Bill O’Brien To Usher Penn State into the Club of Ordinary Programs

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Dec 302013
Penn State Head Coach Bill O'Brien

So it looks increasingly likely that Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien will be flying the coup. I’m honestly surprised it’s happening so soon. Not necessarily because I thought he’d see out the sanctions period. But because I didn’t think he’d become a serious candidate after only two years. Don’t get me wrong, he’s done yeoman’s work for PSU. I just didn’t think NFL teams would come calling so soon.

Even if O’Brien doesn’t jump ship this offseason, it’s a strong bet that he’ll leave very soon thereafter.

If I was PSU looking for his successor, I would stay clear of 49ers Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman and (former) Tampa Buccaneers Head Coach Greg Schiano, two names which garnered interest in their last coaching search. I’d even stay away former Pennstater and current (for now) Tennessee Titans Head Coach Mike Munchak. These are NFL guys. That’s where they want to be; at the supposed pinnacle of football coaching. (Personally, I don’t think that coaching, as opposed to playing, in the NFL is the peak of the profession though let’s leave that for another day).

Penn State Head Coach Bill O'Brien

Penn State Head Coach Bill O’Brien

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Jul 292013

Apparently, the PAC-12 and Arizona State, in particular, have a problem with the idea of admitting for-profit universities to Division 1 athletics. The case surrounds Grand Canyons University’s soon-to-be entrance into the WAC. From ESPN:

“As a Conference — together with our Presidents — we believe that a broader level of discussion is needed before the final decision on whether to grant for-profit institutions membership in NCAA Division I,” the league’s statement read. “We have asked the NCAA Executive Committee to include it on the agenda of their August meeting. Our major concern is how athletics fit within the academic missions of for-profit universities.”

And this from noted party school, Arizona State University:

“We do not believe for-profit schools provide a good foundation to support student-athletes, who work so hard to balance significant time commitments to sports and their academic work,” the school’s statement read. “We cannot play teams that exist for profit and have them use their games against us to advance their stock prices, as was discussed by Grand Canyon University during a recent telephone call with investors.”

Now I tend to believe that student-athletes in the money sports (football, men’s basketball and at some universities, baseball and women’s basketball) get type-cast a lot. They may not be the most rigorous students but eventually most of them straighten-up, get through college and move into the real world. I knew a few at Pitt; these were good kids who knew their role in college. They loved their sports but knew they wouldn’t be making it big-time in the pro’s. So they did their best to balance academics and athletics and got their degrees.

Grand Canyon University Arena

Their universities, however, don’t make things easier. Tutoring and student services notwithstanding, there’s a whole laundry list of evils associated with the commercialization of major university athletics, most of it driven not by the athletes but the the arms races started by the universities themselves. Yet, college presidents and athletic directors go on and on with paeans to amateurism and scholarship, while making it even harder on the athletes. If high-major universities cared less about money and more about their football and basketball players, they wouldn’t deny their four year scholarships. They wouldn’t have added a 12th game to the schedule, with allowances that occasionally allow teams to play upwards of 14 games including their bowl game. They wouldn’t have allowed ESPN and CBS Sports and Fox and other networks to dictate more and more useless bowl games. I could go on and on.

For-Profit status actually saved Grand Canyon University from going-under. The athletics department’s budget went from $3 million to $10 million. It is building a $200 million arena. It has over 44,000 students, 9,000 of whom live on-campus. A school nearly goes bankrupt, gets saved and turned around and yet,  the nation’s venerable institutions of hypocrisy higher learning don’t want to let it play at the big boy’s table.

The level of hypocrisy needed in order to call into question a for-profit university’s commitment to its student-athletes while continuing to make a mockery of those same student-athletes simply boggles the mind. Especially coming from Arizona State University, one of the biggest party schools in the country. Pitchforks down.

Apr 072009

A quick list of the Grand Canyon State’s ever growing contingent of Pittsburgh-related coaching connections:

* Cardinals’ coach Ken Whisenhunt served most of his coaching career with the Steelers, ending as Offensive Coordinator.

* Whisenhunt’s top assistant Russ Grimm is from Scottsdale, played his college ball at Pitt and was Bill Cowher’s top assistant/offensive line coach with the Steelers.

* Cardinals’ defensive coordinator Billy Davis got his first start in NFL coaching with the Steelers.

* Arizona State head basketball coach Herb Sendek grew up in Pittsburgh, graduating from Penn Hills High School and Carnegie Mellon University.

* Finally, new University of Arizona head basketball coach Sean Miller is from Blackhawk High School and considered one of the best point guards ever to play for Pitt. He also spent some time as an assistant at Pitt.

Is that enough to convince you that Arizona = Pittsburgh West? Oh and there’s also Larry Fitzgerald.