May 3, 2010

Say What, Part II

I know when I write something critical of NCAA Football, it will automatically generate comments. True to form, my posts about a good Arm Swing and observations at a Qualifier did not get a comment, but the Say What post about college football generated four responses.

I would have hoped that my posts on something as elemental to the sport of volleyball, the arm swing, or something as focal as a National Qualifier would have merited Volleyfolk to agree or disagree with my opinions. But, if I take a non-propaganda look at the richest sports entity in collegiate athletics (apologies to the new gazillion dollar men's basketball contract) or express concerns of inequity, the anger in some of the comments is truly stunning.

It may well be that I come off as a whiner for women's volleyball and to a lessor degree, women's sports, but I do not base my opinions on illusions (jealous admiration, yes), but rather I publish observations after being intimately involved with NCAA athletics for 25 years (holy cow, when did I get old?) and reading articles in such sources as USA Today,,, etc.

For instance, there was a recent story about the astounding rise of college football coaching salaries during this severe economic down turn; to summarize, the article said that football coaches pay has risen at a higher percentage the last two years of during this recession, versus the previous five years before the recession. After dealing with the sky is falling mentality dominating the reports coming out of the offices of athletic directors and school presidents for the last 3 years, to have a major news source illustrate the hypocrisy in dollars and sense was so upsetting that I had to just put it out of my mind (look at the pretty cloud, my what a nice looking tree).

Two common themes in the comments I receive, are the same two which are supported by the football at all costs crowd; that football supports the athletic department, and that the athletic department receives significant donations because of football. On both counts, these beliefs are incorrect.

Many studies/reports have shown that the majority of football programs operate at a loss. By and large, the football programs which generate a profit are confined to those conferences which enjoy BCS football bowl tie ins, also considered the power conferences. And even that generality is too nice, because the payout to schools from conferences is a matter of membership, not reflective of each school's specific football program. For example, does Baylor football make money? Even an Enron accounting of that program's expenses could not generate a profit, but the Big 12 payout is a lot of money. It is this hope of hitting the conference jackpot that so many mid-major athletic departments are spinning the wheels trying to get into a current or possible power conference.

The other falsity is the belief that having football within an athletics department assures generous donations which fund many other sports. I had subscribed to this thought process to a certain degree, until I read a report commissioned by a group of school faculty senates which illustrated that the difference in contributions to a university/college with or without football was negligible. Once again, this positive football donations scenario may be the case at a few institutions, but for the majority of schools, this is not accurate. To support my belief, there was another recent article illustrating that the vast majority of NCAA Division I athletic departments operated at a loss (even the ones with the Holy Grail) - If the argument was valid about donations funding all sports, athletic departments would not be in the red.

Unfortunately, I have been witness to this situation. At a previous employer, whose athletic conference would be classified as a DI mid-major, the football team won the division and had a great overall record, won the conference championship game, went to a bowl which was drivable for the fans, and won the bowl. Me and my fellow head coaches thought, "great, we may get a raise this year and our budgets may stay the same since football had a great season". All things considered, the football season was probably as good as was possible for that school.

Then, come the spring semester and the head coaches are told in a staff meeting that the football team lost over $300,000.00 last season and it was only because a couple of boosters stepped up to make up the difference, that we are not having massing budget cuts right now. Wait....the football team had one of its best season ever, and we still lost over a third of a million dollars?!? You could have heard a pin drop in that conference room.

And we all waited for the shoe to drop..... The new plan was to put MORE money into football so that it could make a profit!!! The big money boosters were being courted for football, and their donations were going into football, in addition to the normal funding via the school. The reality for many Olympic sports is that football is a devilish Catch 22 - If they lose, they say they must have more money to win, if they win, they say they need more money to keep winning. Did Alabama cut the budget of football after their national championship? I mean, they are already at the top, they have climbed the mountain!!! No, they bumped it up so they can stay at the top, so they can stay ahead of Texas and Florida and USC. Football is a beast with an ever un-satiated appetite!

Yes, some football programs do pay athletic department budgets, just like some folks are millionaires. Yes, some boosters donate money to an athletic department just because it does have football. But to make the argument that football is the golden goose for all schools is just ignorant.

While I am on this epic rant, I would also like to call out those folks which think football is exempt from Title IX. Maybe I missed a word or two in the law of the United State of America, but I am rather sure it did not go something like "except for football players, male and female students should be....". It makes my hair stand on end, when folks will argue that the football player deserves more/better resources than the softball player because his sport makes money (see above, he loses money).

Beyond the fact that the law says men and women (athletes, students, professors, executives, burger flippers) should be treated equally. Why would participation in a male sport merit a bus, when a female athlete must take a van? Why does the male athlete who uses an oblong ball get the locker big enough to park a VW, when the female athlete who uses a sphere has to jam her stuff into a cubby? I sincerely believe that there is absolutely no rationale for the disproportional treatment of male versus female athletes. And, don't, don't, don't, don't even think of arguing that opportunity is equality.

Do I think football has a place in collegiate athletics? Absolutely it does, just like any other sport which a university/college wishes to support. I think that college football provides a significant opportunity for a large number of young men to obtain their undergraduate degree while doing something for which they have been blessed. Unfortunately, college football consistently has one of the lowest graduation rates in all NCAA sports, and they are not all dropping out of school to go professional.

My biggest complaint is the mentality which learned people (school presidents, athletic directors, faculty athletic representatives) have allowed to prosper, which is that football is special because it makes money for the school (incorrect) and because of this, is treated in a manner which reduces support for all too many other athletes, male and female.

With jealous admiration I compliment the outstanding accomplishment of the college football coaching profession to secure significant salary increases during terrible economic times (insert critical remark about the AVCA here). They should be paid as much as they can squeeze out of higher ed institutions, maybe that is the American way. If they can find a way to have Virgin Atlantic charter planes and the Ritz Carlton for every body involved in their program, good for them. But, it is also a very selfish mentality which takes no notice of their fellow coaches.

Being one of those coaches that if a termination hit me on Monday, I would not be able to kick it for the next year or two because of my contract stipulations, it would lead me to a guilty conscious being awarded a million dollar contract when my friend the tennis coach is still struggling to pay the monthly bills. Football coaches get fired, and have got a mil or two waiting at the door on the way out, even if they did not save a dime for their first few years of their contract, they are not going to go broke anytime soon. The rest of us have only painful memories and players in tears (or maybe tears of joy).

Reset my original argument - VolleyFolk (and you are if you read this, like it or not), please do not blindly swallow the bait that football makes money and funds athletic departments directly or with donations. It that was the case, every NCAA school in the country (no matter the division) would sponsor a football program.

I will close with:

1) Enough ranting about other sports which are not as great as Volleyball!!!! I apologize for my temporary insanity and will resume all that is good and glorious about indoor volleyball.

2) Please don't bother sending comments about this post; I will delete them before I read them, just to keep my blood from getting up - If you disobey me, I will send your e-mail to my relative in the CIA and his operatives will slip a one week old practice knee pad under your pillow.


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