Saturday, May 28, 2016

Baylor Football Scandal a Microcosm of Larger Problem

     By now, everyone in the nation not living under a rock has been fully updated on the situation at Baylor University surrounding the football program. President Ken Starr has been downgraded to a powerless position of Chancellor, a ceremonial, at best position that he will likely vacate in under a year. This was likely done to pay off what the Board of Regents legally could not get out of paying him to go away. Football coach Art Briles is the coach no more. He was found to have been at the root of a huge cover up of sexual assaults by football players dating back at least four years by his players. Athletic Director Ian McCaw has been sanctioned and placed on probation, which is the likely first step in what will be his eventual termination down the road. Several athletic department staffers have been fired, and their names have been withheld, which Baylor can do legally as they are not a public university.
     All of this stems from a systemic issue where sexual assaults, general assaults, and all kinds of wrongdoing were not only happening, but were seemingly common on the Baylor football team off the field. These actions were not only ongoing and there was a general failure to stop them, but by the failure of the leadership of the university, were encouraged by inaction. Victims were intimidated, retaliated against, and generally mistreated beyond the definition of the word. 
     The question that one has to ask is how did it all come to this? Why were these actions not stopped, and why were they almost encouraged by a lack of institutional control, which is always the worst thing you can say about a university? Why were students, who only wanted to get an education and move on with their lives, subjected to this treatment, and why were their plights ignored at the behest of a money making, championship contending football program? Why was the mission of the university, at the core of their Baptist and Christian mantra, ignored in favor of athletics and the mighty dollar? 

The Cash Influence

     Cash is king. We've all heard this being said in our lives, in movies, on TV, in every corner of American life. If you have the cash, you have the power. Baylor was not always the king of the cash cow. Any long time college football fan or writer will tell you tales of woe of a program that may as well have been non-existent before Art Briles arriving on campus. All of the cash in the State of Texas went to the University of Texas at Austin, and everyone else had to battle for the scraps. In some cases this may still be true, however Baylor had become a player in the money game during the Briles years. Baylor was now a championship contender. Baylor was a player not only in the Southwest, but on a national stage. TV money increased, booster money increased, and the overall image of Baylor was starting to be plastered all over everything. 
     With success comes money. A lot of it. Baylor may not be Texas, but they still have that shiny new stadium on campus to show for the wealth that they have generated from winning. Maybe it was simply an omen when Floyd Casey Stadium was demolished last weekend. It was a sign of things to come. 
     A program like Baylor simply does not become a major power in a short decade without something not smelling right. To win, to get at the resources that comes with winning, one will sell their soul to get there and stay there. Ask Tom Osborn. He had not been winning titles at Nebraska, and in the mid-90's, he started recruiting less than savory characters with criminal pasts. Issues started happening almost immediately. Sexual assault issues, criminal issues. Nebraska won two national championships for the trouble, and nobody wanted to know the details. Osborn had to win to satisfy the villagers with the torches and pitch forks. Instead of maintaining his integrity, he sold out to get what they wanted, and paid the price later. One name says it all. Lawrence Phillips. Google it. 
     The problem with all of the money pouring into these universities and colleges is simple. Money equals power. Winning gains absolute power for coaches. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Coaches are making more money than ever before in any time in the sport. In the mid-80s, Terry Donahue at UCLA was paid, all benefits included, $1.5 million per season. He would be one of the lowest paid coaches in the Power Five today. That money was crazy then. Nick Saban makes $7 million at Alabama. Tom Herrman is making over $3 million at Houston, and the Cougars are not even a Power Five program. What would you do to make that money and keep it coming? 
     As the big money continues to pour into major college football, you are seeing more off-field issues with athletes. Why is this? Simply, coaches are more willing to turn a blind eye to sometimes severe character flaws in incoming players than ever before, because it is all about winning, keeping the boosters and the TV money dealers happy, and ensuring their own safety. 
     Bernie Sanders, whatever you may think of him, has a really good point when it comes to money in politics. If you take a huge check from Goldman-Sachs, either you are in deep to them, or you give one hell of a speech. The same can be said for college coaches, whose money comes not really from the main university coffers, but from the check books of non regulated boosters and donors. How do you think that works out at the end of the day?Who do you think these college coaches are beholden to? It's not the chancellor, and it sure as hell is not his AD. 
     When you have assistants making more money than head coaches in some schools, this is an even bigger issue. We have assistants in America making more money than their bosses (the AD). If you made more money than your boss, would you respect him? Probably not. 
     It's all about the dollar signs these days, and schools will sell their souls and invite Satan himself on campus, as long as he can win them football games and keep those checks coming. 

Inverted Power Structures

     How many times have we now seen coaches controlling their universities? When the Jerry Sandusky situation broke loose, The Penn State leadership chose to fire Joe Paterno, which had to happen in every way, shape, or form. What happened was a ludicrous scene. 
     Paterno lived in a house on campus, property largely owned by Penn State. When the administrators went to the home to inform Paterno that he was fired, he told them that they couldn't fire him, and to get the hell out of his house. What happened next was completely bizarre, to the fact that that is exactly what they did. They did not immediately terminate him, and they got the hell out of his house. 
     Paterno was bigger than anyone one of those administrators, and certainly wielded more power in the State than the most connected of the group. Paterno had been allowed to amass that power over decades of winning at Penn State. He was simply too powerful to fire. Of course, eventually they did indeed remove him, but not before a protracted fight and on campus riots, all in support of a man who enabled a pedophile and child rapist for decades. It has now been proven that Paterno knew of Sandusky's actions as early as the 1970's and there are records of victims being paid off as early as 1975.You cannot tell me that Paterno did not know about this for all of those years. He had to have known, and he used his power to scuttle this issue, and protect his football program and his empire. 
     Darrell Hazell, who I am not accusing of any wrongdoing at Purdue, should have been fired already. Why has he not been? Because it will cost the administration over $16 million to buy him out. That is the only reason he has a job, because he is too expensive to fire. Is that not some form of power? 
     Coaches today make more money than any other figure on campus, and that allows an inverted power structure that fails the institution time and time again. Ridiculous amounts of money are thrown around to remove coaches with unfriendly contracts, and the institutions are held hostage by their own poor decision making in allowing these deals in the first place. It is an arms race for the top, and the top cannot be seen from any land that is inhabited by mere mortals. It is Mount Olympus brought to life, and only sacrifice of blood and morals will suffice to make it to the peak.

Outside Influence Rules All

     Boosters are the bane of major college sports today. Many are unregulated vultures who have driven up the price of doing business, and their influence and reach is never ending. There are exceptions to this rule, but there are too many cases of abuse to ignore. 
     Boosters, like any other regular university employee with access to athletics, should be regulated. Their roles should be limited severely. Whenever you spend the kind of money that these people pour into programs, that individual is going to want something in return. It is basic human nature. There are those who have altruistic goals, one such being Pat Clynes who is a football booster at UTSA and a basketball booster at Houston. I believe him to be a man of the utmost character, and to be a moral barometer for the title of booster. If more were like him, we'd likely have less issues regarding the shady underbelly of the college sports business. 
     Ask Ohio State how boosters have derailed them. Ask UNLV basketball. Ask Miami football. I could go on all day. 
     At the end of the day, the pressures produced by these individuals and their money has to become a regulated thing, in order to follow the money trails when it comes to corruption. This is just a start. At the end of the day, these individuals are influencing major college programs, and largely tell the administrators when to jump and how high. We should be able to reverse that course, and take that influence out of the game. 
End Individual Deals For Power Schools, Find New leadership

     UCLA recently signed a 15 year deal with Under Armour on an apparel contract worth $248 million. That is insane at the very core of everything. Notre Dame has an individual deal with NBC for TV rights. Texas has the controversial Longhorn Network, which if the Big 12 implodes, will be at the core of that destruction. 
     Why are colleges and universities allowed to negotiate individual deals for TV contracts and apparel outside of  the sanctioning of the NCAA? Well, the NCAA will absolutely get the kickback, you can bet on that, but the rest is simply poor leadership. 
     When Mark Emmert became the head of the NCAA, I had great hopes for him. Much like my overall hopes for President Obama earlier on (conversation for another place and day), my hopes are all but dashed in his leadership. Emmert tried to get tough early on, but his administration has bungled one case after another after another, and not one significant penalty was ever levied under his watch. 
     Emmert needs to be replaced, that much is certain. What needs to happen is that the NCAA needs a figure akin to Kennesaw Mountain Landis, the old baseball commissioner who ruled MLB with an iron fist. There was no franchise sacred to the tyrannical Landis, and nobody got away with anything. If the NCAA is to survive in the current form it inhabits, they need an iron ruler. I currently have no idea who would have the guts to take that job on, but I would volunteer myself to it. 
     Once new leadership is found in someone who can stand up to the current power structure, that new leader must appoint the first ever NCAA football commissioner to lead a singular body of member schools. Every individual sport must also have their own commissioners named. You simply cannot run every sport alike, and this would be the beginning of sorting out the madness. 
     One item that this new commissioner would handle is TV deals and apparel contracts that would be inclusive of all member schools, with proceeds doled out evenly to all members of FBS football. There would be no individual TV rights deals, no individual Nike or Under Armour deals. This would all be handled through the football office, and be taken away from individual schools for the good of the whole. In short, undo what has been done, and start to fix the damage, and remove the roads to corruption on that level. 
     The last item that I can mention here for this role would be to create a regulatory committee to monitor all activities of outside influencing parties, such as boosters and other "dignitaries". This would be a regulatory committee that could also oversee all claims of wrongdoing if it were beyond the ability of the conference to monitor and control. There would be no more self reporting and self induced penalties so that schools could show the fraudulent tail between the legs routine while still largely benefiting from the system (looking at you Ole Miss). 
     How would you pay for all of the staffers that would be necessary you ask? Oh, the money is there, it just needs some redistribution to the rightful place. 
     In short, without leadership changes at the top, we cannot expect change, and sometimes being a strong and resolute, moral beacon on the shore is the hardest thing to be. 

In Conclusion

     If you haven't discontinued reading by now, thanks for staying with me. I am writing this piece after midnight, and I have a ton of anger directed at the individuals that have largely hijacked the game I have loved and have worked around for almost 35 years. What I suggest as changes are radical ideas to some, I am sure. When you look at what those ideas are at their core, they are not so radical. 
     If change is going to come, if the corruption is going to end, if the victims of the crimes that have been allowed to happen are to be made right, if future victims are to be spared, we will need to make critical and radical change to the way that business is done in major college sports. If there is no longer the willingness to sell a soul for wins because the control mechanism leads from the top and is moral and resolute, everyone wins. 
     If change never comes, if the money and the corruption in major college athletics is allowed to continue unchecked as it hurtles itself over the cliff, so be it. If this is the case, and the result is such, nobody will have the ability to honestly look yourself in the eye and say that the best was done and tried. That would be the biggest lie of all. 
     At the end of the day, this is simply not about a game. There is no game when it comes to rape and assault. There is no game when it comes to the morals of once good men being sold like a cheap watch (or a Rolex as the case may be). This is about people. This is about the crime of stealing dignity, of stealing virtue. This about the darkest form of humanity winning. This is about our institutions of higher learning being hijacked to protect brand and image, to product winning and cash. 
     If it all doesn't make you sick on some very basic level, there is something wrong. Evil happens everyday. The very least we can do is step up and speak up and stop it on some level, even if it is surrounding what is, at the end of the day, just a damned game. 

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