Lane Kiffin and His Brethran Mock College Athletics

nathan spicerContributor IJanuary 14, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 13:  New head coach of the USC Trojans Lane Kiffin speaks to the media during a press conference at Heritage Hall January 13, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

I think the first words Lane Kiffin spoke to new recruits ambled along the lines of, "By the end of your career at Tennessee, this school will ascend to the highest rank in the nation. With your help, Tennessee will win a national championship. With your help, WITH YOUR HELP, Tennessee will become a dynasty .

"I will be there every step of the way, and I hope you will, too. I believe in you, and I believe in this university, and I believe we can achieve the impossible if we commit to hard work, loyalty, and honor. I'm with you, are you with me?"


Six months later, the speechmaker's gone. He left for someone else; he was never “with” that player. He left for a cushier job in a nicer place that will pay him more money—and considering evidence of impropriety relating to former players (e.g. Reggie Bush, Joe McKnight, O.J. Mayo)—a much more "lenient" enforcement of NCAA stipulations.


Fair? The players signed up to spend four (or five) years at Tennessee—as a Volunteer (ironic choice of words nowadays, especially for coaches. Think any of them would volunteer or the position and turn down millions?) I just read an ESPN The Magazine article about common “redshirt” practices.

Most players, apart from the rare superstar exceptions like Matt Barkley at USC, spend their whole first season on the bench or playing exclusively on the practice squad. Factoring that in, Kiffin probably preached to such "redshirt" players about being loyal to the program for the player's whole college career (probably five years).

Meanwhile, Kiffin leaves before he can coach that player in even ONE game. The coach demanded honor from the player while dismissing the importance of honor in himself. Talk about hypocritical.


A common misconception: A "four year scholarship" lasts four years. Well, not quite. According to an "Outside The Lines" report on ESPN, scholarships are actually just one year renewals. If the player is still performing well at the end of the year, the school will renew his scholarship.

However, if he gets injured or commits some egregious rules violation (taking money for food or something), the school has the right to dismiss him from the team and not renew his scholarship--which definitely means he won't be able to pay the nearly hundred-grand the school requires to make it through all four years. So players have very little power over anything.

The only administrative presence they feel they can trust is the coach. But, well, they can't...Nowadays, some coaches are just as likely to dismiss a player because of injury as the athletic director would be. The AD wants him gone for monetary purposes; the coach wants him gone for qualitative purposes.


Meanwhile, Kiffin can sign a contract for six years at $2.4 million per year, and then bolt after one year with absolutely no repercussions. In fact, his life gets better by being disloyal and dishonest.


How is this possible? How can the NCAA, an organization that spouts constant hyperbole and rhetoric about the integrity within college athletics, allow the faces of college athletics—the coaches—to operate without an ounce of integrity?


Let's go through a very short list of university coaches who've done something dishonorable in the past year-or-so:


Kansas' Mark Mangino (forced a player to crawl on his hands and knees across scalding-hot turf).

USF's Jim Leavitt (allegedly choked a player and punched him twice in the face). Kansas State's Frank Martin (video caught him punching a player on the arm). Tech's Mike Leach (allegedly relegated a player to a garage for a practice's duration). Tennessee's Lane Kiffin (violated numerous NCAA rules at Tennessee before escaping to USC).

Kentucky's John Calipari (allowed another person to take Derrick Rose's SAT at Memphis, and paid for his brother's travel, before he left for Kentucky—again, with no penalty. At Kentucky, he was allowed to bring in his star recruits, which meant Kentucky's existing roster had to be dismantled and players sent to other schools or the bench. He committed similar violations at UMass).

Rich Rodriguez (allegedly forced his players to practice upwards of 40 hours a week). Pete Carroll (not directly accused of anything, but how could he not be the way Joe McKnight is driving around town in a huge black Cadillac?). Brian Kelly (left his undefeated Cincinnati team for Notre Dame right before Cincinnati's championship game).

I won't even go into the Rick Pitino thing because that's away from the field. And I KNOW I'm forgetting more incidents (I encourage people who insert similar indiscretions in their comments).


Just as an aside, has anyone actually researched the NCAA Compliance/Enforcement/Infractions ? The thing is f-ing gigantic. It's no wonder many coaches violate the rules without knowing it; and I don't have too much of a problem with those slight violations that anyone could have missed.


But I'm talking the "bigger" stuff: the manhandling of players, the complete and utter disrespect for players, the hypocritical speeches about loyalty and honor and how money isn't a factor in their decisions.


This article's impetus—Kiffin's swift departure—remains the focus. Players have no such options to leave if they dislike the situation. They can't leave any time they wish and immediately play somewhere else; they have to sit out a year if they transfer, and their scholarship isn't guaranteed.

The essence of the mutual agreement between coach and player upon the player's commitment to a school—that the coach will be around to see the player win a championship or graduate—is a farce. It's completely laughable. Coaches barely ever stay at one school for three years anymore, let alone four or five.

Bobby Bowden- and Joe Paterno-types are history. Literally, they'll soon be history. And we'll be left with people like Kiffin, who will leave every player to whom he made promises of loyalty and integrity, so Kiffin can make more money somewhere else.


The players to whom he made the promises now sit and wait for the next coach to come along: the coach they don't know, didn't choose, and probably don't care too much about. But players can't leave; they have tuition payments and a scholarship in place (well, unless they permanently injure themselves and can't play anymore. Then they're gone, but not to a better place. They're just gone).


What if Kiffin doesn't like USC? Or breaks a rule, comes under media pressure, and elects to take another job to escape the criticism? Well, he'll be fine.


But when players are convicted of breaking rules, they won't be fine. They're screwed. If a Tennessee player follows what his coach DOES, and not what he SAYS, the player will soon find themselves back home—or on SportsCenter—for breaking NCAA rules.


When that player's face is plastered across the screen, Kiffin will be sitting on the shore under sunny Californian skies, sipping a Margarita and thinking how much better he likes Southern California over Tennessee.


And according to the NCAA, that's just fine.


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