College football wouldn’t be college football without some type of scandal. As we approach the 2017 season, Ole Miss head football coach Hugh Freeze resigned from his position. Calling an escort service apparently wasn’t a part of his contract. Of course, there’s probably more to the story as per usual. In the coming weeks, more information will reach the general public and conclusions will be drawn about why a forced resignation came out of a minute phone call to an escort service will have more substance. Maybe Freeze called for recruits or players. Maybe he called for himself. Maybe the state of Mississippi is really conservative and can’t handle the idea that a middle-aged, Christian, well-known coach called an escort service. Regardless of why Freeze ultimately resigned, we now have college football scandal to follow for the next month. Because people might have been getting bored with following the problems at Baylor…
What would college football be like without any scandals? A perfect season would mean no teams or coaches are under investigation. A simple solution would be to stop being shady, but being shady wins games apparently (looking at you Joe Paterno, Art Briles, Jim Tressel, Albert Means, etc. I could go on for a while, but you get the picture). As a college football fan, I’m realistic about my expectations for the teams I support. I know teams don’t go from being ho-hum to ranked top 25 in a season. You’re kidding yourself if you think that a team can go from barely going .500 to winning every game against high-level opponents in a year. I wouldn’t question a decent team becoming great over the course of five years. Yet, many teams seem to rocket to success overnight, and everyone wants to act like their house is clean. Depending on what comes out of this Freeze debacle, Ole Miss may be cleaning house soon. I can only assume that the forced resignation was the attempt at cleaning house, but we’ll see if anything else mucks up their reputation or exposes a less than desirable culture surrounding the team. Here’s to hoping the phone call is the beginning and the end of this problem for Ole Miss.
The biggest issue with many of the scandals that break out is the culture created by the coaches and the athletics department. You have an athletics department and coaches who are willing to do whatever it takes to win, ethics aside. Well, you reap what you sow and eventually someone will figure out that you’re paying players, contributing to an atmosphere that demeans women, or in general just lying about what shady things you’re doing to maintain having the best team. Slow clap for the coaches and departments who thought they could get away with these things and more. Of course you’re going to get caught breaking rules when the coaches, players, and school are under a microscope when the team performs well! Thinking you won’t get caught making a mess of things with your team is like when a toddler thinks she or he won’t get caught taking cookies from the cookie jar. Parents aren’t stupid and neither is the NCAA.
I’ll let you in on a well kept secret about winning: you can win without having the NCAA penalize you, the school, or players at some point. Ground-breaking secret, I know. Another really good piece of information, coaching staffs don’t actually have to recruit the best players ever to have a successful team. Example: Bill Belichick manages to have arguably (and unfortunately) one of the best NFL teams currently (even with deflategate, they’re still a really solid team). Does he have the best players? Nope. However, he does what he can to make the team work as a well-oiled machine and piss off most of America (one day, the Patriots will fall apart). College football coaches for the most part are in the same boat. They don’t get every single great high school football player, but if they’re a good coach, they can make that work for the good of the team. At the end of the day, isn’t that what coaches should care about, the good of the team?
The good of the team also depends on the culture. Here’s where I get on my soapbox and emsplain (kind of like mansplain) the importance of creating a positive culture. A good culture typically means that coaches aren’t sweeping behaviors under the rug and hold players accountable for the actions. For people who can only see the importance of their team winning, fun fact: the players in environments that allow them to treat people terribly, lie, and steal later become functioning members of society! So yeah, it’s kind of important to create a culture that contributes to the long-term success of student-athletes because for all you know they could become the president! Realistically, many will become college football coaches, and maybe even coaches of top teams, where they will then have the power to shape the culture of a team. This isn’t the only reason coaches should care about ensuring the culture of their team is at the very least ethical. Asking coaches to create and maintain a team culture that ultimately results in people not breaking the law (and NCAA rules) is easy on paper, I understand.
Money talks way better than I ever could, which is why at the end of the day decisions are all based on maximizing profit. Winning makes money, but lawsuits cost money and time. Ethics comes back into play and coaches need to decide if losing everything is worth winning a few FBS championships.