College Football and Things That Matter

OK. I’ll admit it. When you see the devastation and suffering in Haiti, it’s more than a little difficult to get worked up about college football. And I guess that’s true of other things that dominate the news these days. In the overall flow of our daily lives, does the kerfuffle about Jay Leno and Conan really matter? Nah.

Still, I try to opine here frequently on things that I believe do matter: ethics, integrity, character and so on. And that gets me to college football — particularly the recent stories about Pete Carroll and Lane Kiffin. Carroll is heading back to the pros from U.S.C. — and Kiffin is ending a short tenure at Tennessee to fill the U.S.C. spot.

I know. College football — particularly at the upper levels — is a big business. And the head coach — and members of his staff — are careerists in the mold of anyone in business or on Wall Street. So from that standpoint, I understand why they grab the best deal they can. And since their employers — in many cases publicly funded universities — give contracts a wink and a nod, they might as well go for the gold.

Yet saying that, there is something sleazy about coaches breaking commitments while still under contract — particularly to the young athletes who they have recruited and who do not have the same ability to shift from school to school. And I’d like to think that colleges and universities go beyond football and other sports to teach some life lessons: ethics, character, integrity among them. Go figure.

Anyway, George Vecsey opined on this in his NYT column, “Coaches Come and Go, Except JoePa.” Here’s from the column:

Meantime, there is always Paterno, the last of the lifers. The old Brooklyn Dodgers fan turned 83 recently, with two years left on his contract and a crusty determination to keep going beyond that. Ya wanna make something of it?

Carroll put in nine years at U.S.C., which is long by the standard of his flighty profession, but Paterno has been the coach in Happy Valley for 44 years, since the regime of Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Paterno has won two national titles, and the worst thing that could be said about his operation was that if some of his lads got into a fracas away from the field, he might dismiss the fringe players and administer tough love toward the talent. But academic scandals? Recruiting scandals? Money flying over the long Appalachian ridges toward a prospect? None of that.

By coincidence — nobody at Penn State has that good timing or sense of humor — on the day Carroll bade farewell to the troops at U.S.C., Penn State issued a release that its football players had the highest graduation success rate, known as G.S.R., 85 percent, and the highest federal graduation rate, 89 percent, among teams ranked in this season’s final top 25.

These figures were in a report released by the N.C.A.A. in November. The same study said U.S.C. had rates of 58 and 57 percent. Figures like that do not necessarily have anything to do with coaches, but Penn State has generally been conducting football with integrity for decades.

I don’t know whether Joe Paterno is a good football coach or not. But to me, at least, his legacy will be to remind us what college football (and sports in general) should be about: ethical conduct, integrity, character — and helping young people succeed in the classroom and on the playing fields and courts.

You know. Things that matter.

4 responses to “College Football and Things That Matter

  1. Tagged this as must reading for my Ethics class next week, Rob. And dare I say, pleased to see you found something in college football that matters. There was a time when going to class did. I believe it still does in Happy Valley.

  2. Bill,

    Thanks for the comment. I know my views about college sports are unrealistic given today’s environment, but I really do believe that college coaches (and others, for that matter) should be held to higher standards of ethics. And the character and integrity displayed by Joe Paterno helps shape the positive image of Penn State — more so than wins and loses.

  3. As you point out, it’s hard to fault a coach who wants to climb the ladder. Instead, maybe we should ask the administrators why they make that climb so attractive.

    I see our friends at the Beacon Journal are asking the same questions at University of Akron. From today’s front page:

    Let’s see, a half million a year for a basketball coach in a conference that typically can’t get past the first round of the NCAA tournament. And $61 million for a football stadium that drew — for an entire season — what JoePa draws for one home game.

    I understand that the big programs earn big money. But Akron? Someone is delusional.

  4. Interesting article in the Akron Beacon Journal — and I’m sure it will raise some questions on campus and off.

    And Bill, you really get to the heart of the entire matter. Why do administrators make that climb so attractive?

    Also interesting to me is that UA administrators want to put a dollar value on the publicity related to sports coverage. Sheesh.

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