Daily Aff. 4/12: Bobby Petrino's Exit Issues
Matt Zemek's take on the college football world and the latest issues.
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Now that Bobby Petrino has released a statement on his own downfall, one thing appears more obvious than ever.
Athletic director Jeff Long did the right thing.
In his statement, the ex-coach at Arkansas revealed just how addicted he was to the thrill of coaching and the real-world power it gave him. Petrino exposed himself as a one-man wishing well on a night when his wishes deserved no consideration whatsoever. He said at one point, "I wish that I had been given the opportunity to meet with the players and staff prior to this evening's press conference and hope that I will be given the opportunity to give my apologies and say my goodbyes in person." (The 2007 Atlanta Falcons must have laughed at that line.)
Later, Petrino said, "I love coaching. I of course hope I can find my way back to the profession I love." (Plot that next move, Bobby. It's all about you.)
Near the end of his statement, Petrino continued his litany of wishes, saying, "I was not given an opportunity to continue in that position (Arkansas head coach). I wish that had been the case, but that was not my decision."
Petrino tore apart an athletic department by taking down three employees – himself, UA swimming and diving coach Josh Morgan, and football recruiting coordinator Jessica Dorrell. Petrino has been fired, Morgan left his post, and Dorrell – though still employed by Arkansas as of Wednesday morning – is likely to be relieved of her duties before too long, her career in tatters.
Petrino strained one marriage (the one he has with wife Becky) and likely prevented another marriage (the one that was going to unite Dorrell with Morgan) from happening. He also stuck his nose into an employment process, helping Dorrell to become a finalist for a job sought by 159 applicants. He also manipulated state law enforcement by trying to control the flow of information from Arkansas state troopers in the aftermath of his motorcycle accident last week.
A person who commits this many sins while serving as the highest-paid state employee in Arkansas does not earn the right to dictate the terms of his departure. Such a person should not speak of his professional ambitions or leave even the slightest impression that he was somehow treated unfairly.
Such a person should not suggest that – in light of all the facts - there was any reasonable debate to be had about his employment status.
No, Bobby Petrino did not own enough leverage or standing to suggest that there was a legitimate push-and-pull tension between two competing resolutions to his situation at Arkansas. As bad as his actions were to begin with, the $20,000 payment to Dorrell and her elevation over 158 job competitors fully sealed the coach's fate. It wasn't even a decision for Long in the end. Complaining about being denied certain opportunities creates the impression that Petrino was not treated as fairly as possible.
It's bad enough that Petrino essentially fired himself. Petrino – a man whose ring and bank account have been passionately kissed throughout the past nine years – is in no position to complain that he has been somehow cheated or shortchanged.
Matt Hayes of The Sporting News didn't reinvent the wheel or deliver a bombshell on Monday, but he didn't need to. Hayes offered a service to the college football world by extensively documenting how Florida's program unraveled under Urban Meyer.
What happened at Florida was not extraordinary – just imagine drug use among college athletes; never heard that one before – but Hayes's meticulously crafted story does offer a few lessons for coaches, athletic directors, and human persons in any pursuit or endeavor.
First of all, Meyer's transgressions are not hugely unique. Taking liberties with the gray areas of the recruiting process, allowing players to skate for drug use, and allowing a star system to persist are not uncommon at high-powered programs.
Meyer's track record doesn't make him look great, but so much of what happened at Florida is simply not extraordinary.
What is instructive about this larger story – and Hayes briefly allude to this at the beginning of his piece – is that Meyer used his one-year broadcasting stint on ESPN to assail the ills of college football in such a way that he distanced his own actions from the problems the sport faces. Yet, Meyer certainly owns more than a little responsibility for setting a very unhealthy example for coaches and – on a larger level – for any person consumed by the pressures and demands of work.
Meyer's 2009 post-Christmas announcement that he would step down from the Florida job following the 2010 Sugar Bowl against Cincinnati was a speech filled with testaments to the centrality of faith and the importance of family in his life. Meyer's oration stemmed from a supposed awareness that his long-term well being was in jeopardy. A short while later, though, Meyer changed his mind and stayed with the program for one more season.
When the bottom fell out in Gainesville in 2010, Meyer then stepped away from the grind of coaching for a season, finding religion as he pontificated about the ways in which college football had gone so wrong… ways that he was not responsible for perpetuating.
Meyer's hypocrisy – not his actual transgressions – makes his story worth telling. Ohio State fans have a case to make when claiming that the contents of Meyer's immediate wrongdoings don't move the needle very much in today's world. Since the Buckeyes received a disproportionate amount of media coverage in 2011's unofficial "year of college sports scandal," Ohio State backers stand on solid ground if they claim that macro-level media bias is at work against their program.
In a larger context, this Meyer expose can seem like a prime example of selective focus in college sports journalism. However, Hayes shouldn't have to bear the brunt of that criticism. He straightforwardly chronicled a genuine downturn at a big-name program, presided over by an elite coach whose professed values were not matched by his actions.
Being a cutthroat coach is one thing; insistently proclaiming to be anything other than a cutthroat coach is what generates public skepticism and a heightened desire among neutral observers or commentators to probe beneath the surface of a program's outward identity. There are lessons to be found here.
Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from Meyer's time at Florida is that when you're displaying the signs of burnout in a supremely demanding job, don't push too long or too far. It's not as though Meyer was a model of virtue in 2008, but when his health issues surfaced in December of 2009 and his first instinct led him to step away from coaching, he should have listened to that voice instead of clinging to coaching with all the characteristics of an addict who had to feed his habit. Moreover, Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley – with the benefit of hindsight – can probably understand why he should have been more insistent on starting a new era of Florida football at that point in time.
Had Florida ensured that Meyer spent more time with his family in 2010 instead of returning to recruiting and the grind of an all-consuming business, a new coach would have gained one more year in which to build back what had been lost.
Maybe Will Muschamp would have sprung for this job after the 2010 BCS National Championship Game (with his Texas team playing Alabama), and maybe he would have stayed put in Austin. At any rate, the current Florida coach would have had the head start needed to weed out problems in 2010 and make a run at the SEC East in 2011. As things stand now, Florida is playing catch-up in the SEC East and has lost the past two seasons.
No, Meyer didn't do unspeakably bad things at Florida – that's not the point of Monday's story. What's worth remembering is that if Meyer had truly put his health first and sincerely put into practice the values he claims to uphold, Florida's program would be in a much stronger position right now. That's the claim which even Meyer's staunchest apologists would find it hard to deny.
An NCAA task force's recommendation to transfer operational control of bowl games to FBS conferences and their commissioners will likely reduce the number of bowl games and enhance the integrity of college football competition. That's the good news. However, there's another side to this larger story.
While the probable eradication of 6-6 bowl teams is a step forward for the sport, a much larger and more important problem is likely to persist: the NCAA's obsessive control over what brand names are attached to college sports products.
The NCAA doesn't want to relinquish the power that comes with being able to approve the title sponsors of bowl games. Evidently, the organization is uncomfortable with the GoDaddy.com brand name attached to a bowl event. Viewed in a narrow context, the NCAA's hyper-obsessive attitude is consistent with its other actions in the realm of "brand-consciousness." After all, the just-concluded Men's Final Four has turned into an annual brand-protection festival in which only NCAA-approved products and their corporate labels can be publicly displayed. Rival product names and their labels are removed from visibility with a level of vigilance befitting a repressive dictatorial regime.
Again, in an immediate context, the NCAA's desire to approve title sponsors for bowl games is not inconsistent or incongruent with its other actions aimed at protecting brand identity. Moreover, the NCAA – within a context of good ol' fashioned American capitalism – should have the right to police its branding identity. Its sponsors pay a fair amount of money to get their names on products that appear courtside at the Final Four and the earlier rounds of the NCAA tournament. The NCAA is doing a perfectly reasonable thing in protecting its corporate partners.
Here's where the vigilance over bowl sponsorships (and corporate brand identity at the Final Four, while we're at it) breaks down, however: If the NCAA enjoys such freedom and latitude in shaping a nakedly and unabashedly commercial identity for its bowl games, seven of which are owned by ESPN (the broadcaster that, under the Walt Disney corporate umbrella, carries 33 of the 35 bowls in conjunction with ESPN2, ESPNU and ABC), how can these literally made-for-TV events not be seen as anything other than cash-generating entertainment products? Sponsorships, TV money, bowl committee infrastructures – several entities are making a fat stack of cash in what is nothing other than a commercial operation.
What about the players, you ask? Oh, there's no cut for them in the midst of this mad dash for cash. The NCAA's desire to protect its brand identity in bowl games is really rich: While worrying about the wholesomeness and appropriateness of the GoDaddy.com label, it is allowing a larger superstructure to persist sans critical examination. The NCAA says its athletes are "going pro in something other than sports," but in light of the NCAA's preoccupation with sponsorships for entertainment events, what aspect of its athletes' labors can be seen as anything other than professional?
Only this: Those labors are not rewarded with a paycheck. Stay classy, NCAA. Stay classy.
College football's bowl games are going to be operated differently in the near future. The good news is that some measure of sanity is entering the bowl landscape.
Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com reported on Monday that an NCAA task force is recommending that the control of bowl games should be transferred to FBS conferences and their commissioners. Yet, while the NCAA is seeking to modify – and ultimately downscale – the role of its 11-member postseason licensing subcommittee, the task force still wants NCAA President Mark Emmert to have the final say in the awarding of title sponsorships to the various bowls. Lingering concerns over the branding identity of the GoDaddy.com Bowl represent the heart of the NCAA's discomfort on this issue.
There are a number of layers to peel back on this larger story before the NCAA board of directors considers these and other related proposals at an April 26 meeting. The positive aspect of this task force recommendation is that if the conference commissioners gain the power to operate the bowls, their distaste for allowing 6-6 teams to play in bowl games means that the postseason's size and scope will almost certainly shrink.
The 35-bowl model would not be able to survive a seven-win minimum requirement for bowl eligibility. Trimming some fat from a bloated postseason will diminish the "trophy-for-every-team culture" that Pac-12 boss Larry Scott talked about in prior months.
This is healthy for college football and anyone who values integrity of competition. Postseason games – and the right to play in them – should own at least some basis in genuine achievement, and a seven-win bowl requirement brings college football closer to that ideal. Giving conference commissioners the authority to operate bowl games will move the sport in the right direction.
On the morning of the NCAA men's basketball national championship game between Kansas and Kentucky, it should gently be pointed out that the Superdome is hosting its third regular-season rematch in two days, and the fourth rematch of a college football or basketball season in the first 93 days of the year.
Yes, Kentucky and Louisville weren't the only basketball teams to meet in the regular season; Ohio State and Kansas played in the dying days of autumn, as did Kentucky and Kansas. Yes, football and basketball are apples and oranges; yes, it's not easy to compare them, and in many cases, it's not even recommended.
This one simple point should be advanced, though: At the end of an NCAA tournament, one can never say, "Well, if only this matchup happened or at least had a CHANCE of happening…" Dream matchups don't always materialize in the Big Dance, but the possibility is always there. Briefly, here are the non-rematch heavyweight matchups the sport's fans got to see in March: Kansas-North Carolina, Ohio State-Syracuse, Wisconsin-Syracuse, Michigan State-Louisville, Florida-Louisville (if you want to call that a welterweight bout, fine, but they're prestige programs just the same…), Kentucky-Indiana, and Baylor-Kentucky (Baylor makes the grade in terms of talent, albeit not big-stage credibility or consistency).
That's seven big-time matchups not including the Final Four's parade of rematches.
It should not be a controversial point to say that big-time college football should be able to offer these heavyweight matchups in November, within the context and confines of the regular season, to therefore make the sport's champion a truly national one. LSU played a truly national schedule last year by taking on the Pac-12 and Big East champions away from home and beating them.
LSU, though, is the exception that proves the rule. We're going to get a decision on a plus-one before too long, but until the sport's regular season is given the scheduling heft it needs and deserves, we're not going to receive the national champions we deserve.
You see, college football doesn't need a multi-round playoff to improve the product and the legitimacy thereof; football doesn't need to become more like basketball in terms of the structure of its postseason. All this sport needs to do is make sure that a national champion plays national teams in regular-season events that possess national – not just regional – consequence.
If that's a controversial point, then Bill Self is an awful coach and John Calipari a terrible recruiter.
Yes, Georgia football players are being suspended again and the Mid-American Conference released its schedule over the past 48 hours, but there's even more going on.
It's not every year that the athletic director's chair at an intriguing program is passed from one person to another, but that happened on Wednesday at Arizona State University. Lisa Love, the school's AD since July of 2005 (more on that anything-but-trivial detail in a bit), was replaced by Steve Patterson just months after a botched coaching search delivered Todd Graham from Pittsburgh to Tempe… with Patterson doing much of the work to bring Graham to the Valley of the Sun.
Love didn't look good when Arizona State's coaching search generated national attention for all the wrong reasons, but with Love's departure comes a realization that she wasn't as incompetent as many observers thought she was. The complicated story of Lisa Love shows that the problems at Arizona State go far beyond any one person. The setbacks that have constantly plagued Sun Devil athletics are the result of a lack of dynamic leadership throughout the athletic department, and while Love certainly came up short as a leader, the blame for ASU's continued mediocrity cannot be laid at her feet.
Why is it significant that Love took over as Arizona State's athletic director in July of 2005? It's significant because the event that has overshadowed Arizona State football for the past seven years occurred before Love was appointed as the AD in Tempe.
The person who preceded Love as ASU's athletic director knew that football player Loren Wade had verbally threatened a female athlete on November 24, 2004, according to reporting by Jeff Metcalfe and Dan Bickley of The Arizona Republic. The player Wade threatened, ASU gymnast Trisha Dixon, told The Republic that Wade "pretty much threatened my life." The Republic also reported that on March 6, ASU women's soccer coach Ray Leone informed then-football coach Dirk Koetter that Wade had threatened ASU soccer player Haley van Blommestein, possibly with a gun. Nearly three weeks later on March 26, Wade – when picking up van Blommestein at a suburban Phoenix nightclub – shot and killed fellow football player Brandon Falkner.
Now, just who was this athletic director who stopped short of kicking Wade out of the ASU program entirely, thereby enabling him to be reinstated by Koetter for spring football practice on March 21, 2005, five days before the shooting? Why, that would be none other than Gene Smith, the same man who has so fully trampled over a million different ethical guidelines as the athletic director at Ohio State University. Smith accepted the Ohio State AD job on March 5 of 2005, one day before Wade's threats against van Blommestein were relayed to Koetter.
Smith did not directly oversee the handling of the van Blommestein incident or the clearing of Wade for spring practice on March 21, but he was definitely around in November of 2004. He knew the severity of Wade's threat against Trisha Dixon. He did nothing. (Gene Smith is, in many ways, to college athletics what Frank McCourt is to Major League Baseball.)
When Love became ASU's athletic director in July of 2005, then, she did not bear responsibility for any of the events that had stained the Sun Devil program in the fall of 2004 or the winter and early spring of 2005. Moreover, the fact that she was hired in July made it very hard for her, as a practical political matter, to fire Koetter before the 2005 season. Much of the criticism thrown at Love over the years – I've contributed to the barrage – has not been entirely justified; Smith and school president Michael Crow deserved most of the blame for failing to handle Wade appropriately and for also failing to push Koetter out the door in March of 2005. When the Sun Devils searched for a new athletic director in the spring of 2005, Love should have insisted that her first act as athletic director would have been to fire Koetter, but that would have been a hard sell on a number of levels. Yet, one can see just how much of a mess Love inherited when she took the reins in Tempe in the long, hot summer of 2005.
Her decision to hire Dennis Erickson after the 2006 season should not be judged as a bad one; reasonable decisions can and do fail to work out. Moreover, if Arizona State had not been passed over for a BCS bowl bid in 2007 – Erickson's first season in the Valley – ASU's football fortunes might have been reshaped. It was only this past autumn, in the clumsy pursuit of Todd Graham, that Love badly missed the mark. Yet, even then, one has to wonder what President Crow and the rest of ASU's leadership structure ("leadership" belongs in quote marks, because it's not really emerging in Tempe these days…) are thinking.
Why would they allow an athletic director to hire a new head football coach – the most important decision an athletic director generally makes on the job – only to sack her months later and – here's the kicker – replace her with her assistant, the man who played a large role in procuring the very same head football coach in the first place? If Love was part of the problem in Tempe, how can Patterson be the solution?
Lightning doesn't usually strike twice in the same place… unless the lightning bolt forms in the Atlantic Coast Conference and reaches all the way to Madison, Wisconsin.
For the second straight year, the Wisconsin Badgers – in a time of need – have found an ACC quarterback who will offer instant relief and an upgrade from their possible alternatives under center. How much quality will O'Brien give Bret Bielema in the next two seasons? Probably not as much as Russell Wilson, but frankly, that's not the most interesting dimension of this story.
The fascinating element about the renewal of the pipeline is that it carries with it the whiff of free agency. In the short term, it's very much a positive that O'Brien can leave Randy Edsall and find a new football home without having to sit out a year. It's the mark of both common sense and common decency to accord players the same freedom of movement that coaches enjoy. In that sense, this story should certainly be welcomed.
Here's the reason why it shouldn't be: Bielema and Wisconsin are once again in position to profit because a dissatisfied player at another school handed them a most unexpected surprise. The problem, of course, is not that a specific coach (Bielema) or school (Wisconsin) are profiting; the problem is that any coach or school can profit in this manner, exposing in an obvious manner the fact that players' decisions and on-field performances are responsible for victories and the windfalls that flow from competitive success. Russell Wilson made money for the University of Wisconsin. Bielema and Wisconsin did not make money for Russell Wilson, and now O'Brien has been thrust into that same one-way dynamic.
Adults in positions of administrative and executive leadership throughout the world of college sports, those who are ostensibly charged with "leading" our nation's most prominent bastions of secondary education, should be able to see all this. Until they act in ways that respect the Russell Wilsons and Danny O'Briens of the world as revenue-generating performers, the hypocrisy of the athletic-industrial complex will remain.
There's no need to dive into the particulars of the contract. It will suffice to say that Nick Saban will make a massive stack of cash for quite some time at the University of Alabama. A natural impulse on the part of many academics and social observers in response to this development will be to decry the amount of money devoted to paying a coach's salary. That impulse is rooted in good intentions and, accordingly, should not be met with mockery or derision or any overly negative expression. It does need to be met with a larger contextual and systemic answer, an answer our society has yet to find.
Let's acknowledge this: Saban is delivering value to Alabama. He's an elite coach whose results speak for themselves. He's bringing money into the program, so it's not as though his money is unearned in an immediate sense. He's not the Anna Kournikova of college football, making money for reasons other than on-field performance. He's making what the marketplace suggests he should be making. Okay, fair enough – truly.
The problems with this situation arise when, for one thing, society doesn't prize other professions nearly as much as college football coaching. However, that's a conversation which extends beyond the realm of the NCAA and the athletic-industrial complex of big-ticket college sports. The problem the NCAA should be dealing with is that when one rightly notes the value Nick Saban is bringing to Alabama's football program and the school at large, one must just as readily concede that Alabama's players are also delivering value to the school.
The players, along with the coaching staff, are winning games. Should one human being be making near $6 million while another human being who is just as valuable to an effort – Trent Richardson – does not get any sort of paycheck? That's where the issue of still-escalating compensation for coaches runs into substantial and severe problems.
The concept, the structure, the rationale for paying a coach a massive sum while not giving the players an appreciable cut – they all fall apart. The leaders of Division I-A universities can and should do better than this. A better and more equitable system should be created. Smart minds should be able to arrive at such a solution, extending the fruits of a free market to the entertainers whose physical labors are just as responsible for victories as Saban is … if not more so.
Over the weekend, NBC News released the contents of an internal Penn State file of the 1998 police investigation of former PSU defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, the man charged with over 50 counts of child sex abuse and the center of the scandal that shook a school to its foundations. The file revealed that a psychologist who examined a 1998 allegation against Sandusky viewed him as someone whose actions fit "a likely pedophile's pattern."
The psychologist, Alycia Chambers, provided counseling to an 11-year-old boy with whom Sandusky had allegedly showered, naked, on the Penn State campus. Sandusky was accused of having inappropriate contact with the boy.
The contents of the 1998 investigation have advanced the larger story of "L'Affaire Penn State" in a number of ways. Pennsylvania state welfare department investigator Jerry Lauro remarked to the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa., that he would not have closed the case against Sandusky if he had seen the analysis provided by both Chambers and a second psychologist, John Seasock, whose conclusions differed from the ones offered by Chambers. In other words, Lauro never did see the report in 1998 (according to his claims, at least).
This first investigation of Sandusky's alleged behavior, following the first complaint made to authorities, was not conducted in a seamless manner that provided relevant information and analysis to all of the participating parties. Lauro's words shouldn't be treated as gospel truth, but they certainly do nothing to change the impression that has existed all along: Sunlight rarely if ever shone on this larger investigative and informative process. The bewildering mélange of psychological examinations and legal machinations that occurred in 1998 did not lead to full disclosure and sharing of highly important facts connected to the preservation and promotion of public safety.
This certainly doesn't absolve the Penn State football program or Joe Paterno, but it definitely underscores the growing realization that the enormity of the systemic breakdown involved in this case is still bigger than it was on Friday, before the contents of this 1998 file were released. This story, as expansively awful as it is and has been, just became even more appalling.
The issue of multi-year scholarships has become increasingly layered and complicated as it receives exponentially more scrutiny and consideration within the walls of various athletic programs. ESPN's Ivan Maisel has done some reporting which should give pause to the NCAA, the commissioners of the major conferences, university presidents, and anyone else with a say in how the "athletic-industrial complex" should be governed.
On Thursday, Maisel reported that the University of Arizona's student-athlete council voted against multi-year scholarships, according to Arizona Athletic Director Greg Byrne (formerly the AD at Mississippi State). The rationale for the vote, Maisel writes, is that "if a teammate proves to be a locker-room cancer, the Arizona student-athletes want their coaches to have the ability to remove the problem."
There's no need for a long stemwinder or a layered dissertation here. One should merely be able to look at the Arizona situation and say that this is little different from an NFL roster with Santonio Holmes or an NBA roster with Carmelo Anthony.
If we've reached a level of tension where college athletes are THIS focused on roster composition and locker room stability, it only affirms the notion that this is an entertainment-based business built on winning games.
Amateurism – what amateurism?
The point of Maisel's reporting is not that multi-year scholarships are inherently good or bad; it's that the values and priorities of professional athletic competition are already very much alive in college locker rooms and inner circles. Adults have an opportunity to do the right thing and accordingly adjust the way they treat these young men. Don't think for a second that they will.
Earlier this week, no less of an authority than Nick Saban shot down the idea that a four-team playoff must be limited to conference champions. Well knock me down with a feather! That's impossible!
Seriously, though, let's deal with this one specific aspect of a playoff without getting into the larger playoff-BCS-poll-and-bowl (and Bowl Alliance…) debate that has consumed college football the past 20 years. While national championship game participants do need to have won something during the season, a strict prohibition of teams that did not win their conference is ultimately unfair. Just a wee bit of tweaking would create a fundamentally fair system; yet, the fact that this point is getting missed in the bigger picture is a reflection of how foolish college football in fact is.
It doesn't have to be so complicated, everyone. Change the absolute requirement from "conference champions" to "division champions" in leagues that have divisions. In leagues that do not have divisions, the quirks of scheduling can create scenarios in which a second-place team plays a harder schedule than a first-place team. Moreover, a 12-0 winner of the Mountain West could play an easier schedule than an 11-1 team in the SEC.
There are plenty of scenarios in which a non-champion of a conference could compile a genuinely more impressive body of work. A reasonable approach would demand that a team carry no more than one loss into the bowl season in order to be considered. Teams with two or more losses would have to go to the back of the line and hope for a 2007-style scenario.
Among the teams with no losses or only one loss, an allowance should be made for teams such as the 2002 Iowa Hawkeyes, who were not technically the "Big Ten champion" for purposes of BCS bowl bid allocations, but got in as the "at-large" selection behind Ohio State. A team such as the 2002 Iowa squad should naturally not be excluded from playoff consideration.
Yes, we all have our versions of what a true championship system could or should be; goodness knows how many articles have been written about this subject over the years. However, cast aside your own architecture or opinion for a moment. When strictly focusing on the "conference champions only" provision of a potential playoff system," that provision simply needs to be changed to "division champions and special situations."
Would you have contested the claim that LSU – in the event of an SEC Championship Game loss to Georgia – would not have deserved to be part of a playoff last year? If you think that only conference champions could participate in such an event, you would have barred the Bayou Bengals from such a showcase.
That would have been wrong in the extreme. It still would be wrong today.
James Franklin will have shoulder surgery. The Missouri quarterback (not the Vanderbilt coach) will not be available in all likelihood until the beginning of the season. For a program that suffered a number of crushing injuries last year, this development undeniably adds to the anxiety that has become so pervasive in Columbia ever since the 2007 Big 12 championship eluded the Tigers' grasp against Oklahoma in San Antonio. It's unquestionably true that Missouri is a program in need of good news and calming developments, anything to put coaches and players at ease during this time of transition to the Southeastern Conference. From that standpoint, Franklin's condition and the timetable established for his recovery are both legitimate causes for concern.
However, there is reason to think that Franklin's surgery is anything but a crushing blow. It could be the source of a different kind of quarterback in 2012.
When athletes get injured, they might very well lose their potency and effectiveness, but on some occasions, injured athletes are more focused and fundamentally sound athletes. They learn how to compensate for newfound physical limitations. If natural gifts are less evident, the need to build better habits is that much more paramount. The importance of polishing technique acquires that much more centrality. Franklin suffered last season not because of a lack of talent, but because of untimely lapses in terms of ballhandling and decision making. This surgery might limit what he can do, but it might very well become a moment that imprints upon Franklin the need to improve his ball security. If that winds up being the case, this surgery will not be viewed as a negative development in the Show Me State.
Sports fans understandably complain when the flow of a game is interrupted – if not halted – by replay reviews that take too long. The coaches and athletes want to maintain rhythm, especially if it's working in their favor. Fans want to enjoy an entertainment product that not only holds their interest but carries them through an unfolding narrative rich in drama and theater.
The spell cast by the magic of an electrifying sporting event is hard to produce in the first place; when replay unnecessarily gets in the way, it's reasonable and appropriate to be upset. All of this is true.
Yet, for all of replay's weaknesses, it still has to be said that when compared to other sports, college football is better than most in terms of its replay policies and procedures. This reality was underscored by four days of NCAA tournament basketball.
Didn't you just love how out-of-bounds calls such as the one in the UNC-Asheville-Syracuse game were not able to be reviewed? Didn't you just revel in the fact that the out-of-bounds call with 1:15 left in the Alabama-Creighton game was unable to be reviewed, or that the last-second and uncalled foul on Creighton was unable to be reviewed? How about the lane violations called on UNC-Asheville and Notre Dame? Those plays, while correctly called, were not subject to review. How is it that with billions of dollars invested in the tournament, so many calls can avoid replay-based scrutiny as a matter of official policy?
The play most frequently reviewed on replay over the past four days of March Madness competition was the blow to the head leveled by an opposing player. Yes, replay should be used to determine if flagrant fouls are committed, but as was seen in the Norfolk State-Florida game, some flagrant fouls are being reviewed on replay in situations that don't demand such attention. The relevant play involved a loose-ball scramble at midcourt - hardly the kind of situation in which one player is maliciously and intentionally decking another player.
Unless intentional malice is being directed toward an opposing player – in other words, without any interest in making a play on the ball – there's no point in using replay technology and interrupting a game. Replay should be used to review the many calls that can and do affect outcomes of games in the final minutes of regulation.
College football, for all its flaws and – moreover – for all the faulty results that still emerge from replay reviews, at least does a far better job of not only reviewing plays that matter, but providing an expansive replay system in comparison to the NFL, which ridiculously limits coaches to a few challenges per game.
You might have a right to complain about unnecessary interruptions, but college football provides more necessary interruptions to its competitions than the NFL or college basketball currently allow. That's something to be thankful for after a controversial weekend at the NCAA tournament.
One year after Notre Dame and Michigan brought night-game electricity to the Big House in Ann Arbor, the two schools will play under the lights in South Bend. This might not seem like that big a deal, and on many levels, it isn't. However, the simple fact that a series between brand-name programs has embraced the "night life" is instructive: It shows that schools and television are able to be nimble in making adjustments so that ratings can flourish. What's even more noteworthy and illuminating about this small news item is that it reveals a willingness to make showcase games stand out on the calendar.
Remember how LSU and Alabama – originally slated for an afternoon kickoff on Nov. 5 of last year – had their game moved to prime time on CBS so it could occupy a more prominent place on that day's schedule? The college football world played more of its games in the afternoon on that Saturday, graciously enabling a signature game to become that much more of a signature event (an event that should have eliminated the loser, but oh, that's another subject that's already been beaten into the ground… alas, to no good effect…). If college football and the schools who play it continue to make adjustments in weekly or yearly scheduling practices, why can't the sport take the next step: flex scheduling?
Let's see even more adaptability and creativity in shifting schedules on the fly. Let's see more Thursday night games turn into blockbuster matchups so that the year's biggest games get solo television platforms without any competing games. Let's see more games get moved from noon or 3:30 kickoffs to 8:15 p.m. Let's see networks allow four hours for doubleheaders so that games don't get pre-empted. Let's see networks air games with staggered start times instead of fitting (almost) all of them into the same time windows (noon, 3:30, and either 7:30 or 8).
Flexible scheduling: If Notre Dame and Michigan can do it, so can everyone else in college football.
The stock market is not just the measurement of prices for shares of various publicly-traded companies. The stock market is a psychologically-powered entity in which valuations rise or fall in accordance with the level of confidence on the part of the people who invest in said market.
College football coaching is little different – psychology fuels it all.
In light of Georgia's decision earlier this week to give coach Mark Richt a three-year contract extension, it's worth briefly noting how quickly the landscape changed since Saturday, September 10, 2011, when Richt sat at 0-2 and the vultures were out in Athens.
The thing to realize about a coach's tenure is that when the mood in and around a campus becomes so negative that trust is lost on a wide scale, the coach's political leverage and real-world authority are eroded beyond rescuing. It seemed that Richt was at that point following his team's loss to South Carolina. The bad vibe that swirled through the air, the black feeling that pervaded the Georgia program, was so pronounced that even if Richt deserved to stay, (and he DID, given all the accomplishments he's registered as Georgia's coach, restoring glory to the program that drifted through misery and pain in the 1990s…) the politics of the situation were making his position untenable. The loss of a fan base's trust was on the verge of happening, but because Georgia won 10 out of 10 regular-season games, that threshold was never crossed.
It gives one pause.
There are times to fire coaches, times when a fresh face is needed and a new approach is demanded. Reasonable minds disagreed on the Richt question last September, but it's simply remarkable to note – calmly and forthrightly – how natural and obvious this three-year contract extension in fact is. Few observers could have imagined that Richt could possess so much leverage this week, but then again, this same community of pundits couldn't have imagined that Richt's seat would become so hot despite his enormous body of accomplishment. The pendulum of emotions swings too wildly in college football; that's perhaps the biggest takeaway from the rollercoaster ride known as the Mark Richt era at the University of Georgia.