May 19, 2008

Possible playoffs continue to be major topic

DALLAS - Talk of a playoff won't go away, as conversation at the Football Forum showed last week.

This was the first Forum, sponsored by the National Football Foundation, College Hall of Fame and the Football Writers of America. It's hoped the Forum will become an annual event, a sort of think tank of discussion on some of the biggest issues facing the sport.

A panel -- which included coaches Mark Mangino of Kansas, Tyrone Willingham of Washington, Gary Patterson of TCU and Jim Tressel of Ohio State; athletic directors Kevin White of Notre Dame and Kevin Anderson of Army; and Florida State president T.K. Wetherell -- was against a playoff. But the subject of a playoff -- in whatever format -- stirred the passions of many. The current BCS format will remain until at least 2014, when the TV deal with the Rose Bowl, Pac-10 and Big Ten expires.

Despite that timetable, some panelists feel it is just delaying the inevitable: A playoff is coming.

"It's not a question of if there will be a playoff," Wetherell said, "but when there is a playoff."

Why?

"Money will drive it," says Wetherell.

As it stands, most schools have tapped out revenue streams such as seat licensing, stadium naming rights, club seats and suites. A playoff would provide additional money that will be needed in the future for a sport that, according to research White cited, features only six I-A schools that have a positive cash flow.

Even so, White said, "we need to maintain the meaningfulness of the bowls and regular season."

HIRING REPORT CARD

The consensus across the panel was that minority hiring is atrocious, with just six black head coaches in the 120-team I-A ranks. This off season, there were 18 I-A job openings; one went to a black: Kevin Sumlin at Houston.

"I'm embarrassed by it based on the number of universities that we have," said Willingham, who is black. "I think it's a problem of different cultures in our society. It's about control and power with the good ol' boy network. It's alive and well at many places."

Wetherell didn't agree with the notion that the "good ol' boy system" plays a part. Rather, it's a case of there not being enough qualified candidates. Others agree.

"I am in favor of adding a third graduate assistant position to staffs and dedicating that spot to a minority," Mangino said. "We also could increase our full-time staffs from nine to 10."

Mangino also feels the lack of opportunities is making young black coaches head to the NFL, where there are better opportunities. There are bigger staffs in the NFL, the pay is better and there's a better chance for advancement. Five of the 32 NFL teams have black head coaches.

Patterson wondered if most young coaches regardless of race are willing to pay the price by starting out a low level.

"When I was at Sonoma State, I did everything," Patterson said of his days at the Division II school in California. "At (Division I-AA) Tennessee Tech, I slept in my car for 30 days. Kids want instant gratification now. They want the high-paying job right away."

COACHING CONTRACTS

Moderator Chris Rose of Fox Sports brought up Bobby Petrino's recent job-hopping and wondered if coaches should be more loyal.

"I try not to be critical (of what other coaches do) unless I know that coach's situation," Willingham said.

Still, there is a perception that coaches always have their eyes open looking for a better opportunity while thinking little of those they leave behind.

"I have friends in the corporate world who change jobs every few years," Mangino said. "I think, for the most part, coaches are loyal. For me to leave, it would take an awful lot. I have my family near me."

Still, messy coaching divorces -- such as West Virginia and Rich Rodriguez -- grab more headlines than coaches who remain true to contracts. It has created a situation where schools have to protect themselves on the front end for the inevitable departure of a coach.

"Contracts are like pre-nups," White said. "That's the game we are in.

"It's not romantic how we negotiate parting terms before we even have the introductory press conference."

The issue of coaches with a wandering eye seems most sensitive if a coach isn't forthright with recruits about his long-term plans.

"Kids and parents ask all the time about contracts -- are you renegotiating, are you getting an extension," Mangino said." I think the kids and parents understand there is a landscape of change in college football."

Two coaches who have remained loyal Florida State's Bobby Bowden and Penn State's Joe Paterno are feeling the wrath for what some say is overstaying their welcome.

"If it wasn't for Bobby Bowden and that 14-year run (of top-five finishes in The Associated Press poll), I'm not sure we would be where we are at as an institution," Wetherell said. "Bobby's value to Florida State transcends what goes on during Saturdays. He and Florida State always will be tied to together. For fans just to ask, 'Did you beat Florida last year?' -- it goes beyond that."

HEADHUNTERS

With renowned search-firm honcho Chuck Neinas of Neinas Sports Services in attendance, the subject of the necessity of so-called headhunters was broached. Isn't it the job of an athletic director to screen and hire people?

"He (Neinas) broadened my network," said Anderson, who has retained Neinas' services in the past. "He was able to contact people and find out who may or may not be interested. That allowed me to (sharpen my focus).

"It's my responsibility to know who is out there, but this is a vast network. These guys help us broaden our list. There are a lot of good people out there we may not know."

Search firms can command big money to identify a group of candidates for coaching position. In addition to sifting through names, they also can protect parties who may want to remain anonymous, offering what Patterson calls "protection for everyone."

"Because of scrutiny, search firms also can help parties avoid embarrassment," Neinas said.

In other words, schools don't want to appear to have been snubbed by candidates and candidates want to avoid looking as if they were bypassed for a new job.

Participants in the 2008 FOOTBALL FORUM: College football today and tomorrow
Kevin Anderson, Army athletic director (Panelist)
Dan Beebe, Big 12 commissioner (Panelist)
Mark Mangino, Kansas coach (Panelist)
Gary Patterson, TCU coach (Panelist)
Jim Tressel, Ohio State coach (Panelist)
T.K. Wetherell, Florida State president (Panelist)
Kevin White, Notre Dame athletic director (Panelist)
Tyrone Willingham, Washington coach (Panelist)
Chris Rose, FOX Sports (Moderator)
Bill Hancock, Bowl Championship Series
Archie Manning, National Football Foundation, chairman
Chuck Neinas, Neinas Sports Services, Inc.
Amy Perko, Knight Commission
Grant Teaff, AFCA president

NFL INFLUENCE

With several rules changes in recent years instant replay a few years ago and the new 40-second play clock some worry that college football is starting to take on the look of the NFL. But it's not what you think, the panelists said.

"Influences from the NFL have been good, especially from a sportsmanship standpoint," Willingham said. "The league's tougher standards on player conduct are trickling down to us. The kids know they have a lot at stake if they don't behave.

"We are moving closer to the NFL in being more of a packaged product for TV. The reason for these changes are dollars. We need TV. We need that partnership."

As for the new 40-second play clock, the coaches on the panel said the result will be better uniformity with the system from officiating crew to officiating crew -- but also fewer plays per game.

"Our staff has discussed this and we think we'll have eight to 10 fewer plays per game," Mangino said. "The playcallers will be under the gun now. As a spread/no-huddle team, we have stressed getting the play called quickly.

"We have to move fast because we like to change the play at the line. And a result of having fewer plays may be less scoring this year, too."

HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETES

If college athletes are changing, the high schools must be, too, right? While the panelists said prep players are more physically prepared than ever, they don't necessarily measure up on other fronts.

"This generation was raised with high-tech," Mangino said. "They are used to doing things themselves more than with others. They have laptops, iPods, video games -- all things they do by themselves. The social development is lacking. They have a lot of information but are less mature. Some live in a fantasy world, with experiences based on the computer, Internet.

"And working together with other people is a problem for them. It's difficult trying to make this generation unselfish. Your success may be based on how well the other guy does, but they may not understand that. We work on team-building as a group."

Willingham didn't spare the parents.

"I would say it's obviously the exposure that the kids get today," he said. "I think because of the nature of the kid today -- that he is a superstar, the exposure and the coverage -- you get a parent that invested a great deal in that young man's development, from camp here, camp there, and now you have a whole environment that's looking for a return on investment with product. And that develops a totally different mindset than you've ever had, I think, to deal with before in coaching."

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.




 

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