ENGSTER: College sports are now big business

When Dale Brown arrived in Baton Rouge in March of 1972 to take charge of the LSU basketball fortunes, his compensation was modest even in those Nixonian times. Brown says his initial pay was $23,000 annually as he drove into TigerTown in a blue Volkswagen Beetle and $300 to his name.

That same month some thirty-five years ago, Brown's greatest player, Shaquille O'Neal, arrived in Newark, New Jersey. On March 6, 1972, Shaq was born. Seventeen and one-half years later, O'Neal enrolled at LSU where he starred for three seasons before entering the NBA. Now, seventeen and one-half years after departing LSU, O'Neal is earning $20 million per season as part of a five-year, $100 million contract that runs through 2010.

 

In two games each NBA season, O'Neal receives more compensation than his former coach garnered in any season as LSU's coach from 1972-1997. Nick Saban once observed that he was more comfortable as the highest paid person on the field. It's no mystery why he has returned to college football where he will have the fattest wallet on any NCAA sideline in 2007.

 

Saban's deal with Alabama is not in the same stratosphere with contracts awarded to a plethora of NFL stars. JaMarcus Russell is about to make Saban look like a piker. By the same token, Glen Davis will soon surpass his college mentor, John Brady, by several million dollars per season.

Brady's overall compensation as LSU basketball coach hovers near $1 million per campaign. His former player, Stromile Swift, is paid $5.4 million each season through 2009 by the Memphis Grizzlies of the NBA. Swift is currently averaging 7.6 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.

 

First year LSU product Tyrus Thomas is receiving $3,260,760 this season to play for Chicago of the NBA. Thomas is averaging 5.1 points and 3.6 rebounds per game for the Bulls.

 

University athletic departments are now bastions of big business, but the dollars have far fewer zeroes than their professional counterparts.  An understanding at LSU also impores head coaches to possess degrees to lead their Tiger troops. It is the same kind of reasonable expectation that LSU has for coaches to refrain from having sexual relations with their players.

 

Interim women's basketball coach Bob Starkey has said he is not seeking Pokey Chatman's old job for the duration. Even if interested, Starkey should be disqualified from consideration for the post  because of his lack of a college degree. It would be impossible for him to have credibility in encouraging his athletes to stay in school and leave with a diploma when he left Marshall University short of obtaining a degree.

 

Starkey is a good man and talented coach. His is also exceptionally loyal to LSU, so he should be retained by the next coach as a staff member. But a degree for any head coach at LSU should be just as much of a requirement as a degree to head the business school.

 

Just as Starkey does not have the necessary credentials to be the Lady Tigers head coach, America's richest man, Bill Gates, would be unqualified to lead the E.J. Ourso School of Business at LSU. Gates was a Harvard dropout before he founded Microsoft.

 

College campuses should strive to attract more professors with real world experience. As a graduate of the LSU Manship School of Mass Communications, this writer is less than enthused with the limited journalistic backgrounds of some professors in the school. At the same time, it would be inappropriate for Journalism Dean John Maxwell Hamilton to hire NBC anchor Brian Williams as a professor. Williams doesn't have a degree from either George Washington University or Catholic University, two schools he attended as an undergraduate.

 

LSU officials are encouraged to draft rules and regulations banning sexual relations between professors and students and to require high-level administrators, including those in the athletic department, to possess degrees before they assume responsible positions at the Ole War Skule. Any professor who lies about academic credentials should get the same treatment George O'Leary received at Notre Dame—immediate dismissal.

 

Nineteen years ago, the Louisiana Legislature at the behest of Gov. Buddy Roemer, named the Assembly Center in honor of Pete Maravich. LSU Chancellor James Wharton opposed the move as did former Gov. John McKeithen. They objected to naming one of the most prominent facilities on campus after a man who embodied athletic excellence and academic failure.

 

This is the appropriate time to remedy the actions of 1988. Gov. Kathleen Blanco should push for legislation to name the Assembly Center in honor of both the player who brought national attention to LSU hoops and the man who coached the Tigers for a quarter-century.

 

An appropriate name for the arena would be the Dale Brown/ Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Naming the Deaf Dome after "Pistol Pete" without equal representation from a man of degree sets a questionable example for any Tiger basketball player, male or female, who is contemplating whether to stay the course at LSU or defect to the professional ranks.

 

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Jim Engster is the general manager of Louisiana Network and Tiger Rag. Reach him at jim@la-net.net.


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