Big-time college football brought that decision down on itself. The National Labor Relations Board decided Wednesday that Northwestern football players could be seen as employees, not just student-athletes.
The football and basketball powers have been exploiting athletes forever, certainly since schools learned how to make money off players’ names and images – providing huge salaries for coaches and administrators. The players allegedly get an education -- that is, if they can fight off the coaches’ demands that they lift weights and attend practices.
I'm kind of sorry I don't cover coal mining any more. I'd love to hear the reaction of some miners about the plight of the college boys -- probably a heady mix of chewing tobacco and invective. But still, it's a job.
How the schools would pay the athletes is another issue. Would there be a sliding scale? Would star players be able to negotiate? I have always maintained that big-time college football (and basketball) has no connection to education. Might as well hold rock shows to support school presidents.
The players learn: trust nobody. A perfect example is the mess involving Steve Masiello, who put together the Manhattan team that reached the national tournament this month. Masiello a protégé of Rick Pitino, demanded a lot from his players, but college sports are a one-way deal. This week Masiello tried to skip to South Florida. That happens all the time, with hot-shot coaches moving on for more money, leaving the players behind.
It turns out that Masiello does not have a degree from the University of Kentucky, as he claimed. Now South Florida will not take him, and it is unclear if Manhattan will have him back.
My first reaction was that Manhattan could claim some form of family loyalty toward the prodigal coach and let him come back, waiving its own rules requiring a degree. But his claim of a degree could surely be construed as a lie, contempt for the school that gave him a chance. What is the lesson in that?
Much of big-time college sports are based on a lie – coaches recruit players, schools cut corners, athletic departments put one over on the public in order to entertain the public. In other words, life itself.
Since I stopped writing a sports column regularly at the end of 2011, I find I have a visceral distaste for big-time football and basketball. I know how these spectacles are put together.
Since I have not been paying much attention, I rely on the observations of others. This is what Doug Logan wrote about the Masiello case, in his weekly essay.
SHIN SPLINTS 2014
BY DOUG LOGAN
Coach, what the hell were you thinking?
A week ago Steve Masiello, 39, was on top of the world. The men’s basketball coach for the Manhattan College [located in the Bronx, not Manhattan] Jaspers had just taken his gutty team of New York City playground veterans to the second round of the NCAA tournament. His opponent was the defending national champion Louisville Cardinals, coached by his mentor, Rick Pitino.
The bonds between Masiello and Pitino are longstanding. Pitino was the head coach of the New York Knicks in the late ‘80’s. He had this hard-nosed, city-raised kid, Masiello, as one of his ball boys. Later, Pitino recruited him to play for his 1996-2000 University of Kentucky Wildcats. After his college career as a player, Masiello learned the coaching profession at the knee of his guru, serving a stint as an assistant coach at Louisville.
Their coaching styles are identical: a swarming defense, fast-breaking offense, and helter-skelter energy up and down the court. The tournament game was very entertaining. At times Masiello knew exactly what Louisville was going to do: he was actually calling out their plays from the sidelines. Manhattan had a three point lead with three minutes to go but could not overcome the Cardinals’ experience. They gave up two critical three point shots by Luke Hancock and lost 71-64.
It is not unusual for coaches to leverage a positive tournament outcome into a bigger job. As a matter of fact, Manhattan has served as a crucible for coaches to go on to more lucrative positions. Fran Fraschilla took a Jasper team to the NCAA tournament and was rewarded with offers, first from St. John’s then from New Mexico. More recently, Bobby Gonzalez parlayed his success at Manhattan by accepting a better position at Seton Hall. Masiello was no different. He had a 60-39 record at Manhattan over three seasons. Last weekend the rumors had him accepting the vacancy at the University of South Florida [USF] in Tampa. The five year deal to coach the Bulls was all but announced, with a salary reported to be in the $1M per year range; a big raise.
Then, the inexplicable happened. It was reported that USF had rescinded their offer. The reason seems to be that Masiello had declared that he had a college degree from the University of Kentucky and that appears not to be true. Manhattan has subsequently announced that they have suspended their erstwhile coach pending an investigation into his educational credentials. He may have lied to them, too.
Sports imitates life, but in a more dramatic fashion. From hero to goat in six days. Top of the mountain to the depths of the valley in less than a week.
The philosophers all tell us that if we don’t study the mistakes of the past we are destined to make them in the future. All Masiello had to do was to take to heart the tragedy of George O’Leary. In December of 2001, O’Leary was forced to resign as head football coach at Notre Dame, arguably the most prestigious coaching position in the country. This after a mere five days on the job! It was revealed that O’Leary, former coach at Georgia Tech, lied on his application for the Notre Dame job by stating he had a Master’s Degree in education from NYU [where I now teach]. O’Leary was publicly humiliated and was forced to labor in obscurity as an NFL assistant. He has experienced redemption, of sorts, but his current job as head coach of University of Central Florida [UCF] pales, in comparison, to his prior potential glories.
Did Masiello think he could get away with it? Probably. The psyche of some of these coaches is such that they feel that all they have to do is deliver wins and that everything else is irrelevant. And, the market place appears to validate this hubris. Less than two years ago, Bruce Pearl was fired as head basketball coach at the University of Tennessee. Pearl was caught lying, repeatedly, to NCAA officials who were investigating recruitment infractions. Last week Pearl was hired by Auburn University.
Sometimes all you have to do is to use the “eye test” to make judgments about character. Masiello is a pugnacious, in-your-face screamer. He paces the sidelines, berating his players, howling at the referees and playing the bully. He is loud, boastful and boorish. One can easily foresee him acting in a deceitful way if it will help him to win.
There are many ways one can overcome the lack of a specific credential in a job search. Usually that requires transparency, honesty and a bit of humility. But deceit, of this type, is, and should be, disqualifying. The role of coach, in my view, is not only to facilitate successful outcomes in athletic contests, but also to prepare young men and young women for the game of life.
Coach, you falsely claimed a degree in Communications. You might think about going back to finish and take a course or two in ethics.
“They may hate the cultural context they now find themselves teaching in, but they love their work. The Achilles’ heel of schoolteachers, one all too easily exploited by politicians, is that they love their students.”
(One of the best reads in the NYT these days is Margaret Renkl, in Nashville. In her latest post, Renkl describes the dedicated core of “born teachers” – the majority, she submits.)
(From Madeleine Albright in one of her final interviews in February):
“Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.” – Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, recalling her first meeting with the relatively unknown Vladimir Putin in 2000. – The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2022.