I want to get back to the series on reforming college football so that more teams have reasonable chances to win championships, and more players graduate with useful degrees, and … and… and… I keep running into a problem, though. Every essay ends up being several thousand words of total boring trash. It’s accurate, and quite unreadable.
So, I am going to try to pare back the trash and just stick with cleaning out what I think stinks, like old milk residue in the jug at the bottom of the recycle bin. You know the one, you can’t get to the danged thing without emptying the stupid can, but you can’t live with it smelling up the garage. So, most of the time you roll the can out and put it beside the house out of the way for the crows to ignore because the smell is so horrid. Yeah, that’s what it sounded like; instead of solving the problem you push it out of smell distance and ignore it until recycle day.
We really can’t do that, here. The problem is starting to wear on everyone. I am not going into details; I wrote an article several seasons ago about the need for FBS football to adopt real conferences with real playoffs, just like every other NCAA football conference. We’ll revisit that issue in the latter part of this series. For now, we really need to get at ways to control the smell so that we aren’t annoying the crows, or making the neighbors sick.
The issue came home to me as a poster to the Facebook page was commenting on how someone had started one of those crowd funding sites to drum up enough cash to buy out Justin Fuente’s contract; after one disappointing season, no less. Just one season, and one that everyone with any real knowledge of football programs knew was going to be at issue. So, the two questions that are begged are pretty easy. First, if Hokie Nation can’t cough up enough revenue through gate, media, and the Hokie Club to buy out the coach’s contract; what makes you think that you’re going to crowd fund such a move? Second, how important is “winning” to you, honestly, really?
On the first point, we have the issue of crowd funding from Hokie Nation. Look, we are in the mid-40s in total revenue for programs even the Hoos are in the top 25 (mostly about basketball, baseball, and lacrosse) but they generate way more income than we do. So, let’s let some reality sink in. Virginia Tech is a wonderful university. Hokie Nation is almost faultlessly loyal, and Blacksburg is Home to everyone who had a great experience here. What we are just not is super wealthy. Virginia Tech has some nice donors, and some really wonderful people who have contributed serious (Hokie serious) cash to facilities and program support. The catch is that we think a $2mil contribution is huge. Even a $5mil deal nets several buildings and a street naming right. Folks, that’s relative chump change for huge donor bases in other big programs.
Look, #LPD really means something to us, because the lunch pail concept of lacing up your boots and grabbing the plans for the next project being built is what we are all about. This is really truly a blue collar school. We are engineers, farmers, animal science professionals, teachers, government employees, contractors, and military members. We have some really wealthy and successful folks, that’s for sure. They fly into Hokie International with their Citations and Barons, but most folks trundle out I64 or 66 and down I81 in the family SUV or minivan. Hokies are busy paying for their kids to go to Tech, or William and Mary... or CNU… or JMU... They are scratching together money for donations to church or the homeless. We just aren’t the uber wealthy alumni association with loads of lawyers and doctors from our prestigious law and medical schools. (It’ll be 25 to 40 years before we see the alumni from the med school with any serious donation cash). With that limited fund pool, there is also a tension that exists between the university’s endowments and the booster club. Folks that can give often choose one or the other. How do you think that will shake out when push comes to shove between the Athletic Department and the University Colleges? The reality is that sports money really doesn’t make it to the university directly. It’s not like there is profit sharing or revenue splitting going on.
That all leads to the second question of how important is winning to you (in general…). Is it actually so central to your emotional and physical wellbeing that you are going to try to figure out how to bribe the athletic department to part company with a competent coach? Is winning so important that you’ll cheat the system? Pay players under the table with bag men operated from the shadows of the booster world? You don’t have to look far under booster carpets before you start to see the mouse droppings. You can never quite find the mice, but you know that they are there when you aren’t.
How do you fix the dirty dance between money and projected competitiveness? There are some possibilities for how to limit the influence; revenue sharing between athletic departments and universities; banning official booster clubs altogether and running them out of the university endowments. They NCAA could limit ticket prices, eliminate seat premiums, and cap all contracts at the same revenue level. Sunshine would help. Pay the players a real stipend like graduate teaching assistants get. Admit that certain teams are pro football feeders, and declare Division 1 FBS to be minor league pro-football. One of the biggest things to do is to honestly build conferences, make teams play in them, and provide real championships for the three levels of FBS football. Winning would still be important, but the “national championship” would be just like state football championships, and FCS trophies.
Face it, human nature is just too much to overcome on most of these issues. There are just too many fans that go far beyond the happy tailgaters in the parking lots scattered around college towns on Game Day. They create and foment a culture of win at all and any cost. Instead of fans of teams they become emotional stakeholders. They never realize, unless they are gambling on the outcomes that in collegiate sports winning and losing is just a part of the game. This is all supposed to be about providing an opportunity for college eligible men and women to earn university degrees by providing much needed entertainment and emotional unity to a university fan base.
The truth is the first major reform in NCAA sports (football in particular) is to bring the fans back down to the notion that it’s just a game and the point of the game is to entertain us. Through that entertainment, the primary goal is educating young men and women, who might not ordinarily get the opportunity, at the university level.