Back To School

Since when did the off season begin anyway?

The Super Bowl and ‘Dat Tuesday seem so recent, defying the calendar. The videotapes are fresh. At least some of Who ‘Dat Nation is still hung over from getting crunk.  It feels too soon to discuss the 2010 Saints, so they  won’t be delved into here.       

Mike Bell and Charles Grant are gone, as is Scott Fujita. The latter was a class act in New Orleans. After signing a free agent contract with Cleveland in an offer too good to turn down, he still donated half his Super Bowl winnings to coastal restoration.  Darren Sharper and the front office are in a Mexican standoff with his contract.  When with the Bears, Alex Brown gave the Saints hell in the ’06 NFC Championship, and he appears to be a good addition.

Six new players were drafted and more than a dozen rooks signed up to try out this summer. It won’t be an easy roster to make. 

But the most interesting tidbit with the Back & Gold was about a big kid who went back to college and apologized. 

Carl Nicks is a valued member of the Stones Of The Saints offensive line. He played his college ball at Nebraska,  and found himself there recently to apologize to the program for partying too much, and being a slacker in class and on the field. His habits and regrets are hardly unique to  the college experience, though making a post mortem trip back there to apologize for them is.   Head coach Bo Pelini, formerly with LSU, wasn’t even there when Nicks was recruited.  Pelini may have wondered if the kid was emotionally stable when he visited.

Carl Nicks doesn’t owe the University of  Nebraska anything.  There were no illusions when he and the university entered unto their contract. In exchange for signing on as a Husker in their football machine, he got up to a 5 year ride, with the opportunity to glean the best education he was willing and able to get. And the university has resources for the able part. Should he not choose to do so, the university would still have fulfilled its obligations.  The long term risks of torn ligaments, broken bones, concussions, and getting arthritis at an earlier age than the general poulation, or worse, are assumed by Nicks, as are the rewards of parlaying Big Red exposure into a lucrative pro career, or bettering himself with a degree. Football scholarships are loaded with implicities. 

Major college football turned into big business a long time ago, and used the guise of higher education to do so.  The NCAA and The Wizard Of Oz have had a few things in common. Division I athletic directors sit in offices adding up revenues from television networks, bowls and the BCS, season ticket sales and memberships, parking and concessions, merchandise, and ad sponsors, in addition to  soliciting  donations from boosters.  Unlike general mangers in the NFL, however, there is no player payroll  to deal with.  Former USC and Los Angeles Ram coach John Robinson was once asked the main difference between college and pro ball. He said it was taking a left or right on the freeway.   

About three or four decades ago, the relative hypocrisy of the big time student athlete image smelled really bad. Writers at Sports Illustrated did pieces that exposed frauds, like basket weaving courses to stay eligible, papers written by somebody else, and “counselors” who happened to come across copies of tests the night before. Subsequently, there were some institutional reform efforts, mostly aimed at graduation rates.  Since then, there has been a gradual assumption that the ideal and materialistic are not as separate on campus as once advertised.  In that sense, the NCAA  is now better preparing its student athletes for the real world.

In this day and age, it’s surprising a group of bright law and business school grads have not organized Division I recuits into a federation for some union scale compensation and benefits, even if that opens other cans of worms. When pressed about it, several big time coaches have admitted yes, the kids should get more of the pie, even though an education invaluable.  Perhaps though, the real problem isn’t that college kids aren’t being paid to play ball,  it’s that the pie got so big in the first place.   

As budget cuts pummel higher education nationwide, it would be nice if a football factory or two let their students, faculty, and employees in free to see the games this fall, even if in a symbolic gesture. But it won’t happen since Wizards don’t seek to have curtains raised on themselves.     

So what Nicks did was big of him, bringing some negative publicity upon himself, while living  in a self promoting, Twittering culture. This speaks well of his character.

Unwittingly, he may have invited extra scrutiny from Saints assistant coaches if he nods off and falls asleep during monotonous team meetings (coaches love to typecast players, often to the detriment of both). Conversely, he may also have made himself an atttractive candidate for Nebraska’s coaching or athletic counseling staff once his playing days are over, if he is inclined to go that route. Big Red would be foolish not to extend him an offer.

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