College basketball=madness for coaches

In 1891, Dr. James Naismith invented basketball. He had been give an assignment at Springfield College in Massachusetts to create an indoor sport for the season of winter.

Much like the Wright Brothers with their airplane, I suspect Dr. Naismith would be amazed to see how his game has evolved.

Basketball is played around the world—indoors, outdoors— in backyards, playgrounds, parks, gymnasiums, and oversized arenas.

Children start playing at an early age. A few will develop the skills needed to play collegiately and professionally.

Forever locked in my brain is that spring afternoon when two of my fourth grade classmates, Johnny Huffman and Tommy Hinson, introduced me to basketball. 

Since that introduction, I have been hooked, a fan— especially for the college game.

I have attended games in person and watched many on television. Sometimes, when watching a game on television, my wife has issued me a technical foul and banned me from the den. She had just cause. A grown man should not be shouting unflattering words at a unresponsive television when his team is losing.

We all know about the madness created in March with the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

But, there are other levels of madness that college basketball creates too.

The pursuit to win pushes coaches and their staffs to travel all over the world to recruit and sign the best players. Sometimes, recruiting becomes mired in broken promises, shady transactions, and investigations that ruin lives.

Coaching a men’s college basketball team is dangerous work. A coach puts his livelihood in the hands of 17, 18, and 19 year old college students to win games. Even if a coach compiles a winning record during his tenure, those wins might not satisfy impatient alumni. 

If a coach can’t consistently guide his teams into the madness of the NCAA tournament to pursue winning the national championship, his job might be in jeopardy. Often, that’s when alumni become agitated and start the drumroll of grumbling to athletic directors.

Every March there is a carousel of coaches who are fired or whose contracts are bought out. Just ask Steve Wojciechowski and Archie Miller who were this season head coaches at Marquette and Indiana.

In seven years at Marquette and four years at Indiana the teams of both coaches compiled winning records. Both schools have a rich history of college basketball success. 

In that history each school has won the national championship and competed in the  NCAA tournament multiple times. But neither Wojciechowski or Miller in their tenure was able to consistently bring their teams into the NCAA tournament to pursue the national championship.

Wojciechowski was fired, and Archie Miller on paper became a millionaire.

Grumpy alumni at Indiana stroked checks in the amount of $10.3 million so that the athletic director could buy out his contract and fire Coach Miller.

This contract buyout makes me think about students and professors at Indiana University.

I wonder how students at the school who struggle with food insecurity feel about this million dollar buyout?

 How about students who are not on scholarship? Many of these students like their parents at home are working multiple part-time jobs to cover the costs of college.

And don’t forget that university professor who teaches his/her heart out everyday. That same professor fights for funding to sustain critical research.

Where is the leadership of university presidents in the firing and buyouts of coaches? Do they have a voice? Or do the deep pockets of prominent alumni do the speaking for them?

Dr. Naismith invented a beautiful game. But recently, the beauty of the game is being tarnished by the desire to win at all cost— no matter how many dollars it costs to win.

Perhaps, there is a simple solution—a one year contract. 

Maybe university athletic directors and presidents should research Walter Alston. 

Mr. Alston managed the Los Angeles Dodgers for over twenty years. Every contract he signed with the Dodgers was for one year. During that time span, Mr. Alston’s teams won seven National League pennants and were World Series champions four times.

Despite its maddening flaws, college basketball still captures my attention.

However, I remain dismayed at the multiple layers of madness it causes in its pursuit to win.

When will university presidents and athletic directors collectively say enough?

Maybe saying enough to this coaching madness can be found in a quote from Winston Churchill: “Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all the others.”

University presidents and athletic directors, this coaching madness needs some courage.

A beautiful, but maddening game photo by Bill Pike

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