Feeding the Beast; Texas Spends; Leach Embarrasses; Costello Sits
Football has always been the cash cow, the lifeline for those healthy diversions once known as "minor sports" and now called "Olympic sports."
Football revenues, and in some cases basketball revenues, paid the freight for sports like track and field, water polo, volleyball, gymnastics and sailing. So all that money spent on stratospheric coaching salaries, facilities and recruiting at least served an auxiliary noble purpose.
But this year, the model broke down, and the hypocrisy in college athletics was laid bare by a pandemic that shut down sports, cancelled games, eliminated or greatly reduced ticket sales, and forced administrators to make hard choices.
Hard choices, like, should we keep the crew team, or build that new football scoreboard? Should we cancel football—because all other students have been sent home to learn remotely—or keep the “student athletes” on campus to play games for television?
For most athletic directors, the choices were easy. As we’ve seen at Stanford and elsewhere, when money gets tight, the first thing to go will be the Olympic sports. Available resources must be allocated to football. Football’s needs must be accommodated. Games must be played. TV rights must be deposited.
In other words, you have to keep feeding the beast.
I've written about this for awhile, and particularly this year, but recently national columnists like Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde and Michael Rosenberg, whose voices are much louder and more influential than your humble blogger’s, have joined the chorus.
Rosenberg summed it up thusly: “In 2020 it became obvious that the apparatus that was supposed to support a larger infrastructure has overwhelmed it instead. Around the country schools responded to their budget crunches by slashing non-revenue sports, like huge law firms deciding to cut costs by slashing pro bono work.”
One of the grossest excesses in that football “apparatus” is the money spent on coaches…and on fired coaches. When you give a guy at five-year, $5M contract extension and fire him with three years to go, that’s going to be expensive.
On Saturday Texas fired its head coach, Tom Herman, and five hours later hired his replacement, Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.
The invoice for firing Herman and hiring Sarkisian will approach $50 million. Herman’s buyout is about $15 million, plus an estimated $9 million for the rest of his staff. Sark will get at least $4 million a year, probably $5M, even though he hasn’t been a head coach since being fired at USC in 2015. (He was making $2.5 million at Alabama).
As Forde pointed out in his column, this mid-eight-figure Brink’s truckload is being shelled out four months after Texas laid off 35 people in the athletic department, left 35 other jobs unfilled, put some workers on furlough and had nearly 300 employees take a temporary pay cut.
Sadly, this type of insanity happens with great regularity in college football. Last month Auburn paid head coach Gus Mazlahn $21.45 million to go away, and earlier South Carolina shooed Will Muschamp out the door with a $13 million buyout.
A few years ago, Jim Mora left UCLA with $12.5 million after he was canned. And Kevin Sumlin, recently fired at Arizona, has a $7 million buyout from the Wildcats to go with the $10 million he got when let go by Texas A&M.
Forde suggests using some of that money to restore the jobs of those employees who were laid off.
Better yet, let’s cut coaching salaries and use the savings to restore the sports that have been cut at Stanford, Iowa and 24 other colleges.
Latest from Leach: That paragon of virtue in college football, Mike Leach, is at it again.
After his team beat Tulsa 28-26 in the Armed Forces Bowl Thursday, a massive brawl between the teams broke out when the players came together for the post-game handshake.
This wasn't a little pushing and shoving. This was a full on donnybrook, with multiple players punching and kicking. Coaches couldn't separate them or break it up. Players were jumped from behind. Players lying on the ground were kicked in the head.
Instead of condemning the fight in a postgame interview, Leach just shrugged it off.
"This is a football team," Leach declared, "so we're not going to be tearing cloth over this. I mean, somebody went to a football game and somebody got hit. There's a point where I'm not going to lose my mind over it."
That mature response led to a celebration of the fight in the Mississippi State locker room. Wide receiver Malik Heath, who was seen on television intentionally kicking a Tulsa player up around the face mask while he was lying on the ground, posted an Instagram video praising himself for the act and joking about it with his teammates in the locker room. He referred to the Tulsa player as a "bitch." The post was entitled "Kicked a guy and ran away."
Afterward, ESPN game announcers called Leach's comments more disgusting than the brawl itself. And the ESPN GameDay crew let him have it the next day.
Kirk Herbstreit, perhaps the most respected broadcaster in the game, didn't hold back.
"Mike Leach should be embarrassed," Herbstreit said. "His postgame interview and what he said. 'Hey, it's football. Hey, it's physical. It's going to happen.' Are you kidding me, Mike? You should be embarrassed about your program and what it did. This is a black eye for the sport."
Host Rece Davis also called out Leach, who was up in the stands on the other side of the stadium, taking pictures with fans, while his team was brawling.
First year under Mike Leach...who are you going to be," Davis asked. "What's your program going to be about? Is it going to be about this chippiness and false bravado and making videos in the locker room celebrating a fight?
When Leach was hired, we wrote a blog entitled "Mississippi Madness" and predicted it wouldn't go well. In my mind, Leach's mistreatment of players, attacks on the media, bizarre comments and conspiracy theories, should disqualify him from any head coaching job. This season, after an opening game win over LSU, it's been all downhill.
And it's only going to get worse.
Costello Update: Like his coach, Stanford transfer K.J. Costello made a brilliant debut in Mississippi State's season-opening win over LSU, passing for an SEC and school record 623 yards and five touchdowns.
But Costello flamed out quickly. Over the next four games, all losses, he threw for just one touchdown and had eight passes intercepted. He threw four picks in a 24-2 loss to Kentucky, passed for only 99 yards in a 28-14 loss to Texas A&M, got kneed in the head in a 41-0 loss to Alabama and was sidelined for six weeks.
During his absence, true freshman Will Rogers took over the starting job and established himself as the No. 1 quarterback. When Costello was cleared to play again, his only action was mop up duty in a 51-32 win over Missouri on Dec. 19.
No information was available on his course load in graduate studies at Mississippi State, the nation's No. 206 rated college.