COLLEGE FOOTBALL—THE FUN DAYS

Your news pages, not merely the sports sections, have been home to a number of college football stories the past few weeks, none of them involving touchdowns or tackles. Instead tattoos and tainted reputations have been in the fore.

First, after several months of revelations, mea culpas, and suspensions, Jim Tressel was ousted as Head Coach at Ohio State because of his failure to properly inform others or act on his knowledge of improprieties by his players. That wrongdoing included selling or trading memorabilia, impermissible under NCAA rules.

Whatever one feels about NCAA regulations in this area, and legitimate arguments can be made for their unfairness, there was no denying infractions occurred and that Tressel had failed in his duty to deal with such infractions honestly.

Now, OSU’s star player, Terrell Pryor, has quit school among allegations that his extra benefits began soon after he signed his letter of intent to attend Ohio State and put as much as $40,000 or more in his pockets.

Yesterday came news about the resolution of my own alma mater’s (WVU) tribulations with their utterly stupid coach-in-waiting concept.

To catch you up, last fall new Athletic Director Oliver Luck determined a coaching change was best for West Virginia. Fine, in itself, but for whatever reasons he decided to hire a new coach, Dana Holgorsen, as offensive Coordinator for a year and then to succeed Bill Stewart as Head Coach for the 2012 season.

Holgorsen was permitted to hire his own offensive assistants, resulting in the dismissal of some long-term WVU faithful coaches. Yet, he was expected to remain fully subordinate to Stewart for the coming season.

DUH?

And Stewart supposedly signed on to this bizarre arrangement with the expectation of remaining with WVU in an advisory capacity for a few years.

Late in May Holgorsen made the news for being tossed from a casino bar in Charleston for being drunk. Then stories emerged alleging similar incidents at other establishments, which have drawn vehement denials.

Several days ago the former Post-Gazette beat reporter for WVU football, Colin Dunlap, claimed that Stewart had approached him in December asking him to dig up and report on Holgorsen.

Dunlap, and his former editor Jerry Micco, have been criticized for sitting on this story for so long. (Dunlap recently resigned from the paper for personal reasons, probably related to his newborn twins who have had medical issues. he had been switched to the Pirates which entailed considerable travel).

In Dunlap’s  WVU reports he frequently expressed respect for Stewart. Though I haven’t seen him offer this qualification, perhaps he took Stewart’s remarks about digging up dirt with a large grain of salt, trusting that this was out of character for Stewart and was maybe a product of momentary frustration and not to be taken seriously.

Subsequent events showed maybe he was wrong but his, and Micco’s, original assessment was that the comment wasn’t newsworthy at the time for those reasons seems tenable.

Actually I trace this fiasco back to Ed Pastilong’s choice of Stewart as successor to Rich Rodriguez  in the first place. And that choice was probably highly influenced by both Mike Garrison, the WVU president at the time and Gov. Joe Manchin.

RichRod had resigned to take the head coaching job at Michigan after the 2007 regular season(and fired from that after the 2010 season). Stewart was appointed to coach the Mountaineers in their Fiesta Bowl game against Oklahoma, a game WVU won in a huge upset.

Since there was no true coaching search conducted, Stewart’s hiring appears to be a direct emotional response to his Fiesta Bowl win after the defection of Rodriguez.

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

When Oliver Luck came in I can’t say that I blame him for wanting to replace Stewart, who retained popularity among certain factions and had a decent record, but who was derided by other factions as incapable of taking WVU football to the same heights it had enjoyed under his predecessor.

But Luck did this without publicly acknowledging his intentions, and then recruiting Stewart as an accomplice in his own demise.

Although  a smooth transition ostensibly was underway, the Stewart-Holgorsen dichotomy was fraught with potential difficulty from the start. That it took almost six months to blow up is the only surprising thing about the entire affair.

What these two stories have in common, despite disparate factual situations, is that they illustrate that big time college athletics are anything but a mere adjuct to universities’ educational mission. Rather they are corrupt entities in and of themselves and often remote from the controls university presidents maintain over their other endeavors.

After all, prior to Tressel resigning from Ohio State, its president, Gordon Gee, (coincidentally formerly WVU’s head honcho, too), when asked if he were going to fire Tressel as the worst of his actions was revealed, Gee replied, ” I’m lucky if he doesn’t fire me!”  He may not have been joking.

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