In bygone years, before college football (and to a lesser extent, college basketball) was wholly corrupted by immense flows of television lucre, the contests were decided between distinct and unique schools. The game’s lifeblood was regional rivalries that dated to the first quarter of the 20th century—if not before—and the chief stakes were bragging rights in the Dairy Queens, the steel mills, the BBQ joints and the break rooms.
Although Stidham’s defection rests squarely on his own shoulders, it is also a byproduct of the increasingly monstrous college sports landscape.
Athletic departments didn’t depend on football and basketball program success to pay for obscenely expensive stadiums and workout facilities, and universities’ bottom lines did not rest on fat cat donations that were contingent upon wins and losses. Football coaches didn’t make twice as much money as chancellors, and a trendy defensive coordinator didn’t make more than the university president.
In short, major college athletics has gone entirely corporate. Texas Tech football has more in common with Microsoft than it does with the quaint little program that butted heads with Rice and Arkansas in an insular club called the Southwest Conference, let alone the ragtag group that bombed around something called the Border Conference back in the fifties…centuries ago.
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Nowadays, tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars circle the rancid sumps of the Power Five conference schools’ athletic programs. Those dollars, in turn, rise and fall with wins and losses. And, therefore, the pressure to win, and win big, is beyond enormous.
People’s jobs, their livelihoods are, to a certain extent, in the balance. The number of students that apply to a university—each of them a revenue stream—correlate, in no small measure, with the success of athletic programs. And alumni donations, a huge index within university budgets, likewise fluctuate with win-loss cycles.
Given the above, and considering the NCAA’s powerlessness to enforce its own rules—let alone to uphold anything remotely resembling a moral code—it should come as little surprise that recruitment of high school players who can virtually guarantee wins, is a mercenary enterprise.
Jarrett Stidham is one of those players whose talents elicit the sleaze and slime factor in college sports. By the admittedly imperfect measures that exist, he is one of the very best high school players in America, at the most important position in the game of football. And he played his high school football in Stephenville, Texas, a town in the very epicenter of college football recruiting.
The majority—perhaps the vast majority?—of coaches will do anything short of selling their mothers’ souls to Satan (and even that wouldn’t deter some) to land that prime quarterback or defensive tackle.
Kliff Kingsburythat Stidham shocked the college football world by committing to Texas Tech before Red Raider head coach Kliff Kingsbury had even begun his second season as a head coach (at any level), unsurprisingly, did nothing to ward off the jackals. And when Kingsbury’s Red Raiders limped to a 4-8 mark, surrendering 82 points to TCU in one of those losses, the maggots and the grubs gravitated to Stephenville and they multiplied. They were all aware, at some primal level, that the Texas Tech football program was severely wounded, and that its ability to defend itself in the recruiting meat market was gravely compromised.
Stidham himself, although perhaps an ubermensch on the gridiron, is just a teenage boy off of it. Like any young and impressionable youngster, he is vulnerable to half-truths, lies, propaganda and flattery. And, it has to be said, he is also smart enough to see the difference between what Texas Tech football did in 2014, and what Oregon and Baylor are still doing.
So, while Jarrett Stidham’s defection is disappointing—it is always demoralizing to see a young man place so little stock in his own word of honor—it did nothing more than provoke a smirk of cynicism from this observer. Stidham, like Kliff Kingsbury, Art Briles and NCAA president Mark Emmert, is simply a belch of exhaust produced by a hideous, heedless and insatiable machine. Welcome to the reality of college sports in the 21st century.