|Bowls become job fairs; wrong lesson at the wrong time|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 02 January 2008 01:16|
Sometimes it just seems that way; this time around, for example.
The most interesting stat to come out of the glut of games so far is this: Six teams went into bowls with an assistant serving as caretaker because the head coach had either bailed out or been fired, and five of them have already lost. West Virginia can reverse the trend Wednesday night against Oklahoma in the Fiesta, but don't count on it.
Nearly all went in as underdogs and the sample is too small to be scientific. But it suggests that the kids who play for those programs have already learned an important lesson about loyalty. Even in so-called amateur athletics there isn't enough of it to go around.
It's one thing to say that coaches and the universities that employ them have to keep their options open, especially in a business as competitive as college football. It's another, though, when both sides are so busy shopping that the very games billed as a reward for all the hard work that went before it are treated as an afterthought instead.
If you think the message didn't seep down into some locker rooms, you didn't watch Arkansas' mistake-filled, halfhearted effort in a 38-7 loss to Missouri in the Cotton Bowl. The Razorbacks committed five turnovers on the field, and the staff on the sideline performed only slightly better, botching time-out calls at two critical junctures.
``We did everything poorly,'' said interim coach Reggie Herring, who was the team's defensive coordinator until Houston Nutt stepped down at the end of November. ``I'm embarrassed right now.''
In what looked ominously like payback, Arkansas junior Darren McFadden scored the Razorbacks' only touchdown, then dropped the ball and disinterestedly walked away. Considering McFadden's achievements already - he was the Heisman runner-up the past two years and locked up the No. 2 spots on both the Southeastern Conference's single-season and career rushing lists - he might have left school for the NFL after this season, anyway. But it's a safe bet the season-long, behind-the-scenes tussle that ended with Nutt's departure will make the decision that much easier.
M, Houston and Georgia Tech. Players, in fact, tend to say the opposite.
``As far as I'm concerned, the only thing that is going on with this team is what is between the hash marks,'' UCLA defensive end Bruce Davis said a few days before the Bruins lost to BYU on a last-second field goal. ``We know there is nothing we can do about what is going on in the administrative offices.''
The problem is that no one else seems to be able to do anything about it, either. Both coaches and administrators say the timing is dictated by the recruiting schedule. Before signing day rolls around on the first Wednesday in February, a coach who is moving needs a staff in place. Then he has to convince those kids who committed to his old program to switch allegiances to his new address, and try to hang onto the kids who committed to the old coach at his new program.
So why not simply push signing day back a few weeks, especially now that the job fair has spilled over into bowl season and made a mockery of the notion that the postseason is ``for the kids''?
Probably because the people who are gaming the system like it just the way it is. It's the same reason college bowl season exists and college football's national champion remains as mythical as ever, despite the loud and continuing cries for a playoff. Coaches and the major conferences they work in are making money hand over fist.
``I don't know if it would change anything even if you moved recruiting back,'' Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops told ESPN.com recently. ``When you're changing jobs, I don't know if the timing is ever very good for it.''
Maybe not, but it's rarely been worse. What is supposed to be the best part of the season is being cheapened. It calls to mind that cynical line from the movie ``North Dallas Forty'' when a receiver named Phillip Elliott - played by Nick Nolte - tells the owner he's tired of being exploited.
``Every time I say it's a game, you tell me it's a business. Every time I say it's a business, you tell me it's a game.''
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org