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GEORGE KENNEDY: Move to SEC comes with serious considerations — culturally and financially

Thursday, November 10, 2011 | 6:30 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — As I stood in the back of the crowd Sunday and listened to the love fest marking our university’s abandonment of a century of tradition, I found it almost impossible to maintain my skepticism about the new union with the Old Confederacy Conference.

Almost impossible, but not quite. I couldn’t help recalling the old saying, be careful what you wish for.

The excitement was certainly compelling. There on the temporary stage in the recently remodeled student center was my boss, Chancellor Brady Deaton, acting as ebullient as I’ve ever seen him.

This marriage made in Birmingham was “appropriate, timely and headed in the right direction,” he enthused. It was the result of “a thoughtful and deliberate process.”

A little later, when the celebration gave way to a press conference, he answered a journalist’s question by explaining that MU was “looking for long-term stability and financial security.” His tone switched from excited to regretful when he noted the “continuing instability” in the No Longer Big 12. 

He might have added, I thought, that our athletics department was sick of playing third fiddle to Texas and Oklahoma. He might have said the last straw for him was being talked over and pushed around by OU President David Boren.

Senator Boren didn’t make it to Sunday’s symbolic exchange of football helmets; but University of Florida President Bernie Machen did.

He’s also chairman of the Southeastern Conference, as the Old Confederacy prefers to be called. Welcoming and gracious, he dismissed any speculation that Missouri’s culture wouldn’t fit with the culture of our new playmates.

That’s what has me at least a little worried. The culture of the SEC, when it comes to sports, is fanaticism. Did you see that Alabama-LSU game on television last week?

Remember when an Alabama fan deliberately poisoned the iconic trees on Auburn’s campus? And speaking of Auburn, you probably recall how the father of that star quarterback tried to auction off his son’s services before the lad led those Tigers to the national championship last year.

Have you ever seen the world’s largest outdoor cocktail party, aka the Georgia-Florida football game?

These folks make our little Border War with KU look like a quick game of patty-cake.

Which brings to mind another old saying: When they say it’s not about the money, it’s about the money. In this case, we’ll be talking serious money.

When it comes to academics, we can hold our own with any SEC institution except maybe Vanderbilt. In fact, a former student consoled me this week with the observation that while we may get whipped on the playing field, we’ll be No. 1 in journalism schools. Of course, Florida might dispute that, but never mind.

In funding for athletics, it’s a different story. We’re near the bottom of the pack.

As you’ve probably heard, our university is quietly preparing for a fundraising drive with a goal somewhere north of $1 billion. The number most often mentioned as the athletics department’s share has been $160 million, but an insider tells me that’s far too low.

Mike Alden, our perpetually optimistic athletics director, said Sunday that the new membership will require MU “to step up our game.”

He didn’t mean only recruiting stronger, faster athletes. He meant, I’m sure, recruiting stronger donors who’ll be faster in coming across with big – really big – bucks.

We’ve got to have new luxury boxes above the east stands of the football stadium. That’s just for starters. The real resource gap is in the nonrevenue sports.

A friend who raises money for MU predicts there won’t be much competition for funds between the athletics and academic arms. The big sports donors are in it for entertainment, he said, while the significant money for academics is more philanthropic.

Most donors to athletics are delirious about the change of allegiance, but there’s major “fence mending” to be done among the Kansas City-area philanthropists, he added.

I hope you see, and some of you may even share, my concern. Big-time college athletics is already more influential than it should be. Mike Alden likes to describe our athletics program as “the front porch” of the university.

In the SEC, athletics is more like the front lawn, complete with Olympic-sized swimming pool and a BMW in the four-car garage. Inside the academic house, however, the roof is leaking and the sheriff is hauling off the furniture.

Our former conference home was no paradise. As a loyal alum, I hope this is a move in the right direction. I’m just not as sure as our leaders seem to be.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.


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Comments

Vince Powers November 10, 2011 | 8:24 p.m.

"When they say it’s not about the money, it’s about the money. In this case, we’ll be talking serious money."

Which brings me to my point. I firmly believe that the securities exchange commission has absolutely no place interjecting itself into college sports!

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith November 10, 2011 | 11:04 p.m.

Please pass the grits, greens and boiled okra, George. As a treat, when we're seated in our rockers on the veranda after dinner, we're going to serve boiled peanuts.

But it's all good. At least unlike Penn State we didn't fire our university president this week, but then we don't currently have one. It appears that at Penn State the governing body isn't subordinate to the athletic department.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith November 11, 2011 | 12:49 a.m.

"In the SEC, athletics is more like the front lawn ... Inside the academic house, however, the roof is leaking and the sheriff is hauling off the furniture."

So, do we have any institutions of higher learning - public or private - like that here in Missouri? After all, we LIVE in Missouri, not in Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and such. Don't know about you, but I pay taxes in Missouri and so do most Missourians.

I've found three:

Washington University
Truman State University
Missouri University of Science & Technology

George, those awful people and their alumni spend obscene amounts of money on athletics, and they have well-deserved reputations for consistently short changing their academic programs. It's scandalous, George, just scandalous!

(Report Comment)
George Kennedy November 11, 2011 | 3:03 p.m.

Ellis: Without scandal, journalism would be pretty dull stuff. If all alumni were as loyal as you are to the dear old School of Mines, universities would be better off.

And Vince, I used a historical reference the first time to try to avoid any SEC confusion. You'd think that other organization would have enough to do these days.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams November 11, 2011 | 4:29 p.m.

George Kennedy says, "Without scandal, journalism would be pretty dull stuff."
________________________

True.

In your opinion, how often do journalists make more scandal out of a scandal? How much/often do you believe a scandal is made more than what it is? Who gets to decide when enough is enough?

How does a journalism school teach prospective students to NOT maintain a "gotcha" mentality? Or is a "gotcha" mentality considered a desirable thing?

What does the Missourian do reporting-wise if/when an employee/student gets in trouble with the law, including DWI/narcotics/etc?

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin November 11, 2011 | 4:29 p.m.

I continue to wonder about this obsession with college sports, which anymore seems to be a euphemism for an obsession about money. I wonder just what's left with all the obsessing about money. Sportsmanship? Victory on the field? Pride? Teamwork? You've got me.

This week has made me wonder even more.

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders November 11, 2011 | 5:16 p.m.

Hey, if Mizzou does well on the gridiron, then there's a whole new list of bowl games to overlook us!

(Report Comment)
mike mentor November 11, 2011 | 5:27 p.m.

If you guys owned a bar, restaurant, hotel, gas station/convenience store etc in Columbia you would not need an explanation.

If you enjoy having an excuse to have a huge block party on a few fall saturdays every year you would understand.

If you enjoy watching sporting competitions... you get the idea...

Not trying to be snarky, but the University and the athletic dept or very important to Columbia. The better the athletic dept the more people come from out of town to spend their money. "Investing" in the athletic dept is o.k. with this Tiger...

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin November 11, 2011 | 6:15 p.m.

"Investing" has nothing to do with the problems that plague college sports today, first and foremost the sickening focus on money.

It plays out in the vast and nauseating gulf between what coaches and top AD personnel are paid for what student athletes -- paid nothing -- do out on the field.

It warps priorities, and can warp the mission of an academic institution. After all, no matter how you slice it, when you have a $4 million head coach and $0 student athletes -- the "employees" as it were -- you have a prescription for warped priorities. (And please -- don't trot out the fact that they're getting a "free" education. They're working their tails off for it).

Finally, while bars, convenient stores, restaurants, gas stations, and hotels are wonderful service businesses, they are no way to build a sustainable economy with high-paying jobs.

I'd much rather see universities "invest" as much in academics and the kind of academic-business partnerships that build long-term economic success. As it is, more and more of those relationships are left to grants, Federal largesse, and other external, non-affiliated sources.

I know Truman feels the same way. "There were days when being a Tiger was all about breaking a Jayhawk," he told me with a muted roar. "Now, it's all about making a Buck."

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams November 11, 2011 | 6:24 p.m.

Finally, while bars, convenient stores, restaurants, gas stations, and hotels are wonderful service businesses, they are no way to build a sustainable economy with high-paying jobs.
________________________

Can you really have one without the other?

Is it really possible to have a community consisting of ONLY high paying jobs. I would maintain that neither a community of services jobs nor a community of high-paying jobs are independently sustainable.

Methinks the two are closely interrelated, and one should not be disparaged in favor of the other. Indeed, in Columbia's case, I think we lack blue collar jobs in a very unbalanced way.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin November 11, 2011 | 7:00 p.m.

The blue collar jobs we lack are among the high paying jobs I'm talking about.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams November 11, 2011 | 8:17 p.m.

MikeM: I'm not.

(Report Comment)
frank christian November 11, 2011 | 8:50 p.m.

Mike Martin - Aren't you really writing "politics" here? "Investing" has nothing to do with the problems that plague" our country! The riots from students in State College objecting to the penalties imposed upon their supposed athletic heroes because of the despicable behavior of one, and the one who caused them while attempting stop abuse of a little boy, shows where we are as a country. Money may be a symptom, but the complete lack of moral values is the disease.

"when you have a $4 million head coach and $0 student athletes -- the "employees" as it were -- you have a prescription for warped priorities." That "class envy" doesn't work here, either. Those $0 athletes are working there to achieve the 4M$ or as close as their abilities will allow. Human nature. The approach has worked, will work and with a base giving people the ability to discern the difference between right and wrong will always work. Our educational system from top to bottom no longer provides this base.

"Finally, while bars, convenient stores, restaurants, gas stations, and hotels are wonderful service businesses,
they are no way to build a sustainable economy with high-paying jobs." Look at who is concerned with "high paying jobs" Forget your ideology and accept the fact that Everyone wants a high paying job. The necessity that must be provided is a philosophy (am betting "religion" wouldn't work with you) demanding basic honesty from all. We had that in our country, but the crap that everyone is victim of something is being taught and the hope that comes with religion is being educated out of us, replaced with dependance on government. I say too bad, You?

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush November 11, 2011 | 10:56 p.m.

Williams says there's too
Many high paying jobs that
Have a blue collar.

Or maybe we need
More low paying blue collar
In Columbia.

Either way, profits
Before people - and labor
After capital.

When capitalists
Take the first fruits, nothing will
Be left for labor.

(Report Comment)
Derrick Fogle November 11, 2011 | 11:00 p.m.

After reading the Sandusky Grand Jury indictment, and a fair amount of peripheral information from the media, it's blatantly obvious that a *lot* of people knew, or had some idea, what Sandusky was doing. Yet, this went on for years before he was finally stopped.

Why the collective silence, and sometimes active cover-up, from so many people, for so long? Because PSU was... winning?!?

As much as media has commercialized, exploited, and financially warped college sports compared to other college activities (excluding stuff like RADIL), I don't think those boy's real needs were cast aside and ignored just for money. The students didn't riot over the firings because of money.

No, this is a slightly different manifestation of greed. Just as ugly, just as corrupting, every bit as damaging to the lives of others. Sandusky wasn't shielded by others just for the money. These boys were allowed to be abused, thrown away like so much trash, just to win college football games. It's disgusting.

I'm far more OK with the motive of MU's move; I'm fairly certain it *is* about the money here, at least for now. But for the record, I'm not very OK with that, either.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith November 12, 2011 | 3:00 a.m.

Solution to the "mega sports" problem: eliminate NCAA Division I and NCAA Division II. Everybody plays by NCAA Division III rules. No athletic scholarships. This would reduce athletic expenditures (and overhead personnel) and, since all teams would face the same restrictions, the competition should be rather equal and the games would still be interesting.

Competition doesn't have to be "perfect" to be exciting. Not so long ago then president Elson Floyd accepted an invitation to attend a Division II football game and saw the teams score a grand total of 111 points. (Arena football without the arena.) The game was decided in the final minute when a two-point conversion (which would have won the game) failed. (We don't go for overtime; we decide games in regulation time like real men!)

[My suggestion would require that UMKC, UMSL and MS&T downgrade from II to III, but our teams play like they are already in III.:)]

At present Division III contains some members with absolutely awful academic reputations, such as:

University of Chicago
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
California Institute of Technology (CalTech)
Johns Hopkins University

I can see it now! MIT vs. MU right here in Columbia, with the MIT quarterback under center, barking out mathematical symbols. :)

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith November 12, 2011 | 4:12 a.m.

Why thank you, George. As Blanche Dubois says at the end of "A Streetcar Named Desire," "I have always relied on the kindness of strangers."

We enjoy our present MS&T name. It's a step up from "Podunk University-Rolla." It has caused a spike in students seeking admission. Too bad we've run out of space to put all of them.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin November 12, 2011 | 8:09 a.m.

I disagree with those who say money is not to blame for the corruption of college sports and the losing sight of what college and sports are supposed to be about.

Every pundit, expert, and commentator I've heard blames money for the PSU debacle, with comments like, "You can't tell me that if Paterno and company weren't bringing in $50 million a year that this would have been allowed to go on for even a week."

Here's an example and an excerpt:

Want answers? Follow Penn State money
http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20111...

"Paterno has brought in hundreds of millions — probably billions — of dollars to his university over his many decades in State College.

"He was a cash machine without limits, and the fear that this scandal would crash the ATM is why these heinous acts went hidden and unpunished."

About college sports generally:

"The tremendous focus on turning sports programs into money-making juggernauts has already reached sickening levels of corruption.

"The scandals in college athletics are so abundant in the last half-decade alone, it’s impossible to run them all down."

http://z6mag.com/lifestyle/education/for...

Here's a recent WSJ rundown on the super-profitability of college sports, also tied to the Happy Valley scandal:

http://blogs.marketwatch.com/thetell/201...

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks November 12, 2011 | 9:38 a.m.

Competition doesn't have to be "perfect" to be exciting. Not so long ago then president Elson Floyd accepted an invitation to attend a Division II football game and saw the teams score a grand total of 111 points. (Arena football without the arena.) The game was decided in the final minute when a two-point conversion (which would have won the game) failed. (We don't go for overtime; we decide games in regulation time like real men!)

[My suggestion would require that UMKC, UMSL and MS&T downgrade from II to III, but our teams play like they are already in III.:)]

Which DII team was that? And yes you are correct. When Rolla was in the MIAA NW and pretty much every other team did own them. When they left the conference we all thought they had dropped to DIII. This was 10 years or so ago.

Last night Div II NW just knocked off DI UMKC in basketball.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith November 12, 2011 | 10:23 a.m.

@ Corey Parks:

Only two of the four UM System campuses play football: MU and MS&T. MS&T has played football every year since 1893, and our local joke is that we are still trying to learn how to play football. Our lifetime W-L record is below .500. There have been two undefeated seasons: 1914 and 1980 (1980 was actually in the MIAA).

At the time of the 111 point marathon, and since then, MS&T plays football as an independent. Usually, 3 games a season are played against Division IAA teams. We have actually won some of those games, but we made the mistake of scheduling South Daakota State University one year and had our a**es handed to us.

I wouldn't mind if we dropped to Division III. There are a number of public and private technical institutes that play in Division III. I think a schedule made up mainly of technical schools would be cool.

(Report Comment)
frank christian November 12, 2011 | 11:06 a.m.

M. Martin - "Every pundit, expert, and commentator I've heard blames money for the PSU debacle,"

Yeah and guns are responsible for murders, not the shooter.
Barring lobbyists will bring honesty to corrupt law-makers.
Providing more revenue to Congress will reduce the deficit.

Those most responsible have been indicted or otherwise punished, why not just move along as is the recommendation for American Muslim murder and abuse?

(Report Comment)

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