Monday, November 23, 2009

Money Ball

Ralph Friedgen’s job as head football coach at the University of Maryland may be in jeopardy. The team is currently 2-9 in a conference having a down year generally, and this is his fourth losing season in the past six years.

Friedgen still has two years left on his contract, at $2 million a year. The athletic department can apparently borrow the money from the school’s endowment to can him, so it can use the money budgeted for coaches salary to hire a replacement.

But…there’s a complication. Offensive Coordinator James Franklin was named “coach-in-waiting” before the beginning of this season, to keep him from being snatched away by another school, or by the NFL. Maryland had three losing seasons in five years prior to this announcement; how hot could Franklin be? Coaches-in-waiting are named to replace people like Joe Paterno or Bobby Bowden, guys who have been around since before any of their players—and some of their players’ parents—were born. The Fridge had a few good years at Maryland, but the Terps have been a middling team in a middling conference since. Why rush to wrap Franklin up, without even knowing who else might be available when Friedgen retires?

It gets better. Franklin’s head coaching contract is already guaranteed. He must receive a five-year deal worth at least as much as the average of all other Atlantic Coast Conference coaches. If he is not named head coach by the end of the 2011 football season, Maryland still has to pay him $1 million.

The school wants rid of Friedgen because he’s losing money faster than football games; ticket sales missed their projections by $600,000 this year. The answer Athletic Director Debbie Yow and President Dan Mote have come up with will require dipping into the endowment, and possibly paying two members of the current staff not to coach at some point. (No one at Maryland seems to have a problem with using the endowment for such a purpose.)

Yow’s a real piece of work. She tried to hound Gary Williams out of his job as basketball coach last year because he’d missed a couple of NCAA tournaments, and was having a tough time last year. Williams pre-dates her at UMD, so maybe she feels she doesn’t have the control over him she’d like. Never mind he left a successful program at Ohio State to come back and save the program at his alma mater, where Len Bias’s death and Bob Wade’s tenure had left it on life support. Friedgen is her hire; she threw the money at him. When is Debbie going to held accountable?

Dan Mote’s not off the hook, either. Everyone answers to him. How can he look prospective students in the eye, telling them how they may have to sacrifice to pay for their education, when over a hundred of them could have free rides—tuition, room and board, books—for what they’re paying the football coach? Not to mention over fifty more who could get squared away for what they might pay Franklin not to coach.

This isn’t just a Maryland problem. It prompted this rant because I’m a Maryland taxpayer, and my daughter is enrolled. Schools all over the country pay football and basketball coaches unconscionable sums of money, then cry poverty and blame Title IX when they cut programs. College sports should be a great thing. The pageantry and sprit they engender should be lasting good memories of every student. I still get choked up when I watch the video of the Ohio State marching band spell out the script “Ohio” before each game, and I hate Ohio State.

There are a lot of things wrong about how we conduct ourselves in this country; college sports is pretty far down the list in its importance. Most of our faults at least have the courtesy—or common sense—to try to fly under the radar and don’t advertise their lack of conscience and perspective.

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