COLUMBIA SC - NOVEMBER 06: "Would I lie?" (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Ed. Note: We interrupt your previously scheduled SGITR: Illinois to bring you a special report from Ted and me. Aaaand by special report, I mean me and Ted were E-mailing back and forth about the Petrino scandal and how it affects the B1G and turned it into a piece that we think merits some discussion. If you were one of the 22 fans that were coming to talk about Tim Beckman, we invite you to come back Thursday where SGITR was bumped to. B1G 2012: Illinois will continue tomorrow with The Illinois Potluck. Thank you for your cooperation. Oh, and if you're looking for an Illinois fix, I highly recommend Graham's Cocktail Party Primer from yesterday. You can find that here.
Last week, the biggest story in College Football had very little to do with football and a lot to do with motorcycles, mistresses, and what can only be described as, "pay for play." The world of FBS football was spun into a lot of hubbub over a man who is quite arguably the slimiest coach in football... No, we're not talking about Lane Kiffin, we're obviously talking the one and only Bobby Petrino. After six or so days of deliberation, Arkansas AD decided, "You know what Bobby, there just really isn't much we can do about this. It's been a fun ride," and the universe was set into an argument that really should never have even been an argument.
This is when I thought to myself, "You know what KennardHusker? Minus the fact that you talk to yourself in internet usernames, you should E-mail Ted and do a quick back and forth on the ethics of football. After all, Ted is the resident Cynic, has an inordinate amount of time dealing with slimy coaches [Ed Note: Ted has NO idea I just slipped that in], and is our Urbz enthusiast. He's going to have a good frame of reference on this whole thing." So, I shot him an E-mail that went something like this:
Wanna write something about how awesome it is that the world of SEC football is getting praised because they did something right, even though a) there really wasn't a choice, and b) they probably knew this was going to end poorly?
So let me know.
If you know Ted, it didn't take long to get a resounding yes, and away we went! So here's the deal everyone. Strap in for an extra long piece. Hopefully no one really planned on doing much today at work (I myself am working a half day so I can go see a concert in Kansas City), and if all else fails, you all have the reader button on your iPhone. Use it. This piece clocks in at just a hair under 4500 words, sooooooo yeah. In the next 4000 words or so, Ted and I seek to answer some of the finer points of Coaching Ethics 101 by analyzing our good friend Petrino and his most-likely-to-get-fired AD Jeff Long, as well as the realities of how things like this affect our own conference (Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan... you get the idea). The conversation happens after THE JUMP (still a funny name for that extra click... aaaaand you should all still go there).
Alright Ted, since this was my idea, I get to start things off. Obviously OTE has a lot of lawyers on the staff and from what I can tell, they seem to be pretty good at what they do. However, you and I are not lawyers so we are pretty much free to say anything we want, right? Right. So here's a softball for you, Was it right of wrong for Arkansas to fire Petrino?
KH, we may not be lawyers, but I bet we've watched enough Law and Order: SVU (Mariska Hargitay FTW, amirite?) to get at least three credits towards a law degree knocked out.
Be that as it may, let me ask this: how could it be wrong to fire Petrino?
Look, I gave up pounding the morality gavel in sports a long time ago, so that's not the angle I'm coming from on this. As a society, we're pretty damn stupid to hold athletes, celebrities, and politicians up as beacons of virtue, and I quit doing it years ago. They're no different than we are as human beings--they just make a lot more money, are a lot more famous, or both. If you play on a team I cheer for and are a piece of shit, I can cheer for you for three hours on Saturday or Sunday if the team decides you can suit up. It's not my job to be the Moral Arbitrator; it's my job to be a fan. So fine, help my team win. And when they're done with you, I'm done with you. It makes my sporting life much easier that way.
As a married man and a father, I find his actions completely repugnant, but that's not the point. Those are moral issues that winning football games can trump. Sorry, they just are. Had Houston Nutt won 21 games in two years at Arkansas and gone to two straight BCS games, he would've survived the infidelity rumors that eventually got him ousted. But he didn't, and he was gone. What the University of Arkansas couldn't let stand is Petrino essentially hiring his mistress to be on his staff, paying her 20 large to be his fuck buddy, and then Petrino trying to cover it up after the fact. 159 other people applied for that job, he picked her, and if Arkansas kept him, they open the door to 159 lawsuits (or one HUGE class action lawsuit), and the possibility of this Concubine Placement Program becoming a commonplace occurrence among the staff and faculty. You could counter that a science professor hasn't gone to 2 BCS games, but a courtroom wouldn't care, as the esteemed lawyers on the staff could probably attest. And said hypothetical science professor would say 'you didn't fire Petrino, you can't fire me.' And even a moron like me can see that would be a tough spot for the University to put itself in from a legal standpoint.
There's no amount of football games won in the world that could undo the long term institutional damage of a massive class action lawsuit. That could've had a ripple effect through the university for years, cost them millions in fines, settlements and maybe research grants, and ruined the school's reputation, not just the football coach of said school. Do I think Petrino is still the coach if it was 'just' adultery? Absolutely I do. And if I were an Arkansas fan, would I have come to terms with having a piece of shit for a coach if he won a conference championship and a BCS title or BCS bowl? Yep. I knew what he was before he came to Arkansas, and I still cheered, so why stop now? I'm not having the guy over to my house for dinner, and I sure as hell wouldn't let my kid play there, but for me, it's just sports. However, when you add everything else on to it, Petrino had to go.
But let me ask a question here...when did we cross this mystical Rubicon of Arkansas being praised for doing the only sensible thing possible in protecting the University as a whole by firing a lying slimeball like Petrino? I mean, has win at all costs sports overtaken common sense to the point where doing what seemed like a no brainer move is now lauded as 'brave' and courageous'? I know our standards have dropped, but that low?
Ted, I have updated my resume to include Pre-Law. While our resident lawyers might argue this is falsifying something, I am sticking by it and before the end of my tenure at OTE, I will have some fancy initials after my name (namely JA for jackass...).
Anyhow, I couldn't agree more with you on the fact that AD Jeff Long had no choice but to fire Petrino. I mean, what does this say about our world when Long is now a beacon of morality? Look, I get that it is always tough to fire a winner. Nobody likes when the talented guys are morons, but this isn’t exactly a left field decision. When Long hired Petrino , he knew exactly the type of guy he was getting. This was a dude who literally quit on his former team, interviewed for his old boss’ job ,before that boss lost his job, and lied to anybody and everybody in authority. How else did he think this would end?
The worst thing, in my opinion, is that after looking the other way this whole time, Long is getting praised. Really? See, you hit the nail on the head when you said that Petrino has his job right now if he was just caught with his pants down. Unfortunately, this included paying his mistress $20k for a new car, giving her a job she was woefully under-qualified for, and then working tirelessly to lie to everyone about it. To even begin to say that Long had a choice in the matter is perhaps the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. Even so, how much would you bet that Long still tried to salvage this whole thing. I personally have zero doubt Long sat down with Petrino at some point last week and said, "Look, I don’t really like you, but you’re a damn good coach. We know that men like you do stupid shit all the time, but usually you have an out of sorts. Sooooo, what’s your out?"
When Petrino didn’t have an out, it was no longer a matter of if, but when he got fired. Sure, Long was at least up front and all but when you look at the facts, his decision was neither brave nor courageous. This was a decision by a man backed into a corner... which is most definitely an indictment on our sports climate at this time.
It has most definitely become a WINATALLCOSTS culture in college sports, especially the moneymaker that is FBS Football (hence the FBS part). The good guys get nothing unless they’re winning, and the bad guys get everything so long as they don’t get caught. We praise the dirtbags (I’m looking at you Rick Pitino) for their winning DNA, and we try to pass off the NCAA as something where ethics matter. Arkansas praised as the good guys now? I'm calling total BS on that one.
All that said, this ia a site about the B1G, and the reason we even started this was because we have no room to talk. We like to get on our high horses about our righteous superiority to those schools down south, but we are not without our coaching scandals and lack of ethics. So Ted, I have a 2-parter for you. First, what would have happened if that was Urban (or Bo, Hoke, Bielema, etc.) in the same situation as Petrino? Would our B1G fanbases react in the same way that Fayetteville did or would we have asked for the offending coaches head on a silver platter? The second part is this, let's assume that the University Administration’s hands are tied but they would prefer to not pull the trigger, does Emperor Delaney step in because the B1G claims to have a moral compass that is superior or more important than everybody else's?
Well, since none of the lawyers on our staff deal in Academic Law, if that's even a category, we're fine. And dude, it's a resume, whoever submits an accurate one? I mean, it's not like anyone checks that shit out. My resume says I'm the only ex-President astronaut to ever serve on the Supreme Court, and that's what got me my current job. The fact that I was president of the Ted Glover fan club (membership of 1) and watched a couple episodes on the Discovery Channel about the shuttle program while flipping back to The People's Court really isn't germane to this conversation. Let's just move on.
To answer your question, I think we've already got our answers, just by looking at the OSU and Penn State scandals. In terms of wrongdoing, they pale in comparison, but in terms of fan reaction, they tell us everything we need to know. In Columbus, Jim Tressel found out about players violating NCAA rules which would make them ineligible to play football, and made a calculated decision that if he didn't say anything, the NCAA wouldn't find out. They did, and when it hit the news, people went apeshit. Look, what he did was wrong, and I'm not defending his actions, but the media reaction seemed way, way disproportionate to what we would comparatively call 'Tuesday' in the SEC or Oregon.
Anyway, like Fayetteville, the reaction in Columbus was 'big deal', while the rest of the world's reaction was "AAAAAAHHHH WHAT A BIG DEAL HE IS THE WORST PERSON EVER AAAAAAHHHHH'. In Ann Arbor and around the college football world, people laughed and took great pleasure at the fall of the House of Tressel; in Columbus, hundreds of people marched to Tressel's house after he was canned as a show of support, and thought he got screwed.
Penn State is on a completely different scandal level than Fayetteville or Columbus, or any college football scandal anywhere ever, yet the fan reaction was even crazier in terms of supporting their coaching staff and their team, especially Joe Paterno. Joe Paterno isn't Jerry Sandusky, please don't think I'm in any way trying to equate the two. But Paterno's benign negligence in the face of these heinous crimes were worthy of immediate dismissal when they came to light. And when Joe Paterno was rightly dismissed, the students rioted because of it. In support of the coach!
We in the B1G like to spout our moral superiority, but we're as full of shit and as hypocritical as any other group of fans. And Michigan fan, you're just as guilty, so put your cup of sanctimony down and take your medicine. Under Rich Rodriguez, Michigan was hit with major NCAA violations a few seasons back, and Michigan fans were crying to the Heavens that it was a 'bunch of bullshit', and the Detroit newspapers and ESPN were on a witch hunt to bring down Rodriguez.
Arkansas, Oregon, Michigan, OSU and PSU have shown that it doesn't matter who the coach is, or what the circumstances are. The fanbases of the aggrieved school will circle the wagons and try to minimize and downplay the scandal to the greatest extent possible, always. Every other fan base in the conference/country will try to blow it way out of proportion and automatically go to the 'worst case scenario' to justify why that school/team has been so good for so long.
So does it matter who the coach is? Yeah, it does, as long as he wins. Had Tressel been a .500 coach and the Sugar Bowl was the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, he would've been gone within 24 hours. But Jim Tresssel won, and won big at Ohio State, and that gives you breathing room. Win a lot, and that somehow adds to your personality as a 'good guy', or as a person of 'moral character', and it gets you more chances than you probably deserve. The only guy in recorded college football history that won a lot and got no breathing room was Frank Solich. He gets to the BCS championship game...and gets fired for his effort? Really, KH?
What would Jim Delany do? Well, let me answer that by asking another question: What did he do for Ohio State? He went to bat for them and lobbied the NCAA to let the Tatgate players participate in the Sugar Bowl--that's what Jim Delany did in that instance. To be fair, Delany didn't know about Tressel's cover up at that point, and I don't think he would've done that if he had known everything. That said, everyone talks about the moral high ground this and doing the right thing that, but that's all just a lot of talk. Delany wanted to maximize OSU's chances to field the best team possible, which would ensure a competitive game, which would mean higher ratings, which would mean more money to the school and ultimately the B1G conference. In modern college football, just accept the fact that morality and ethics take a back seat to winning and making money, and only jumps to the front when the winning and the money are no longer a regular occurrence, and can be used as a convenient excuse to kick a guy to the curb.
But let me ask you a question--why is that? Why do we, as fans of a school, accept that? And we're all guilty of it. I'm going to be honest here, and you can quote me on this--if Urban Meyer leaves Columbus in 6 or 7 years for another school with two national titles, four pot smokers, 30 player arrests, no more NCAA sanctions and a team out of control, I promise you the only thing I'll focus on is the '2 national titles' part. As a fan, I so won't give a fuck about all that other stuff. And truth be told, give me two national titles, and I really won’t care if they’re on NCAA probation again. And deep down, if you're being intellectually honest with yourself, you would feel the same way about your team, especially one that hasn't had a lot of success, like Minnesota or Indiana. I'm pretty sure that if Jerry Kill were to win a B1G title, a Rose Bowl, and/or a BCS title in Minnesota, and then it was found it he was the head of an Al-Qaeda sleeper cell, I'd find a way to rationalize it (do you know how tough it is to recruit mideastern kids? He wasn't a sleeper cell agent, he was just trying to understand their culture PAAAWWWWWWWWLLLL Immahnangupandlissen).
OSU (or insert any big time school here) has won more than their fair share of games and championships, so we should demand that it's done the right way...but when it so often isn't, we not only don't care, but we defend, downplay, and justify the rule breaking. Penn State sex scandal, tats for jerseys and rings, setting up a Concubine Placement Program on your staff, it doesn't matter. It should, as a lot of these scandals aren't defendable, but fans of those teams do defend their coach and school, regardless of the charges.
We don’t talk about Solich in the same vein that we don’t really talk about anything Steve Pedersen did in his short reign of tyranny. But you bring up a good point; you just generally don’t fire winners. In fact, not only do we not fire winners, even us fans like to look the other way anytime something bad happens. While I will get a TON of flak from the Husker fan base in about two seconds, I’m still going to bring up the current Godfather of Husker football, Tom Osborne.
Now, let me start by saying that I truly think TO is an all-around good guy who wants to do right by the student first and foremost. He is a teacher type (literally), and he is a person who believes that Nebraska is special. Even so, you can’t look at his National Championship run and not at least bring up the rationalizations every single Nebraska fan made when it came to Lawrence Phillips. Now, this wasn’t a cover-up, and TO didn’t pay off a mistress to not tell the world that he was a dirtbag, but arguably what he did was much worse. TO more or less let a kid who beat his girlfriend, a kid with some anger issues and lack of respect for authority, and a kid who had more talent than anyone on that team play because... well, probably mostly for that last part.
Phillips is not defensible. He was a bad seed and his talent gave him a sense of indestructibility. I know that Osborne has said, and will go to his grave saying, that he did the right thing with LP, but I think that as fans we should have been repulsed by that action. Nebraska had a chance to do things the right way back then. Kicking him off the team might have been the demise of LP, but maybe enabling him and telling him that if you keep your nose clean for a while, all is okay and then you can do what you want was even a worst fate long term. He is now sitting in jail after trying to run over a bunch of high schoolers who beat him in a pick up game of football.
I am truly ashamed of defending TO in hindsight, but it is what we do as fans. We want to believe that sports are somehow transcendent and even a little more so, important to our lives. I’m with you Ted, I love sports, but I am also not too naive to know that it’s all about money. This is as much an entertainment presentation as it is something bigger. We make fun of the riots in Europe after futbol matches, but how far off is that from what we do? We saw riots and demonstrations in defense of coaches who are all admittedly stupid. Why? Because we want to believe that there is something more to this whole team-fan relationship than might actually exist. I defended LP, you defended the Sweater Vest, and fans will continue to support idiots everywhere because they manage to create a sense of importance that is actually hollow. This is not to say that it’s even a bad deal (Nothing like a Saturday in the Fall), but we’re definitely on a collision course with reality these days. No program is looking out for the best interest of the students or even the fans anymore.
To bring this back to the Petrino situation, consider what was really going on for a moment. Here is a guy who really was just a good coach, not a great coach. He was a stellar recruiter and an offensive mastermind with a bright-ish future, but he was also a known liar. Not only does he get this Arkansas job, he also is given carte blanche to do what he wants because the situation Arkansas put him in said, "Look, I know we're asking you to literally bail on your team, and that's probably a bad omen, but please come be nice here." I am sure that four years ago, Hog fans believed he really had changed, and that even though his shitty actions were apparent, it was for the best. Why? Because we believe anything so long as it makes us feel that our team is going to win something. How scary is that? We're willing to put all sorts of morals and ethics in the backseat so long as good things happen. Like I said earlier, this is probably a bigger indictment on fandom than it is on anything else.
Anyhow, I'm off on another tangent and we are well on our way to eclipsing 4000 words. I apologize to the readers who will instantly post TL;DR, but this is at least an interesting thing to talk about. So my last question to you Ted is this, where do we go from here? As college football fans who believe in something, do we just give up or do we take a stand before it gets out of control? Is this 'right action by Arkansas' a change in direction for major schools or is it another blip on the radar (the latter is what I believe). Will he all stop and say, "You know what? Maybe we should hold these guys to some level of ethics!"
Good question, but I don't think there is an easy answer. Sports reflect society, and in this day and age, it's okay to cut corners in many respects--the ends justify the means, if you will. It didn't used to be that way, or if it was, we definitely didn't have 24 hour news media coverage on multiple channels reporting it to us and numbing us to the point of a shoulder shrug and a 'whatever'.
It's easy to say we believe in nothing more than the honor of amateur athletics and pure love of the game, but give us a taste of success and we want more, or at least a vast majority of any fanbase does. If our school gets busted, we're not going to quit watching, and we're not going to quit buying shirts and coozies with our school logo emblazoned on it to 'send a message'. No, we're going to want them to find a coach to get 'us' back to those winning ways as soon as possible. Which is why, in a year or two, Bobby Petrino will get a job somewhere. Oh, and I don't believe for a second that most Arkansas fans thought Petrino had changed, like you suggest. And I doubt they cared--they just wanted a guy that could win them a lot of games, and were willing to roll the dice with the rest. And they did. This time, it came up snakeyes. No, someone will take a chance on Petrino, and all it takes is one.
The simple answer is as fans, we're not going to change it. With the advent of TV, there's too much money at stake. With all the money involved, and all the things that money can provide to athletic departments, this is the new normal. If it does change, there's going to have to be some sort of seismic event that will cause society as a whole to go 'whoa, we're way out of whack here'. And if the Sandusky scandal didn't do it, I'm not sure what will.