CAMPUS CORNER — I intended to produce this blog post yesterday, but we’ve had some technical difficulties with our platform. My apologies for the delay, because I know all your water coolers (do people even have those anymore?) have been buzzing with talk of multi-year scholarships in the NCAA.
First of all, the new rule – introduced in December – has been upheld, but each conference and institution can decide whether it wants to employ the rule. So there’s the skinny, as background.
The Chronicle of Higher Education, which has been closely following this story since the changes were presented in the fall by the NCAA, reported Wednesday that a number of schools – Oklahoma, included – were against the multi-year scholarships for student-athletes. In fact, the entire Big 12 came out against it.
That’s not surprising. The multi-year scholarships hamstring teams that, really, need flexibility to maintain roster numbers. I’m not making excuses for the coaches; it’s just the truth. As much as you’d like to offer that sort of security, frankly, there are kids who do not merit such security. That’s just reality. You’d inevitably wind up with freeloaders on your roster, players coasting because they had nothing to drive them to progress. Heck, that happens already, even with the year-to-year scholarship system currently in place. Just imagine if they were entitled with a four-year ride from the get-go. Sometimes that scholarship is what motivates a reserve to become a starter. Sometimes it weeds out the kids who do not need to be there. Without that, that flexibility is gone.
I think roster management (using college football as the prime example) is a lot more difficult than people, including many on the academic side, care to acknowledge or admit. It is a business, and a difficult one to manage. In an ideal world, sure, kids would have that sort of security. But, again, how can you ensure on the front end that all student-athletes are worth that sort of security? You can’t, simply. I’m certainly against coaches who wield their power with scholarships in a vindictive manner, but I have always contended – and I don’t think it’s naive – that, for the most part, coaches make those decisions for the right reasons. That’s my impression of the coaches I’ve been around, anyhow – and I’m including Bob Stoops in that category.
I think he does what he needs to, to manage the numbers, but he’s not yanking anyone around to benefit his program. The student-athletes are all too often turned into victims in this process, when that certainly is not always the case. The grotesque cases should be spotlighted, for sure – the recent LSU signee who enrolled, unpacked and was then told to leave comes to mind – but, c’mon, some of these guys need to pack their bags. Let’s be honest about it. It works both ways.
Scholarships are not arbitrarily pulled. There are always reasons. Even if it is based on athletic performance, shouldn’t that be a sufficient reason? If I receive an academic scholarship – meaning the school has valued, to some degree, my academic prowess and record – and I don’t keep the minimum standard, then shouldn’t I be subject to repeal of that scholarship? Certainly. And that is the way it plays out on campuses across the country. Similarly – and I understand it’s more of a subjective deal – if a player is not pulling his weight to meet the requirements of his or her scholarship (being punctual to events, making grades, earning playing time), then why shouldn’t that scholarship be called into question?
Let’s revisit what Stoops did in December, “cleaning house” with players who had refused to get in line with his level of expectation. They had their scholarships “pulled.” But Stoops laid out plenty of reasons why it happened: failing drug tests, failing or skipping classes, being late or missing meetings, practices or other team functions. All those kinds of things swirl into one larger thing. Or maybe a player is just too lazy or incapable of doing the work to improve. After a couple of years, that becomes evident. And I think it’s OK, as Stoops says, to move on. Those guys are taking up resources and space – and some know that and are taking advantage of it. That might rankle those in academia, but, to me, it’s the reality of the sport and managing, oh, about 100 college-age guys.
Here’s what he said then, around the time of the bowl game:
“I’m not a guy who (says), ‘Oh, you did something wrong, get out of here.’ They’re kids. You try to get them, just like your own, get a hold of it, give them the right instruction. ‘I believe in you.’ Give them confidence.
“But when they continually don’t do it, (you say) ‘all right, enough’s enough. It’s time to cut bait.’ You’ve proven to me over and over, over a period of time …
“And sometimes you’re too good a guy. You hang on too long, trying to help a kid out. Other kids in the program, that’s happened and they did figure it all out. All of a sudden, Coach is right. They start doing things right and they end up having huge careers. Other ones, sometimes they burn you. Other times, maybe they’ve infected two or three other guys and that’s brought them down.”
So that’s a little insight as to how coaches approach kids who aren’t picking it up, on or off the field.