Finances and Football

What does the current state of the economy and West Virginia's football program have in common? If your answer is "both are collapsing" then you probably don't want to read this.

There are a number of similarities between the state of finances in the U.S. and certain aspects of WVU's football team. Both are underperforming – but for a variety of reasons, not just one. Both have been hit with a series of bad occurrences in a short period of time. Both were saddled with unrealistic expectations by people not more qualified to evaluate the situation than you are to design a plasma converter. But the biggest one, and in some ways the most harmful, is the mass hysteria that has been attendant with each. And what's odd is that it has come from two entirely different quarters.

In the case of the economy, it has been the mass media. Screaming headlines of financial crisis, predictions of Depression-era losses and conditions, and looming worldwide panic have all been staples of coverage on television, in print and on-line. Each outlet tries to outdo the next, and all pretense of any sort of perspective is lost. There is often little or no news in any of these "stories" – simply dire predictions of worsening conditions and outlandish predictions that don't have a single shred of evidence to back them up. At best, it's a sickening display of the irresponsibility of those writing, publishing and broadcasting those items. At worst, it borders on a charge of felonious rioting.

Does any of this sound or look familiar to you? It should, because it's exactly the same thing that's going on right now with the Mountaineer football program. Some poor performances, a recruiting setback and the screaming meemies are out in full force. Maybe the impending Halloween season or the current full moon is also contributing to the uproar. But, in any event, we're seeing just the same sort of activity from a small but vocal minority. In this event, however, it's fans, not media, that are the source of the over the top reactions.

Before we go any further, understand that there are certainly problems in both of the situations we're talking about here. Lending practices were way out of control, and personal financial habits in this country weren't sound. West Virginia's offense (and that includes players and coaches) isn't performing well. There are areas to be concerned about – some critical, some less so. They certainly deserve discussion, and action. But should they really be the cause for personal attacks, name calling, and unmitigated scorn and derision?

There is one difference here that should be pointed out. Some of the figures involved in the financial crisis were motivated out of personal greed. Their outlandish compensation resulted in part from a lack of empathy for those at the bottom of the lending pyramid. Those at the top didn't care that people were borrowing more than they could pay, or that their companies were becoming unstable because they were lending to people without adequate collateral at their backs. They simply did it to get rich. That's not the case with the coaches at West Virginia. Sure, they make good money – much more than most of the fans that follow the team. But they care about the players. They aren't out to tear down the program, or let it go bad. Doing so would bite the hand that feeds them – and they, unlike the CEOs and those in the financial world – probably don't have enough money saved to take care of themselves and their families for the rest of their lives. And even if that were a consideration, there just aren't many coaches that are in it for the money – at least not at this stage in their careers, as assistants. It takes a long while to work up through the ranks, where graduate assistant pay is comparable to a work-sturdy program, and with far longer hours.

Just as there are many explanations for the reasons in the decline in productivity of WVU's offense, so too are there for the outpouring of naked anger from those who feel entitled to attack on message boards, talk shows, blogs and the like. Some use sports as a vent for frustrations in their own lives. Some believe they could do better, given the chance. (And maybe a few could –who knows?) But in the end their reactions, like the media's in the financial situation, serve no good. And that's the final, key similarity.

All of the hysterical outpourings, whether over subprime lending or the wide receiver screen, don't do any good. Do they do any harm? In some cases, yes. In many, perhaps not. But why, especially from people who purportedly want their team to succeed, would so much hate pour? Sure, there's a place to discuss the disjointed nature of WVU's offensive attack. But to let it devolve to the levels in which we've seen it the past couple of weeks – well, count me among those who say that I just don't see any positives to it.

Will the situation get better? Sorry, but there's no way to predict. Maybe the fit of the current coaching staff at WVU can be improved. Or perhaps it never will, and changes will have to be made. But in the end, it should be a dispassionate reckoning of the facts, not outlandish calls for firings and changes, which should make that determination.


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