The time has come to divorce big-time football from our universities – For The Win

8 months ago Comments Off on The time has come to divorce big-time football from our universities – For The Win

The question we must struggle with now that we understand the full extent of what happened at Baylor University is simple yet evades anything close to an easy answer.

How do we make football less important?

Baylor, in case you somehow missed it, announced yesterday that it had suspended football coach Art Briles with the intention of firing him. An investigation commissioned by the school found that administrators repeatedly failed to support victims of sexual assault, and the football program “hindered enforcement of rules and policies, and created a cultural perception that football was above the rules.”

What happened at Baylor — where some victims were encouraged not to report what had happened to them — is atrocious and warrants particular scorn.

But let’s not pretend that the “cultural perception” of football being above the rules doesn’t exist at pretty much every major Division I school (as Nancy Armour points out in this eloquent column). And why wouldn’t it? The coaches are the highest paid people on campus — or in the entire state. Athletes who wouldn’t otherwise be admitted to the school receive full tuition and other benefits. They practice in state-of-the-art buildings and play in gigantic coliseums for a national TV audience.

(Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Baylor president Ken Starr runs around with the mascot. (Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports)

Football is important to those places. University presidents spend so much of their time trying to gin up donations and a good portion of that happens at football games and is tied to the success of those teams.

The whole system needs to change, and drastically. University presidents are not equipped to deal with what football has become. Nor is the NCAA. This isn’t some extracurricular activity anymore. It’s big business and getting bigger. It’s long past time we treated it that way.

Baylor and the other schools in the Power 5 conferences should spin their football teams off and form a minor league. Keep the names and the jerseys, sure, but operate the program as a franchise completely outside of the president’s sphere of responsibility. Appoint a commissioner to oversee the whole thing. Dispatch with all the goofiness of requiring players to attempt to get a degree while also working 50 hours a week at football (they can return to school on scholarship once their playing days are over). Pay them.

If a general manager is responsible for hiring coaches and ensuring teams win, presidents will (hopefully) be freed to concentrate on running their huge, complicated universities. Boosters may still decide to give based on how the football team does but a president won’t shoulder the responsibility for the team’s success. The president — and the entire ecosystem beneath them — also won’t feel the same pressure to protect the football program at the expense of female students. Or young boys.

(AP Photo/Gene Puskar)

(AP Photo/Gene Puskar)

Yes, the coaches of our new minor league team will still be powerful and all too likely to act in their own self-interest when issues arise with their players. They need better training on how to deal with sexual assault, obviously, but do we really expect to ever root out their overriding loyalty to their players? They make millions because they put winning first. Expecting them to be watch dogs — let alone a moral compass — is foolish.

There needs to be someone in place to counterbalance that. It should be the university president. But right now people in that position are on the team. They need football to succeed if they want to succeed. That must end.

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