In which I defend Notre Dame. Seriously!
Gregg Easterbrook first came in for a lashing around these parts when he claimed Rich Rodriguez had been in contact with Michigan before West Virginia's game against Pitt without a shred of evidence and used this in a tiresome broadside at the idea that a college coach would take a better job. When this was totally disproven by actual court records, Easterbrook—who loves to complain about New York Times errors being on page one and corrections on page 37—did not deign to notice, instead launching tiresome broadside after tiresome broadside at "weasel" coaches.
It's December again and a major program has just hired a coach, so it's time for yet another tiresome broadside:
Charlie Weis and Bobby Bowden had to go -- Notre Dame and Florida State weren't winning every game! Get rid of the bums! All we heard from sports commentators, and from alums and boosters, was get rid of the bums, we gotta win, win, win. Sorry to interject, but why? Why does Notre Dame or Florida State or any university need to win every game? Is it now official that big colleges care more about sports than education?
You'd think a guy like Easterbrook, who is paid to be a political pundit, would have at least a tenuous grasp on economics: Florida State and Notre Dame would like to win because if they do not win they get less money for their athletic departments. If they continue to stick with coaches who are not performing, fan enthusiasm will crater and they'll be faced with the dissolution of a tradition treasured by thousands. Why am I explaining this to you? You understand this because it is obvious. Nevermind. I'll stop treating you like you are a simpleton.
Easterbrook, on the other hand, seems determined to display his ignorance at every opportunity. In previous columns he's claimed Michigan Stadium's renovations are being paid for by "public funds," which if true is only true in an extremely technical sense since the athletic department is and remains self-sufficient*, and that Michigan "surprised" Notre Dame by running the no-huddle style of offense Rich Rodriguez has been deploying for almost a decade at big important newsworthy schools.
In this column his impression of Notre Dame's recruiting under Weis is totally wrong:
Notre Dame was among the few prominent holdouts, insisting its football players be students too. This generated a recruiting disadvantage -- and a recruiting disadvantage caused by high standards, not Weis suddenly forgetting how to coach, is the reason for the recent records of Notre Dame football. Notre Dame alums and boosters should have been proud that high standards keep the school from going 12-0!
According to Rivals, ND's recruiting classes under Weis: 8, 8, 2, 21. (The 2005 class was technically signed by Weis but was almost entirely the (lame) creation of Tyrone Willingham.) Every class at Notre Dame except redshirt seniors and freshmen was part of a top ten recruiting class.
Easterbrook also suggests that the past two decades have seen a "race to the bottom," providing no evidence other than Florida State's recent cheating scandal. He places Nebraska in a list of "academics-first colleges where football players are more likely to attend class"…
…which is a hilarious juxtaposition of concepts. He dubs Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick's desire to not go 6-6 a "bizarre notion." In his attempt to make a case that big time division I-A football can be won by nerds he cites playoffs at lower levels all the way down to Division III and Director's Cup standings heavily biased towards nonrevenue sports. When he returns to the "weasel" coaching meme—which appears to be any coach who takes a job anywhere else and thus includes some 80% of I-A coaches—he cites Brian Kelly "misleading" his players when Kelly, more than any other coach in recent history, was publicly open to a move. He freakin' tweeted about it.
Reality is just something that gets in the way of Easterbrook's arguments.
The worst thing is that buried in yet another Easterbrook-patented tiresome broadside is a concern I share for the players who play college football and end up coming out the other end with little except some memories and a concussion or two. He's not wrong that the way the NCAA is constructed is increasingly silly. Money gets poured in and ends up going to coaches because it can't go to players and has to go somewhere. The result is yet more ridiculous salaries at top schools. The first million-dollar coordinator isn't far off.
But Easterbrook eschews anything resembling a useful suggestion in favor of calling people weasels when they're just acting rationally given the situation. Here's my suggestion to help divert some of the torrent of cash to the players that has more than a snowball's chance in hell of being approved: allow programs to offer players in revenue sports two free additional years of scholarship after their eligibility expires as long as they enroll within five years. At that point it should be clear if you have a serious professional future and those who want to buckle down and make it in the real world will have an opportunity to get a degree that will help them do that.
*(You might note that part of that link is a complaint about the tax-deductibility of athletic department contributions, but that's not the only part that decries "public" funding; the issue is explicitly framed as "and on top of the public funding of the stadium renovations, here's this problem with donations."
As long as I'm in a footnote, let me mention how breathtakingly stupid that argument is: Easterbrook and his emailer are whining about Michigan spending money that will convince extremely rich people to give them more money.)