Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cincinnati Farm Team

The news began ticking across the bottom of my television last night....Central Michigan's Butch Jones to be named the new head football coach at Cincinnati...

Nuts...not again!

For the second time in three years the Cincinnati Bearcats looked no farther than Mt. Pleasant to find themselves someone new to run its BCS football program. And now, for the second time in three years, the Chippewas will need to find itself a new coach the hard way, by looking to Division II schools or entering into the exhaustive process of finding a capable head coach among the assistants working at numerous major football programs in the country, an effort that the Bearcats feel it cannot afford to undertake.

It is a system that offends everyone but the most storied of football programs, and while Cincinnati is a likely target of venom these days in Mt. Pleasant, it only "poached" the coach of CMU two times recently because it too had been poached by larger programs that could afford to offer more money, more prestige, and likely more headlines than the school spurned. (Three years ago Cincinnati lost Mark Dantonio to Michigan State of the Big Ten, and last week it lost Brian Kelly to NBC's Notre Dame.)

Not to be forgotten, this is an important time of year for college football programs. The regular season has just completed and schools must either prepare for successful season ending bowl game appearances (like Cincinnati and CMU) or must begin assembling new coaching staffs to replace the ones that alums demanded be ousted (like Notre Dame.)

While most major recruits by this juncture have made verbal commitments to a coach and a program, they have not signed anything. They may open up their recruitment again rather than settle for a program in transition from one coach to another. Those athletes who are already on the roster are not quite so lucky because they must sit out a full year of playing football in order to enroll in another school. While coaches can collect this week's paycheck from CMU or Cincinnati and collect next week's from Cincinnati or Notre Dame (along with a signing bonus,) a student athlete cannot even transfer his credits so easily.

The system is the way that it is because of money, and at this point the powers that be in the NCAA like it exactly the way that it is. Big name conferences and other established programs such as Notre Dame have been milking the golden cow for years now. They have the huge stadiums, the state of the art training facilities, the huge television contracts, the bowl tie ins, the hottest selling merchandise, and get the lion's share of the media attention, even if CMU did defeat MSU this year at East Lansing.

CMU of the MAC is not a BCS program and its league champion does not automatically qualify for a Bowl Championship Series. Cincinnati of the Big East, despite belonging to a BCS conference and being one small second away from playing for the national championship in the Sugar Bowl, does not have the established football history or the money to keep a head coach on staff that it feels it helped groom on its way to the top.

The coaching carousel never stops. If, in three or four more years, Butch Jones' replacement at CMU wins a couple more MAC titles, goes to some bowls, beats a couple more BCS opponents, and can land his team inside the top 25, he too will pack his bags to go coach a team with deeper pockets and a chance to play for a national championship. If Cincinnati is lucky, by that time Butch Jones will again be ready to take his career another step higher on the coaching ladder. Who knows, maybe to a school that seats around 80,000 and seemingly owns its own television network.

As defeatist as it might sound for this CMU grad to utter, the best thing for both schools might be for the carousel to continue to turn right at home, the result of two programs who continued to win while trapped within a system designed to have them lose.

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