I went to Wheaton College, a small school in Illinois. It is an NCAA Division III school, which means two things: It cannot offer athletic scholarships and its athletic programs, no matter how successful, are not highly lucrative. On average, the football team brings in just over $400,000 in revenue annually. That may sound like a lot of money, but consider that Forbes just announced that the University of Texas is the most valuable football program in the country, worth a whopping $139 million.
I would call that big business, but that’s not quite accurate. Businesses have one-year, three-year, and 10-year plans. College football teams have this-year plans. Deep-pocketed boosters, for the most part, fund the most successful schools, and like donors to any organization, they expect to see their money put to good use. In this case that means wins. Right now. And if the wins aren’t commensurate with the money? Well, they’ll throw more money at the problem.
Football coaches are both the beneficiaries and the victims of this win-now system. In about two-thirds of the 50 states a college football coach is the highest paid state employee. (Remember that employees at public universities are technically employees of the state.) They get paid huge sums to win football games and keep generating those millions in revenue. Sounds like a racket, so where does the victimhood fit in? All those dollars they get paid come with a millstone’s weight of expectations ready to sink them if they fail to meet the boosters’ demands.
Maybe once upon a time coaches were seen as developers of talent and shapers of men. Now they’re winners or they’re fired. And it helps if they can get hot prospects ready for the NFL; usually the two go hand in hand. But the NFL thing is really just a perk to the boosters, a marketing slogan for recruits. It’s wins they want and wins they pay for. If a coach is falling short they will fire him, pay for a buyout of his contract, and essentially give him millions to go away. Then they’ll go rent another coach until he has worn out his usefulness.
If any other business handled CEOs the way universities handle coaches they would not only be called crazy, but they’d also likely fail. It’s a bad business model and an even worse leadership structure. Are wins worth the forfeiture of stability and commitment? If a man is only as good as his word, what is an institution that tears up a five-year contract two years into it? What about the players—you know, those kids who actually play the football games? Does their development and the promises made to them mean anything? Apparently not compared to wins.
The win has surpassed integrity in worth. Wins cost dollars and wins earn dollars, and the dollar is king. Sadly wins also require the forfeiting of values and decency. They have become worth more than the people who earn them.