By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
How’s this for an opening line? I want to write this week on something I know nothing about: college football.
Seriously, I don’t know which teams are members of which division, which teams are hot, or which teams are headed for bowl games. And I could not care less. But I do know this: the importance of college football is way overrated and the prominence of football on most college campuses is way out of proportion to what a university’s supposed to be all about. Just look at Ohio State.
Buckeyes fans were absolutely giddy this week with the hiring of new coach Urban Meyer. And, no doubt, Meyer exudes the aura of a winning coach. Before coming to Ohio State, he led the Florida Gators to a 65-15 record over six seasons, winning two national titles. His overall record in 10 seasons with Florida, Bowling Green and the University of Utah is 104-23.
Ohio State was so eager to lure Meyer from ESPN and back to coaching that they broke the bank, offering him a six-year deal worth $26 million. On top of his base salary of $4 million, he qualifies for up to $700,000 in annual bonuses, plus an annual automobile stipend, 50 hours use of a private jet, membership in a fancy golf club, and 12 free tickets to every home game. By contrast, Ohio State President Gordon Gee makes a measly $1.32 million. Don’t you think there’s something wrong with this picture?
Of course, Ohio State’s not the only big campus to spend big on football — nor is it the worst offender. USA Today reports that 64 college football coaches make at least $1 million. Alabama’s Nick Saban, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, and Louisiana State’s Les Miles each earn more than $4 million. And University of Texas Longhorns coach Mack Brown wins the trophy at more than $5 million.
I’m sorry, but no football coach, no matter how successful, is worth that much. Team player President Gee, who makes less than a third of his new coach’s take-home, defended Ohio State’s contract with Meyer as “a mark of our dignity and nobility.” Nice try. If you ask me, it’s a mark of their stupidity — and misplaced priorities.
This is hardly the year, by the way, to be glorifying college sports. Americans were still reeling from disgusting details about Jerry Sandusky’s behavior at Penn State, and the subsequent cover-up by athletic department officials, when news broke of a similar scandal and cover-up at Syracuse University. The University of Miami was rocked by reports of wealthy supporter Nevin Shapiro’s rewarding players with lavish gifts ranging from cash payouts to entertainment, jewelry, and prostitutes. And Meyer’s position at Ohio State only opened up after Jim Tressel resigned over Buckeyes players caught trading memorabilia for cash and tattoos.
In light of those scandals, sports columnist Christine Brennan has called this a “watershed moment” for college football. And she’s right. Instead of continuing to pump ever more money into sports, this is a time for college officials to step back and do some serious soul-searching about the true purpose of the university — and what role, if any, college sports should play.
Sure, football and basketball bring in tons of revenue to college campuses, especially from TV broadcast deals, but to what end? Do they help the university, which exists primarily as a center of learning, to turn out more and better researchers and scientists whose work might someday change the world? Or do they further confirm the reputation of the university as a big-time sports entertainment center?
Unfortunately, I think we already know the answer to that question. Just this week, the House of Representatives voted to eliminate the per-country cap on visas for highly-skilled workers from India, China and other countries. That move was necessary, explained author Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) in order for “U.S. employers to attract and retain certain essential workers they need to help keep America competitive.”
Yes, we just relaxed our immigration laws in order to allow companies to import more engineers and scientists from overseas. Why? Because we’re not producing enough of them out of our own universities. We’re turning out pampered football players and coaches, instead.
Finally, just in case you’re wondering: According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average full-time college professor’s salary is $79,439. Need I say more about upside-down priorities?
© 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.