Hey Hawkeye Fans, So Whatcha Want?
I don’t enjoy being the wet blanket here, but I thought I’d attempt to take a quick look at the Iowa athletic program just as the men’s and women’s basketball teams prepare for some “March Madness”. Actually, it’s probably just as much a peak at the NCAA in general. I will say at the outset that these stated views and my opinions come from the perspective of just another average fan. I haven’t attempted any wide-ranging investigation into the topic of how academics and athletics mix at the collegiate level. I haven’t followed any money trails or went undercover on any recruiting trips. It’s just that living in this Hawkeye-crazed area of the state leaves me baffled on occasion. I guess I just wanted to ask Hawkeye fans exactly what it is they expect out of their athletic programs.
The Hawkeyes men’s basketball team finished the Big Ten season off strong, assuring themselves a trip to the NCAA tournament. All in all, it was a nice season. Yes, nice. Fran McCaffery’s Hawks finished 21-10 overall, 12-6 in Big Ten play. It is, however, a team that wasn’t close to competing with the likes of Wisconsin at the top of the standings. And if you're honest with yourself, a trip to the Sweet Sixteen with two wins in the upcoming “Big Dance” seems an unlikely feat, let alone the six victories it takes to win a National Championship.
Let’s switch sports and talk Hawkeye football. After a 7-6 season and another loss in a bowl game, it seems like the chatter to replace Kirk Ferentz is louder than ever. It has been ten years since the Hawks impressive run of three Top 10 seasons in a row from 2002 to 2004, but that’s a feat the much beloved Hayden Fry never accomplished in his 20 years as head coach. It seems like a lot of the complaining has to do with how much money Ferentz makes. People want some bang for their buck. They want an elite program. Or do they?
I believe Hawkeye fans want the best of both worlds: They want some level of academic standards and acceptable behavior to accompany really good football and basketball programs. But do you really think academic excellence, moral purity and excellence on the playing field exist alongside each other in the NCAA? When it comes to the impurities of the NCAA, I think wholesome Midwesterners should be told the same thing Jack Nicholson told Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men: “You can’t handle the truth!” The NCAA is an imperfect behemoth that calls itself a regulating, non-profit organization, nobly looking out for its student-athletes. After watching big-time college sports for most of my life, I tend to roll my eyes at the term “student-athlete”. I think it’s laughable the image the NCAA attempts to portray. Who’s buying it? College athletics, especially college football and basketball have become big, big business.
So Hawkeye fans, do you want Derrek Rose to come play college hoops for you for one year? Rose nearly led the University of Memphis to a national championship in his lone college season in 2007-2008. Not long after, Memphis was having to vacate that magical season due to the revelations that Rose had somebody else take his SAT’s in high school. Illegal perks were also provided to a Rose family member. Rose went on to become a multi-millionaire MVP in the NBA, so the year at Memphis, I guess, served as a means to an end. I absolutely, 100% do not fault the kids that use a year of college as nothing more than a springboard into the NBA to go make multi-millions. Just call it what it is.
Hawk fans, who do you want coaching your programs? Do you really want Ohio State head football coach, Urban Meyer and his version of big time football to come to the Hawkeye state? He’ll win you national championships while attempting to portray moral and spiritual high ground, but who’s he kidding? In 2012, Business Insider ran the headline: “Report: Urban Meyer Ran Marijuana-Infused, Zero Accountability Program That Left Florida Decimated As Soon As He Quit.” Would Hawkeye fans accept those kinds of headlines even if they were hoisting national championship trophies?
How about Jim Boeheim, head basketball coach of Syracuse? Again, he has your national championship, but he’s also got the baggage. Boeheim has recently been suspended, scholarships have been taken away, and wins have been vacated due to the same ol’ reasons that seem to pop up with regularity with elite athletic programs: Academic misconduct, extra benefits, failed drug-testing policies and some naughty booster activity.
On the flip side of the coin, I don’t think Hawkeye fans could tolerate, say, being another Northwestern. Iowa’s academic standards aren’t as lofty as Northwestern, a fellow Big Ten school whose ability to compete in sports are handcuffed because they can’t (or won’t) go after the same kids that other schools do.
My advice? Quit complaining. Enjoy your occasional tournament appearance or bowl victory. I think you’d have to be willing to let things get down and a lot dirtier to compete with the big boys. As history as shown, it’s pretty hard to come out on top without just a little corruption.