In collegiate sports, you get what you pay for

Bobby Curran
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Friday - December 21, 2007
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University of Michigan fans were initially alarmed and are apparently now gratified at the direction taken in their school’s search for a new football coach.After being rejected by LSU’s Les Miles and Rutgers’ Greg Schiano, the Wolverines pursued and lured West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez to take the reins from Lloyd Carr.

By any standard, Michigan is one of the premier jobs in college football. In terms of reputation, tradition, national prominence, conference affiliation and facilities,there are probably only three or four jobs in the country that compare.

Why then did Michigan find itself scrambling for a new coach? The answer is complicated and reveals the changing dynamic of big-time college athletics. For one thing, Michigan has never matched coaches’salaries to the prestige of the job. When Les Miles was an obvious candidate because of Michigan ties, his employers at LSU promptly offered him a new contract purportedly worth $3.5 million per year. At many schools,money is no object when it comes to pleasing rabid fans, boosters and alumni with a winning football program, and it’s not hard to figure why.

Georgia is Hawaii’s opponent in the Sugar Bowl. Bulldog athletics is a serious preoccupation with many Georgia sports fans. Its athletic budget approaches $75 million annually. Between $50 million and $60 million are attributable to football revenues. When Georgia Athletics Director Damon Evans embarked on a fund-raising campaign last year, he netted $34 million. That donor largesse is largely fueled by the success head coach Mark Richt has had on the playing field. In seven seasons, Richt has won 71 games, two SEC championships and a division championship.They’ve been to bowls every year; this will be his third trip to the Sugar Bowl. That success is directly tied to the open wallets and checkbooks that feed the program. It is, as they say in the South, “Jus’ good bidness.”

The facts are these: If you are unwilling to commit the resources necessary to compete at the highest level, you will inevitably be marginalized. You may have an occasional bright moment,but you cannot sustain the highest levels consistently.

With University of Hawaii enjoying its greatest moment in sports, it is coming to a crossroads. What has been accomplished represents an amazing achievement. Considering the limitations of budget and, most particularly, facilities,it is nearly miraculous.But the university, the Legislature, the community and the fans need to decide whether they want to build on the success or merely relegate it to a distant, albeit pleasant, memory. The decisions made now will determine where the UH athletic program will be a decade from now.

For better or worse, we’ll reap what we sow.

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