Convicts vs. Choirboys

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

RichieincognitoEarlier this week, the University of Oregon football team announced that Richie Incognito has transferred to the school - and will play next year. Incognito, unceremoniously tossed from the Nebraska Cornhuskers program, has a long record of fighting with teammates and assaulting civilians off the field.

According to sportscasters on Portland's 1080 AM ("The Fan"), Ducks coach Mike Bellotti argued yesterday that "you can visit any college football program and find someone with assault on their rap sheet." (paraphrase)

That echoed a column in Thursday's Hillsboro Argus by Lawrence Kreifels, who argued:

How do you think the Sooners and Hurricanes got themselves into college football's elite? Hundreds of Richie Incognitos, that's how. ... I hate to break it to you, but if you were randomly dropped from a plane and landed on any college football campus, you'd find a Richie Incognito. ... Big time football programs are not built on choirboys. If Ducks fans want to be mentioned with the elite programs, they're going to have to accept Incognito, the player and the person.

So, my questions on this football Saturday: Does a 'big time' program need to be built on the backs of thugs and criminals? Given that successful football teams help boost the fortunes of the academic institution, should we look the other way? Is there a difference between helping a player already on campus who gets in trouble - and explicitly recruiting a trouble-maker? Does any of this matter?

  • Kent (unverified)

    It's the universities fault, all of them, for allowing themselves to be turned into a minor league for the NFL. Don't blame the kids, blame the schools. And I say this as a long-time Duck football fan.

    The problem is that unlike baseball, soccer, and hockey, there is no minor league pro football. In fact, the NFL FORCES kids to play college ball as the only means of entering the NFL and won't allow players to leave before their junior year. So you are automatically going to get a lot of players who really aren't there for any purpose other than football.

    Major college athletics is so far gone that it's probably past repair. The only real way to solve the problem would be to establish pro minor leagues so young players could practice their craft without having to pretend to be students. It would be fine to have college football as well, but hold the players to the same academic and conduct standards as the rest of the student body. Then college football would be more like college baseball. When's the last time you heard about a big scandal in college baseball?

    As for the specific case of Richie Icognito, I really don't know much about it. But I can tell you one thing. I attended college with plenty of beligerant a-hole frat boy types who were constantly getting into fights and trouble. No one was throwing them out of school as long as daddy was paying the tuition check. So I have to ask whether he would otherwise be ineligible to attend Oregon if he was not a football player. If his behavior would have been enough to keep him out of the university as a non-football player, then fine. If not then isn't that a bit of a double standard?

    As for getting kicked off the team in Nebraska. That could be more or less than it seems from the outside. I played football in HS and have friends who played in college. I can tell you that so many coaches run their organizations like the marines and just like in the military, it can be pretty easy to get crosswise if you have an independent streak.

  • Kent (unverified)

    Given that successful football teams help boost the fortunes of the academic institution, should we look the other way?

    I'm curious, are you just repeating conventional wisdom or is there actual evidence that athletic success boosts the fortunes of the academic institution?

    Out of curiosity I looked up the top-20 national universities as ranked by USN&WR (I know these rankings are suspect but they are convenient to use for this purpose):

    1. Harvard University (MA) Princeton University (NJ)
    2. Yale University (CT)
    3. University of Pennsylvania
    4. Duke University (NC) Massachusetts Inst. of Technology Stanford University (CA)
    5. California Institute of Technology
    6. Columbia University (NY) Dartmouth College (NH)
    7. Northwestern University (IL) Washington University in St. Louis
    8. Brown University (RI)
    9. Cornell University (NY) Johns Hopkins University (MD) University of Chicago
    10. Rice University (TX)
    11. University of Notre Dame (IN) Vanderbilt University (TN)
    12. Emory University (GA)

    and the current top-20 football teams as ranked by ESPN/USA Today (coaches poll).

    1. USC
    2. Oklahoma
    3. Georgia
    4. Miami
    5. Texas
    6. Ohio State
    7. West Virginia
    8. Tennessee
    9. Auburn
    10. California
    11. Florida State
    12. Virginia
    13. LSU
    14. Utah
    15. Purdue
    16. Florida
    17. Fresno State
    18. Michigan
    19. Minnesota
    20. Wisconsin

    Do you see any overlap on these two lists? I do not. In fact, on the list of top-20 academic universities I see only three that have decent athletic programs: Duke (basketball), Stanford (basketball) Notre Dame (football). A few others like Northwestern, Rice and Vanderbilt play Division I sports but the majority of top universities do not even have Division I athletic programs.

    As for the list of top football schools, I see only six: California (21), Michigan (22), Virginia (22) USC (30), Wisconsin (32), Texas (46) and Florida (50) that rank in the top 20-50 academically.

    So I would dispute the notion that success on the football field relates to success for the university. If that were the case then Nebraska, Florida State, and Oklahoma would be among the top universities in the US.

    Perhaps the most successful football teams bring in extra cash but my guess is that majority of Division I athletic programs do not even break even. If football success equals fundraising success then why do schools like Harvard, Princeton, and Yale stand orders of magnitude ahead in terms of the size of their endowments. Seems to me that private schools get their endowments from rich alumni regardless of the success of their athletic programs, and state schools get their money from their state legislatures.

  • (Show?)

    I'm a UO alumni. I have always refused to contribute to the alumni association simply because of their emphasis on athletics. I just send checks directly to the Journalism School. (I confess, this year the Democrats are getting ALL my contributions.)

    There's absolutely no reason why football players, who receive full scholarships, can't be expected to behave like civilized human beings. Even when I was at school in the "mellow" 70s, many of the players behaved like jerks. Rape was a common problem, and the athletic department would always hush it up.

    So, UO's football program is trying to emulate the Jail Blazers now?

  • Pat Hayes (unverified)

    Hi Folks....You've got to give Mike Belotti some credit for honesty. The standard response is usuallly some mumbling about troubled young men having the opportunity to start fresh and turn their lives around.

    I'm one of those few taxpayers willing to empty the wallet for academics, libraries and parks but incensed that one shiny penny goes to corporate sports and entertainment. It probably stems from having Safeco Field in Seattle dumped on us even though we voted against it. University athletics falls in the same category. Although the economics are kept deliberately murky estimates are that no more than 25% of Division I schools are profitable or break even. No Division IA, II, etc. come close. Most schools impose some type of student "recreation" fee supporting a half dozen pool table shoved off in the corner of the student union building with the bulk ending up in the athletic department coffers.

    Althletes are notoriously exploited with a marginally useful education in return for their athletic performance. Successful coaches and a select few performers stand to make signifcant fortunates while the vast majority of athletes are left with shorter, unhealthier lives due to poor medical care and untreated injuries.

    The term "bread and circus" comes to mind except that the institutions have neglected to ensure that bread is also made available.

    Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

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    My money says he continues to fail to live up to his name. How ironicly named he is.

    Our state slogan used to be "we look different here." By following other schools in giving scholarships to thugs, U of O (is that the letter or zero?) thoroughly trashed that slogan and bought into the "we love dreamers" b.s.

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    So, I'm a college football fan - but I'm also a skeptic about a lot of how college football is run.

    Kent asks, is there actual evidence that athletic success boosts the fortunes of the academic institution? I'll work on finding some hard numbers for ya, but in my work in higher ed advancement, it's pretty well accepted that when a college's football team is doing well, donations to the academic side of the house skyrocket - and plummet when the team does poorly.

    Also, I'll point out that the top 30-40 college football programs are profit-making revenue centers for the colleges, so none of Pat's shiny pennies go there. The money pays for the rest of the college's athletics.

    That said, for the rest of the 117 NCAA D-IA and all of D-IAA, D-II, and D-III schools, football is VERY expensive. It has the most players, with the highest per-player cost, the most coaches, and the greatest investment in grounds (except for places with their own golf courses; not many.)

    I'm also quite troubled by the notion that these kids (and that's what these 18-22 year olds are) are making millions for the institutions by putting their bodies on the line - and receiving little in return: an scholarship for an 'education' that they're not encouraged to actually pursue - and a dream-shot at being one of the very, very few to make the pros.

    All that, and they're not allowed to make a little spending money on the side - not even during the summer or off-season. Why can't we go back to the 1960s when players were given a small stipend of a couple grand a semester to pay for pizza and clothes?

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    Speaking to Richie Incognito, I do think there's a critical difference between a kid on the team who does something awful and working with him to improve his behavior AND explicitly recruiting a problem, just because he's a good player.

    We'll see how the strategy works out - so far, it ain't working for Bellotti. Maybe the Ducks can beat the Huskies.

  • Kent (unverified)

    Kent asks, is there actual evidence that athletic success boosts the fortunes of the academic institution? I'll work on finding some hard numbers for ya, but in my work in higher ed advancement, it's pretty well accepted that when a college's football team is doing well, donations to the academic side of the house skyrocket - and plummet when the team does poorly.

    I find that rather curious if true. Most of the really big football schools are state schools that rely primarily on tax dollars. There are a few private universities that are big football schools: USC, Miami, & Notre Dame to name a few. But the great majority are state schools. I know that state schools still raise money from alumni but it's a relatively low percentage of their operative budget compared to private schools.

    I don't have direct experience with this sort of thing as I went to Reed which has no varsity sports of any kind, but has good sports facilities for student use. Reed has had no problem boosting its endowment through constant fundraising despite the absense of varsity sports. When I went there in the mid-80s it was a fairly modest place with fairly limited funds. Today it seems they are faily rolling in money judging from what I read in the alumni mag.

    I doubt any of the really top private schools have any problem raising money even without sports teams. But they inspire a lot of loyalty among their alumni. Is it that the grads of big public schools are much more fickle and really don't care unless the team is doing well?

    As for Oregon, is it really a better school now than it was in the early 70s when they really sucked at football? Sure the campus is bigger and there are a few new glitzy buildings. But every school has seen improvements over the past 30 years. Has Oregon's relative standing among peer universities risen with the success of the football team over the past decade. From what I can tell it has not. It is still regarded as a 2nd tier state school just like it always has been. No one is confusing Oregon with Michigan regardless of how many times the Ducks beat the Wolverines in football.

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    Hey, the Ducks need all the thugs they can get. The current crew su*ks on the field, heh.

  • (Show?)

    So sue me for belonging to the Jerry Tarkanian school of "give kids a chance, show them a better alternative." UNLV in his day looked like a bunch of criminals on paper, but you never heard of them, say, 'shooting their limo driver accidentally' once they got into the League, or getting popped for gambling. They may look shady when they come in, but how many times does Bellotti have to prove that he can turn them around? This ain't Neuheisel we're talking about here.

    Face it, if a kid is athletically gifted, as long as he meets the minimum standards in other areas, he's gonna land somewhere and get paid to be a "student-athlete." SC does it (Orenthal James Simpson, anyone?), OSU does it, and so does every major and mid-major school in the land. Incognito, for his part, was going to land somewhere after Nebraska (which went to hell as a program under Solich, so despite the anger problem, I don't blame him).

    Whether I as a Duck fan will be glad or not it was Oregon remains to be seen. But it's innocent 'til proven guilty in this country, mostly, so I ain't about to yell "Damon Stoudamire!!" yet...

  • (Show?)

    Well, apparently Incognito has been dismissed from the Oregon team for violation of an "unspecified condition" of his scholarship. So do we get to talk about Rodney Woods now?

  • toonprivate (unverified)
    <h2>i'm imagining the UofO without Division One sports. Gee, it's not so bad.</h2>

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