immaturity.

There is no more “going to”. College football has changed, for better or for worse. If nothing else, the sport can’t go in reverse — it can’t get “more” amateur-ish. And when things change, those affected must evolve. For the sport, that may include paying players, or allowing them to make their own source of income.

But college football is dragging its feet. Why? I don’t know; the change has already come, and with every NCAA investigation or notice of allegations, the sport further self-inflicts wounds that prevent it from being what it really wants to be.

And you don’t have to know what you are to know what you want to be.

Wisconsin fires Chryst, names DC Leonhard interim coach

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Wisconsin fired head coach Paul Chryst on Sunday after a 2-3 start to his eighth season leading the school where he played, in the city where he grew up.

The surprising move comes a day after Wisconsin lost at home 34-10 to Illinois and former Badgers coach Bret Bielema.

Chryst is 67-26 since taking over as coach of the Badgers in 2015 after being hired away from Pittsburgh.

But the program has been backsliding. Chryst had double-digit win seasons in four of his first five years at Wisconsin and had gone 15-10 since.

Chryst, the 56-year-old Madison native, has four years left on his contract. He was set to make $5.25 million this season.

Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, another former Badgers player, was named interim coach. The 39-year-old former NFL defensive back has been part of Chryst’s staff for seven seasons and is considered one of the top assistant coaches in the country.

The in-season coaching move was the fifth already this season, and second of the day. Earlier Sunday, Colorado dismissed Karl Dorrell.

But none of the changes have been as unexpected as Wisconsin’s.

The program has been built on stability for more than three decades since Barry Alvarez turned it around in the 1990s.

Chryst, who played quarterback for the Badgers in the late 1980s, was an assistant and offensive coordinator under Alvarez and Bielema.

The Badgers’ offense, built on a powerful running game and efficient passing, has often looked stale over the last three years and struggled against better competition. Wisconsin managed only 2 yards rushing against Illinois, the program’s lowest total since 2015.

After losing to Illinois at Camp Randall Stadium for the first time in 20 years, Chryst said he was undeterred and looked forward to getting a chance to fix the problems.

“Do you want to be better? Absolutely. And you just want to focus on the things that you can do to help move the needle, help our players and assistant coaches,” he said. “So I didn’t think it’s going to be easy, and yet I believe in this group and I like this group. I appreciate where they’re coming from and how they go about it. I look forward to each day I get to be with them.

“We get to be together again, and we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and continue to go to work.”

Dorrell out as coach at Colorado after 0-5 start to season

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BOULDER, Colo. – Colorado fired football coach Karl Dorrell after an 0-5 start in which the Buffaloes have been blown out by more than 20 points in each game.

The school announced the decision Sunday, a day after a 43-20 loss at Arizona. It’s only the fourth 0-5 start in the history of Colorado (1980, 1984 and 2006).

Dorrell, 58, was brought in as a replacement when Mel Tucker bolted for Michigan State out of the blue in February 2020.

The hiring of Dorrell was met with surprise because he had been out of college coaching for a while. He was an assistant with the Miami Dolphins at the time, but had been UCLA’s head coach from 2003-07.

Dorrell, who had built a house in the Boulder area, agreed to a five-year, $18 million contract that ran through 2024. The buyout is approximately $8.7 million, but could be reduced pending his next job. His termination was first reported by ESPN.

Colorado waited to announce the news until after Dorrell had a chance to inform his staff and players in a meeting. Defensive coordinator Chris Wilson was also let go.

Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford will serve as interim coach. Defensive line coach Gerald Chatman will serve as the team’s defensive coordinator, while passing game coordinator/tight ends coach Clay Patterson takes over as offensive coordinator.

The Buffaloes are idle this week before hosting California.

Dorrell didn’t have much of an offseason program due to coronavirus restrictions his inaugural season, but led the Buffaloes to a 4-2 mark – they started 4-0 – and an appearance in the Alamo Bowl. Dorrell was named Pac-12 coach of the year.

It was downhill from there. Colorado went 4-8 last season and saw several key starters leave through the transfer portal. This season, Colorado has rotated through three quarterbacks in trying to ignite an offense that ranks near the bottom of the FBS ranks. The Buffaloes and rival Colorado State, who have a new coach in Jay Norvell, are the only two teams left in the FBS without a win.

“The results on the field just did not measure up to our expectations and standards, which made it necessary for us to make this change at this time,” Colorado director of athletics Rick George said in a statement. “It was an extremely difficult decision and I wish Karl all of the best in his future endeavors.”

This is what it’s come to in Boulder: George issued a statement last month to pacify fans after a 49-7 loss at Minnesota. He said he recognized and understood the disappointment as the team has not “come close to meeting our expectations.” He urged the fans to stick with the program and support the team.

The loss to Arizona became the final blow for Dorrell, whose team has been outscored by a 216-67 margin. The Wildcats were a team predicted to finish 11th in the Pac-12 preseason media poll, with Colorado last. The Buffaloes’ defense surrendered 673 total yards Saturday – the most since allowing 616 to Arizona in 2015.

Dorrell weathered some rocky moments over his time in Boulder. A year ago, he apologized after losing his cool and pushing a photojournalist’s camera on his way off the field following a 37-14 loss to Southern California.

He also came under fire last season for skipping his customary postgame radio show after a 30-0 loss to the Gophers. In addition, Dorrell drew scrutiny when players weren’t made available after a 55-23 loss to Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

Since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, the Buffaloes have turned to coaches such as Jon Embree, Mike MacIntyre, Tucker and Dorrell to try to turn the Buffaloes around. MacIntyre led the Buffaloes to the conference championship game in 2016, but it was his only winning season out of six.

Tucker seemed to have the Buffaloes on the right path, bringing in several top prospects, before leaving for Michigan State after on season. That opened the door for Dorrell, who served as a receivers coach and later as offensive coordinator for Colorado in the 1990s.

A national search for a coach is expected to start soon.

“I fully support Rick in making this difficult decision to dismiss Coach Dorrell,” Chancellor Philip DiStefano said. “The football team is an important part of the university and I know our students, alumni, and fans have high expectations for a winning product on the field.”