Coach's farewell column, after a 10-year run, laments the bloated, mercenary state of "amateur" athletics in the U.S.
By Andy "Coach" Cotton, Fri., Aug. 30, 2002
I understand when the shills who make their living off of big-time college sports ramble on about the pageantry and beauty of the college game, but most fans, judging from what I hear, buy this line without question. Gag me.
I like the pro game because it is what it is: professional sports where players must be paid, stadiums financed, debt serviced, and a profit made. So when a pro team rapes their fans by charging for the privilege to pay for the privilege to queue up for a season ticket (the infamous Personal Seat License) at least we know who's the screwer and who's the screwee. When fans have to sit through an endless succession of commercials before an NBA game finally concludes, I can go get some more Frito dip and understand that these commercials are the price I pay to support these overpaid clowns.
In the college game, where the cash generated is greater and the commercials just as endless, this just isn't the case. Jerry Jones doesn't own the University of Texas. The athletes, the talent, the true source of all this booty, are paid nothing. Okay, sorry. I forgot those valuable scholarships. How much is a scholarship worth to an in-state student-athlete who actually plans on using it (not many, according to NCAA graduation statistics) for an education? $50,000 maybe. How much does a major public university take in TV revenues, not to mention 80,000 cash customers? The revolution to come in college sports will be when the first athlete files a lawsuit demanding some of that cash -- but that's another subject.
At most public universities the taxpayer pays for secretaries and traveling expenses and coaching staffs. They have no real overhead to speak of, not in the conventional sense of the word anyway. At the richest schools, Texas for example, athletic departments are separate regal fiefdoms within the university they're supposed to be subordinate to. They collect so many gold ducats from long-out-of-control booster organizations (as classrooms crumble and badly needed dorms go unbuilt), they could care less what the public might think of a $10 million stadium. The obscene cash generated -- it might make King Midas blush -- makes the athletic departments untouchable, independent warlords within the university.
I'll bet not one in 10 of you have any idea who the president of UT is ... but I'll bet you know who DeLoss Dodds is. Case closed. An athletic director is -- technically -- an employee of the university president. What do you think would happen in Austin if whoever the UT president is tried to fire Dodds because he thought his AD had lost perspective of what a great public university is about? It's a long drop from the top of the tower. A long drop indeed. Can you name a single case when a president fired an AD for any reason other than he wasn't winning enough? I can't.
Pissing into a hurricane? Sure. No doubt. The desperate grabbing for amateur cash won't ease. It will only get worse. If university presidents all drank from a can of Backbone they'd take back their bloated programs. They'd play 10-game schedules in football, forsake money like the Masters does, and control their game. They'd downsize the bloated, grotesque NCAA basketball tournament, take less money, and let the teams play basketball, like they did back in the day.
Ah, the Coach ... ever the dreamer.
Parting Shots: Well sports fans, it's my very sad task to inform you that you're reading the final "Coach's Corner." I've had a beautiful 10-year run as head -- and entire staff -- of the Chronicle Sports Department, but all good things, it's said, must end. Looking back, I've lived a sports fan's dream; from press tables I saw Jimmy Connors play his last match in the U.S. Open, and was at Jennifer Capriati's press conference when she had her breakdown that sent her into tennis oblivion -- both in the same day! I saw Jordan's shot over Craig Ehlo, Sean Elliott's unlikely three to start the Trail Blazer skid to oblivion, and Hakeem's domination of David Robinson. I saw Ricky Williams break the NCAA rushing record, Mackovic's improbable miracle in St. Louis, and, on a brutally hot September afternoon, his 63-point disgrace. I watched Josh Heupel (the cleverest college QB I ever saw) and Oklahoma announce to the world, at my first Texas-OU game, that they were back. I interviewed the Fighting Irish mascot on the grass of America's most magical field. I had a Laker girl fall into my lap. Good stuff.
None of this would've been possible without your constant support. At all times I've tried hard to be a good reporter providing a little different look into big-time sports. When there wasn't anything to report -- more often than you'd think in a 50-week grind -- I scrambled, like Josh Heupel, to create something out of nothing. I never pretended to be anything other than what you are ... a pig-headed, opinionated sports fan.
Vaya con Dios, my friends, and thanks.