It’s over a week until Ohio State holds its first spring game with Urban Meyer at the helm. Sporting News could care less, as they drop a Meyer story that includes the word Buckeyes fans have come to loathe most: “controversy.”
Matt Hayes’ story uncovers the supposedly “saucy” underbelly of Meyer’s regime at Florida and my is it salacious.
There were “circles of trust” and numerous, concealed marijuana busts, which make Meyer’s Florida teams look like Judd Apatow characters. There was also plenty of Chris Broussard journalism, with enough unnamed sources to fill a ten-minute SportsCenter bit. However, Hayes did manage to snag one former Meyer player, Bryan Thomas, who had this to say about the coach on record, inevitably in response to Meyer’s forcing him from the team because of injury: “‘As far as coaching, there’s no one else like (Meyer); he’s a great coach,’ Thomas said. ‘He gets players to do things you never thought you could do. But he’s a bad person. He’ll win at Ohio State. But if he doesn’t change, they’re going to have the same problems.’”
Let’s forget for a second that the NCAA is still trying to appeal for purity. Throw that notion out the window. When that mirage evaporates, two things can be accrued from reading this article.
1. NCAA football is no longer an amateur sport.
2. Calling Meyer a “bad person” is inconsequential as long as he wins.
While the former seems (and is) a “no shit” observation, it directly correlates to point two, which makes Thomas’ point a non sequitur. When NCAA athletics like football and men’s basketball command multimillion-dollar advertising partnerships and billion-dollar television contracts–and when a coach like Meyer can haul in approximately $24 million to coach the Buckeyes–the NCAA’s “amateurism” becomes a facade. There are countless opinions on the topic*, but for Thomas to act incredulous about Meyer’s cutting him from the team because he was clogging up roster space being injured is ridiculous.
Whether Thomas wants to acknowledge it or not, his participation as a “student-athlete”** at the University of Florida was merely as a cog in the great bureaucratic, money-making machine that is collegiate athletics. He is the token pawn that brings in millions for the school each fall. Like Neo’s reaction to discovering his role in The Matrix, the truth sucks, but it’s the truth: he is inherently disposable, assuming he can’t serve a purpose to the school’s greatest profit generator, its football team.
Which means that calling Meyer a “bad person” falls upon deaf ears. Sure, there’s plenty of worrisome dysfunction in Hayes’ piece, but the prevailing theme is Meyer was able to compensate for shit locker room chemistry with pure talent alone. And who cares? As long as the team wins and money keeps pouring into the university’s coffers, being a cut-throat, highly competitive and slightly immoral sporting figure doesn’t matter–just win, win, win, baby.
In that prism that’s the least controversial aspect of this whole story. It’s almost pragmatic.
* – Although not directly related, the issue of paying college athletes has become increasingly prominent in these circles. For both sides of the coin The New York Times’ Joe Nocera provides a fairly interesting piece that favors paying NCAA athletes (i.e. football and men’s basketball players) and New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait provides an excellent article arguing against.
** – The term “student-athlete” is completely drenched in irony. Here are two articles – one by Grantland.com’s Charles P. Pierce and another by The Atlantic’s Taylor Branch – which explain how it is.