The Politics Of Sport 

College athletic programs are under the gun, but real life goes on.

Sometimes, it's hard to separate life from sport. Such was the case when I sat down to pen this column. Fresh in my mind were the recent C-USA Media Days, which were more politics than sports. Coaches seemed to take every question and turn it into an agenda-based answer. It was a little like buying a used car.

Asking Cincinnati's coach Rick Minter about quarterback Gino Guidugli brought a five-minute monologue on why the league needs respect. When University of Alabama-Birmingham's Watson Brown was asked about recruiting against Alabama and Auburn, his answer dealt with UAB losing money if it went to most of the five bowls with tie-ins to C-USA.

I had plenty of ammunition to take a shot at the league's lack of respectability -- in other words, kicking a dead horse. And quite frankly, if a dead horse presents itself, I'm not beyond slipping in a kick or two.

My thoughts changed when I read The Commercial Appeal 's verification of what I -- and others -- have felt for quite some time: Athletics and academics at the University of Memphis have become estranged again. While the situation is normal operating procedure at many houses of higher learning, local journalists must remain watchful on the home front. As I wrote last week in this space, Elliot Perry has proved that athletes can not only graduate but can do it in four years. How? As Perry said, young athletes need to be taught how to "map out" their lives.

The universities deserve some blame, but the real problem lies with those who reach the athletes at a younger age: junior high and high school coaches and those who push young athletes to spend summers playing sports instead of preparing for the upcoming academic year.

We shouldn't be surprised at the number of high school players entering the professional ranks. They haven't developed the educational tools to enter college.

As I was deciding which of the two topics I would research this week (yes, I do research some of this stuff), nine families in Pennsylvania were celebrating the miraculous homecoming of their men, proving to the world that hope can indeed spring eternal and demonstrating to us all that we shouldn't take life for granted. As one of the miners said: "All I could think of was the fact that I didn't kiss my wife before I left for work."

It made the problems of pampered collegiate athletes who fail to take advantage of their opportunities seem petty and the woe-is-us attitude of coaches whose major concern is keeping boosters happy seem self-serving at best. Real life is thousands of strangers sacrificing for their fellow men. Real life is nine men rising from the depths of the earth in a cramped yellow capsule after spending over three days in a water-filled mine. Real life is the fact that some of these nine will someday ride a coal car back into the mines while some jock on an educational free ride dozes in class and a million-dollar coach sets his agenda to keep his boosters happy.

Flyers Checking the airwaves: U of M athletic director R.C. Johnson on WHBQ's SportsTime With George Lapides said it's his obligation to look to the future regarding where the Tigers play football. He added that the program didn't need a 62,000-seat stadium. Later the same day, U of M basketball coach John Calipari spoke with Dave Woloshin and Forrest Goodman on WMC's SportsCall about not playing Tennessee unless it's in Nashville, saying, "We create the Governor's Cup, invite the state legislators, get a title sponsor, and we'll make a million dollars over three or four years. It would also allow the U of M to impress legislators during a time of state cutbacks for the schools."

Ramblings Just asking: Would Lee Fowler, athletic director of North Carolina State and former assistant coach and assistant A.D. at the U of M, be interested in the C-USA commissioner's job?

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