Thursday, December 15, 2011

Screw You Kids!

It’s an incomplete and problematic memory, but I remember a time when people talked passionately about investing in the children, about children being the future, about protecting future generations. My parents are very clear that their job in life was to provide a better life for their kids than they had for themselves. Their parents before them charged themselves with the same task.

Maybe I’m just becoming more cynical as I get older, but it sure seems to me that the message we are sending to young people now is something entirely different. It’s no longer “the children are the future.” It’s more:

Fuck you kids. You’re screwed. Do it yourself.

This attitude has been making headlines for a long time now, in a variety of arenas: the Occupy Movement is dismissed as a bunch of lazy kids who think they are too good to work for a living; high school kids walking out to protest budget cuts to their schools are vilified as leeches; children of immigrant parents are told they are not wanted here.

But the tipping point for me came this week as I skimmed the headlines at Everyone is aware of the sex abuse scandals at Penn State and Syracuse by now, but that’s not even what I’m talking about (though I have several opinions on the Syracuse leadership and specifically the esteemed basketball coach of the fighting Orange). No. The story that sent me over the edge was one of a coaching change in Pac 12 football.

Arizona State University, the academic punching bag of the Pac 12, fired a notoriously dirty coach in Dennis Erickson and hired in his place Todd Graham of the University of Pittsburg.

A week earlier, BYU quarterback Jake Heaps, who has been pushed out of the starting role recently, announced that he is going to transfer to another school.

What do these things have to do with each other? Stick with me.

According to the NCAA rulebook for college athletes  - a 300+ page tome of unbelievable bureaucratic crosswords – Mr. Heaps can transfer to another Division I school, but he must sit out a year before playing football for said school. Mr. Heaps is a model kid who went to BYU and played by the rules. He is a strong student. He did nothing wrong. He simply wants to go to a school that allows him to be around his family more and where he can get more playing time. He also said he is interested in more academic rigor. His punishment for taking charge of his on academic and sporting life? A year on the sidelines.

Mr. Graham, by comparison, is a douchebag. Yes, I’m still using that term even though it isn’t cool anymore.  Graham’s first coaching job was at Rice University. He stayed for one year and bolted for Tulsa, where he stayed for six years. Presumably he only stayed because a better job wasn’t forthcoming, because as soon as one was offered (at Pitt), he bolted. At Pitt he recruited players on the promise that this was his dream job, that they would stay at Pitt together and build a dynasty in the Big East (not hard to do given the competition). According to players, as recently as the week before he took the job at Arizona State he denied he was interested in any other positions. Then? He sent his players a text message. From the road. On his way to Tempe:

"I have resigned my position at Pitt in the best interest of my family to pursue the head coaching position at Arizona State," the message sent to players said. "Coaching there has always been a dream of ours and we have family there. The timing of the circumstances have prohibited me from telling you this directly. I now am on my way to Tempe to continue those discussions. God Bless. Coach Graham."

This from Mark Schlabach at

In today's college football, coaches jump from job to job every season without consequences, but most coaches handle leaving their schools with more sincerity and professionalism than Graham did.

Graham said he took the Arizona State job so his wife could be closer to her family in Arizona. He said Arizona State is a place where he'd like to retire.
Just seven months ago, Graham said the same things about Pittsburgh.

In other words, “Fuck you kids! You’re on your own!”

Backup quarterback Trey Anderson tweeted his reaction: "I take a nap for 2 hours, wake up to find out my head coach is gone.”

This is the free-market. This is money talking. But Graham (and Erickson, and Paterno, and Tressel, and every other college coach) gets paid because those kids toil and sweat for them. The kids on the field do the risky labor and get none of the payment. Oh sure, there are some kids on scholarships (1 year, non-guaranteed scholarships) and a tiny fraction of them play pro ball and profit from the opportunity to play college sports. But those kids also take all the risk. And all the punishment.

The players at USC are not eligible for a bowl game this year because former coaches and a former player (all of whom are currently employed in the NFL, by the way) broke the rules. The current class of students did nothing wrong. And they are being punished.

Jake Heaps did the opposite of the wrong thing. He made a smart, informed decision. And the NCAA will punish him for wanting to move schools. The logic behind the rule makes sense only in the profit-minded world of professional collegiate amateur athletics, and it has nothing to do with the kids.

In case you’re wondering, I don’t have a fix for the right wing free-market above all else selfishness. But I do have a fix for the NCAA. It’s a pretty simple plan. Ready?

1.     Establish a salary cap for coaches in the NCAA. Make it generous if you want, but cap it. End the coaching arms race that major conference schools are engaged in.
2.     Require coaches to sit out for one season if they move from one Division I school to another before their contract with their current school is up. They make enough money, they can afford a year off. Make it even better: require them to do service work for their year off. If Steve Sarkisian wants to leave the University of Washington to coach at Stanford, he has to spend a year coaching inner-city kids in the interim.
3.     Allow athletes to major in their sport if they choose. Many athletes will still get business degrees or communications degrees, but a few might choose to be sports majors. They can study the math of sport, the history of sport, the economics of sport. They can write essays about sports. Why not? They let poets major in poetry. Who has the better shot at making a career out of their major?
4.     Require all sports scholarships to be four-year packages. If you recruit a kid and offer him a scholarship, you are committing to that kid for the full four years of his eligibility.

1 comment:

  1. I LOVE it! I hadn't really thought about the inequity of coaches being free to jump and players not, but yeah. This makes good sense. All of it.

    Which makes it unlikely to be possible, but still worth talking up.