Alabama Part I: The Crimson Tide and Price
If I were a Crimson Tide fan, I think I would want it to all just go away. I would be praying for someone who could wave a magic wand and make all of the scandals, the lawsuits, the whining by former coaches, etc., etc. just disappear. Not only did Price humiliate himself and the university, now he is appealing his dismissal and threatening a lawsuit against Alabama. Price claims he did not deserve to be axed.
Please, after you stop laughing - continue reading.
Price also claims he did nothing with the woman (women?) in his room. He has a couple of "small" problems? First, his behavior is a clear violation of the standards expected today. Maybe if your name was Barry Switzer and this was Oklahoma in the 1970's and 1980's you could get away with this type of shenanigan, but this is 2003 and Price is no Switzer. Second, Mike Price was so fall down, see the pink elephants drunk that he cannot even recall what happened that night. So… how can he testify (if this goes to court) that he did nothing worthy of a boot in the rear if he does not remember?
I am betting Mike Price just wants a larger settlement because his retirement has come a bit earlier than expected. He is posturing and threatening to give him a better bargaining status. It may help. The Tide administrators and alums may just be so embarrassed and sick of the scandals that they capitulate. They may give him some "hush" money. On the other hand, what CNNSI reported Price said has likely forever tainted the "Roll Tide" cheer. Opposing fans and alumni are not likely to let Alabama folks forget the quotes, and the Auburn crowd will probably add lewd gestures to complete the picture for the imagination impaired. This ultimate humiliation and degradation of one of their traditions may put the Alabama faithful in such a foul mood as to dare Price to come after them just so their lawyers can roast him on the stand.
The best option for Price is to stop this nonsense and get proactive. He should be contrite and apologize to Alabama for the shame he brought on them. Before any other athletic director is going to risk their career in hiring him in the future - Price must show a real recognition that his actions demanded his dismissal. An egregious error in judgment of this magnitude does not make him some horrible monster, but it did mandate his being fired. Second, he should enter an intensive counseling program. Maybe he does not need it. Maybe this was indeed a one-time miscalculation. However, the fact that he would go so far as to take this step would show the level of commitment he has to preventing this from happening again. Third, he needs to spend some quality time with his family to repair the damage that has been done to them. His mistake may derail or at the very least set back the careers of his two sons. His rumored infidelity has shamed his wife publicly, and perhaps even worse. Finally, after taking these steps - then and only then - he would do well to volunteer his services as a coach for a university.
If he puts in the time and effort to prove to athletic directors everywhere that he corrected his mistakes, then he will likely get a job offer from someone. There will be that second chance he so desperately wanted. However, if he fights Alabama and tries to act the part of the martyr - the choices for quality future employment will be limited if not nonexistent.
Alabama Part II: The Crimson Tide and Mike Shula
Personally, I think Shula is an excellent choice for Alabama.
1. He is a former player. He understands and loves the fan base. The fans and alumni already know and love him. He will embrace them instead of fear them.
2. He knows what it means to be the coach at Alabama. I said right after his hiring that I did not think Price understood what it would be like as a coach in Tuscaloosa. I wish I had been wrong for the sake of all Tide fans everywhere and the entire sport in general. His lack of comprehension cost him his job, his reputation, and maybe even his family depending on how his wife and sons react. Mike Shula will not make the same mistakes. He knows from experience just how little privacy the coaches and players get when at Alabama.
3. Win or lose, the university is in the catbird seat. If he wins big, then those that hired him look like geniuses. If he loses big, Shula costs them very little to fire him in 3 or 4 years. It is a win-win scenario for the powers that be.
Alabama Part III: The Crimson Tide and Croom
I understand the sentiments that hiring a black coach would be great from the public relations stand point, but I am not sure it would be advisable for either party right now. Before anyone pens an angry e-mail, please believe me when I tell you I am I am no racist pig-dog. I would love to see a black head football coach in the SEC. I despise racism in all of its varied forms and live for the day when society can rise above such pettiness, backwardness, and ignorance.
Having said that, I am not convinced that hiring Croom would have been advisable.
First, the man that becomes the first black coach in the Deep South must be of the temperament of Jackie Robinson. He must be an exceptional coach, walk - no skate - on water with the alumni, have the capacity to be insulted without speaking out in return (this is what did Nolan Richardson in), and generally - be just about perfect. Perhaps Croom is that man, but if he is not then it would be a disaster. The first black football coach in the SEC will be judged differently than his white compatriots. He will have to have a more impressive resume, win more games, shake more hands, kiss more fannies, and generally be superman.
More time is needed for time to heal all wounds. What makes the Deep South great is that it does not easily change. Baloney that is just accepted elsewhere will not fly there. The wholesome values that made the United States a great nation are still practiced and expected as part of acceptable behavior. However, its greatest strength is also its greatest weakness because a refusal to change still leaves parts of the Deep South a victim of social inequity. Memories are long, and vicious wounds inflicted 35 and even 50 years ago are still as fresh as a daisy. As such, racism is alive and well in both in the black and the white communities. In many communities, merely getting white and black Christian congregations to meet together seemingly takes an act of congress or a minor miracle (you pick which one). Instead of bringing people together, forcing change upon an unsettled Alabama fan base might do more harm than good in the long run.
The coach who takes over the Crimson Tide will probably lose a lot of games in the next couple of years due to NCAA sanctions and instability in the program. Remember, this is the same university where Bill Curry left town because of the heat he was taking for his 26-10 record (a .722 win percentage). Like Ohio State, Michigan, USC, Texas, Notre Dame, and other premier institutions, going 7-5 or even 8-4 on a regular basis is not going to gain you many friends. My guess is that Shula will need to live a charmed existence simply to survive. Personally, I don't believe he will make it (unless he beats Auburn every year). For that reason alone, it makes utterly no sense to hire the first black head football coach in the SEC if you might have to turn around and fire him in 3 years. This merely sets the coach up for failure, adds fuel to outdated and outlandish stereotypes, and opens the university for a national media backlash.
The timing is not right. This is not an athletic department that sits in the good graces of its alumni. If he encounters even the slightest difficulties, the first black head football coach in the SEC will need a powerful pool of supporters to last out his first contract. He will need men of strong reputation who are secure enough in their jobs that they can take a big risk and back him to the hilt. This is not the situation at Alabama. After multiple scandals and coaches, the Alabama nation is restless and considering cleaning house. Hiring a black coach would simply stir the proverbial pot and probably increase the odds of a new athletic director being hired in the near future. A new athletic director would increase the likelihood of the coach's replacement following a season with a few too many losses. Again, the coach is set up for failure in this scenario.
So what does this mean? Does it mean that there has been no progress? Does it mean that Alabama and the entire SEC should be given a free pass for their lack of minority hires?
No. Not in a million years. What it means is that I believe that lasting progress is slow, and before anyone turns up their noses at the people of Alabama and the Southeast - understand that every region of this nation has its prejudices and flaws.
Instead of condemning or jumping astride a high horse to prove one's moral superiority, perhaps it would be more helpful to try to understand the older generation of Southerners who really struggle with racism. Understand that they were raised with an extremely flawed view of ethnicities. Understand that this view was part of the bedrock of their society and their very existence in their formative years. Understand that for them to change (both white and black) is about as difficult as a leopard changing his spots. Amazingly many have accomplished this feat and no longer see color as an issue. On the other hand, probably just as many still struggle. Let the older generations (black and white) fade into the sunset. Hire a black coach in 5, 10, or 15 years when he will be given a better chance to succeed and be embraced by the alumni and fans. History is never kind to those who rush it, and believe me when I say that it will not be kind to the first black head football coach in the Deep South if he is put in the wrong situation. If you doubt it, take a gander at what is going on with the Augusta National Course in Georgia. Until they felt bullied, they were taking preliminary steps to consider adding women members if reports are true. Now, because outsiders tried to jam women in too quickly, the club appears as willing to go down fighting as the men in the Alamo.
In the end, I want to see the change as much or more than anyone I know. I long for the day when this great land will stop seeing people in terms of black and white, Caucasian and Mexican, Native American and European, Asian and Cuban, etc. I long for the day when it will be the content of a man's heart by which he is judged rather than the melanin content of his epidermis or the shape of his features, but the cold hard fact of the matter is that other universities of the Deep South will want to hire black head coaches only after they have seen that it can succeed. The stereotypes will die only after they see their beloved alma mater soundly defeated and out-coached by a man of color. By hiring a black coach at the wrong time in the wrong place, those advocating advancement would actually set their cause back years if not decades.
Further, condemning a man to a job with a high probability of failure just so we as a society can falsely believe that we have made advancements is myopic to say the least.
Let us deal with reality - not fantasy.
Lasting, healthy change takes time, and for the sake of all concerned (the coach, the university, and the fan base), time is still needed in Alabama.
Well, the rest of the college football world is talking about this, so I might as well add a few thoughts here.
First, if it happens this will really help the ACC. They will instantly be considered a power conference with the additions of Boston College, Miami, and Syracuse. Syracuse would add to the basketball and football tradition while Miami and the Eagles will give a boost to the league's football prowess. Additionally, the television market for the league will increase, resulting in a sweeter deal when it comes time to negotiate with the networks.
Second, this will cripple the Big East. Imagine a conference with Rutgers, Temple, Pitt, West Virginia, and Virginia Tech. Even if the league managed to add Notre Dame, the best MAC team in Marshall, and two of the better Conference USA teams in Louisville and Cincinnati - it would still not nearly replace the losses of Boston College, Miami, and Syracuse. Expect the Big East to lose their automatic berth in the BCS. It will likely be put up for grabs as an open slot. Any team with 9 or more wins would be eligible to fill it - including (but not limited to) a Big East champion. The only possible way for them to save themselves would be to grab Notre Dame, Penn State, and a third program that is highly respected in multiple sports. Those two big guns might combine to give respectability to back to the conference, but that is not likely to happen. Notre Dame showed they are not really interested in a conference several years ago. The Big Ten offered them the chance at greater academic standing and a fistful of money, but they spurned it for the sake of their independence in football. Penn State is not likely to walk away from the Big Ten with all of the benefits they enjoy.
Big Ten Expansion
Once again talk centers on when the Big 10 will decide it is not happy being the Big 11. Though nobody asked, here is my worthless opinion (and please allow me to assure you - it is worthless).
Unless the Big Ten can add Notre Dame or Syracuse, it should stand pat.
While some favor adding Pittsburgh (including Penn State), I do not believe it would bring much to the table in the eyes of the powers that be. Its fan base, football tradition, and the overall excellence of the university are not up to Big Ten standards. First, it should be noted that the university has been playing its games in a wonderful new facility and yet it still cannot sell it out. Can you imagine? Bowls love the Big Ten in part because of their great fan support, but Pittsburgh cannot even sell all of its own stadium seats for a home game - let alone a contest 2,000 miles away. Secondly, Pitt is not some powerhouse program historically. Yes, they have had their years, but look at the numbers below. The cold, hard fact is that Pitt is not in the top 20 programs in wins, and ranks #40 all time for its all time winning percentage. More important than either of those two aspects to college presidents would be the academic status of the university. The Big Ten wants more from this deal than a football playoff. While football may wag the dog in other places, it has not and never will in the Big Ten. Conference members view themselves as institutions of higher learning and their diplomas as a marketable entity for their graduates. They fully intend to protect that brand name if or when they add another member. Don't get me wrong here - Pitt is not exactly the Polytechnic Institute of the Smokey Mountains - but neither does its degree carry the recognition of Notre Dame or Syracuse.
Why Notre Dame or Syracuse? Both bring critical items such as fan support, a broader audience, and at least the perception of high academic standards. Each has a large fan base and a first class stadium all their own. There would be no need to question if a game is going to be sold out, and sellouts for the Orangemen or the Irish will not be because fans from the opposition bought 20,000 tickets or because the athletic department schemed long and hard to put rear ends in the seats. Therefore both teams could be expected to travel well in a bowl game and uphold the image of the Big Ten as a conference whose fans buy thousands of tickets no matter where the game might be played. Further, both teams add a geographic region or fan base that the Big Ten does not currently reach. Syracuse can add New York and parts of the Northeast while Notre Dame adds fans all over the country. Pitt brings only a portion of Pennsylvania, and Penn State already reaches a part of that audience. Finally, both universities are respected and have reputations that would enhance the Big Ten name. A degree from Syracuse or Notre Dame is not equal to that of Harvard, but it is not going to get sneezed at either.
Again, although I am virtually certain that my opinion is not wanted or needed in this matter, I say either add Syracuse or Notre Dame or stand pat and ride out the storm. The Big Ten does not have to have two divisions and a championship game. It would be foolish to pick out a program that does not meet the lofty standards, and grabbing any team that comes along for a football playoff just because others are doing it would violate the conferences' value system as an educational consortium. As my mother used to tell me, "If your friends are jumping off of a cliff - would you do it too?"
Big Ten Expansion and a Championship Game
First off, critics should be note and understand that the Big Ten has had a legitimate championship game since at least the 1950's. Michigan and Ohio State have duked it out for the Rose Bowl or league title on a regular basis long before the relatively recent infatuation with mega-conferences and title games at neutral sites. No other rivalry has had the same impact. Not Texas-OU (who were in separate conferences), not USC - Notre Dame (one independent and the other in the Pac Ten), not Michigan - Michigan State (the dislike is there but not the excellence for both parties), and not even Alabama - Auburn (Bear owned Auburn and the SEC). Only Ohio State - Michigan has been a single game elimination for the conference title and its major bowl for nearly half a century.
Second, and more critical is the question of - if the Big Ten were to expand - how in the world do you split up the divisions? Michigan and Ohio State absolutely must be in the same division. If they are not, then you might frequently end up with an untenable scenario where after THE GAME is played - the two are forced to meet again a week or two later. Michigan State would probably want to be in the same division as Michigan since their rivalry (though not nearly as big as THE Game) is also with the Wolverines. This means that right off the bat, Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State must stay together. Trying to balance those three out with comparable teams in the other division would be difficult at best. The addition of anyone but Syracuse or Notre Dame would have the net result of one division that is clearly weaker than the other. Instead of helping the conference, this move would merely set up the same scenario that has plagued the Big 12 and SEC; weaker teams are given an opportunity to upset a stronger team and rob the conference of national titles (see Alabama in 1994, Tennessee in 2001, and Nebraska in 1996).
My best scenario is below. I have included each team's all-time record, winning percentage, and their rank in the number of overall wins to help illustrate their suitability.
Notre Dame - 791-250-42, 74.98%, #2
Syracuse - 652-422-49, 60.24%, #12
Penn State - 753-322-42, 69.29%, #6
Minnesota - 595-418-41, 58.4%, #26
Wisconsin - 549-439-53, 55.3%, #38
Purdue - 529-453-49, 53.7%, #42
Indiana - 416-555-44, 43%, #82
Michigan - 823-269-36, #1
Ohio State - 745-293-52, 70.73%, #7
Michigan State - 573-382-44, 59.6%, #30
Illinois -540-465-50, 53.6%, #39
Iowa - 520- 482-39, 51.8%, #46
Northwestern 415-581-42, 42%, #84
These divisions would be fairly even both in their modern prowess and their historical significance. It would keep Purdue, Indiana, and Notre Dame in one division while allowing Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State that same ability in the other. More importantly, Notre Dame/Syracuse and Penn State would mean that two traditional powerhouses face off in the East with another two, Michigan and Ohio State, in the West.
By contrast neither Pittsburgh nor Missouri would balance their division if lumped with Penn State. Is it any wonder why JoPa would like to add the Panthers?
Pittsburgh - 611-442-42, 57.71%, #21
Missouri - 553-481-52, 53.31%, #37
What then is the moral of the story?
I would think the Big Ten foolish if they expand unless they could land either Notre Dame or Syracuse. No other university brings enough to the table to satisfy the desires of the conference's overall excellence both on and off of the field.
E-mail Charles at email@example.com