College football’s real priorities

29 11 2010

The University of Miami’s firing of head football coach Randy Shannon makes clear precisely what universities value in their football programs: on-field prestige and money. Shannon didn’t bring either to the team, as his four-season 28-22 record — 16-16 in ACC play — stands without a conference championship or a bowl win. No BCS appearance means the school isn’t getting real money.

What Shannon did to enhance The U’s football program are facets touted by schools as being important: Players represented Miami exemplary off the field and they performed well in the classroom.

The NCAA’s 2009 Academic Progress Report (APR) showed that Miami scored 978 out of a possible 1,000 during the 2008-09 academic year. (Two key components to the score are the eligibility and retention of each player on a scholarship.) That score was so good that only three teams from the six power conferences fared better — Rutgers, Northwestern and Duke. Miami’s results were higher than those of several traditionally high-performing academic institutions, such as Stanford, Vanderbilt and Cal-Berkeley.

That wasn’t enough to save Shannon’s job. Which makes the words from university presidents and athletic directors that integrity matters feel hollow.  Now, I don’t want to lump in every school’s actions with The U. Perhaps some schools with past football success would stick with a coach for more than four seasons of uninspired on-field play if the program was well-represented off the field. I’m willing to bet most schools wouldn’t do that, though.

You see, dignity and respect off the field usually only work if the job gets done on it. To a degree, I get it. People want results, in essentially any industry. Yet these university presidents and athletic directors should make something very clear when they introduce their new head coaches. When they talk about what great mentors and leaders the coaches are for the young men playing for them, they should note those qualities are fine and dandy as long as the coach wins. When they have to stand alone — without wins — as the coach’s examples of progressive work, they simply don’t fit in with what schools are really after: On-field prestige and money.

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