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When will it Stop?

When will it Stop? Keeping Track of the College Football Coaching Carousel, and taking a look at what it means for Student-Athletes (By Danny Bonaventura)

The end of the regular season in college football is a time of transition. Teams are vying for bowl bids and conference championships, seniors are honored before the home crowd for their years of service, and coaches are preparing their teams for the postseason, or making preparations for the off-season. But the end of the regular season is also a time when Athletic Directors get to work. During this time coaches are often fired for not meeting expectations, or hired by another institution promising more money and prestige. In both circumstances administrators are then left to find the next face of the program, and student-athletes are left to ponder what their future with the program is. So far there have been 20 coaching changes at the FBS level in 2017. Five programs lost their head coach to programs that could pay their coach more than what they were offering (Florida State, Mississippi State, Oregon, SMU, UCF). The other programs that changed coaches in 2017, with the exception of Florida (Jim McElwain), and Ole Miss (Hugh Freeze), fired their head coach for not winning enough. Of the 20 coaches hired, only three were coaches that were members of the staff under the previous head coach.

There are a few reasons why this coaching carousel is noteworthy for the student-athletes. First and foremost, most of the student-athletes these coaches are leading, made a commitment to the university they are currently attending in large part due to the relationship built with the coaching staff during the recruiting process. When the coach that recruited them leaves, everything they went through with that coach, promises made during recruiting, development on the field, potentially the system that best fit their skills as an athlete, is gone, and they are forced to start over. Unlike their coach, they can’t just find another destination that might better suit them. If a student-athlete wants to transfer, they are forced to sit out a year. Players who decide to stick around can often face an uphill battle when it comes to proving their worth to the incoming coaching staff. New coaches are sometimes known to want to bring in their own recruits, who they believe will be a better for fit for what they are trying to do. This point was shown early this season when Tom Herman said "If we all thought that we were going to come in here and in nine months sprinkle some fairy dust on this team and think that we've arrived then we're wrong," after a disappointing debut in a loss to Maryland. Coaches have also been known to dismiss student-athletes who they don’t feel fit the program culture they are trying to build.

Let’s take a moment to appreciate just how much money gets thrown around during this process. The contract that has gotten the most attention is Jimbo Fisher’s 10 year, $75-million-dollar contract to be Texas A&M’s head coach. But let’s take a look at the details. Texas A&M is also paying Kevin Sumlin a 10.4-million-dollar buyout, and they had to pay Florida State an estimated $5-6 million to buy out the remaining contract on the extension that Jimbo signed last December. In order to replace Jimbo, Florida State reached into their pockets to hire Willie Taggart away from Oregon with a six year, $30-million-dollar contract. Dan Mullen was hired away from Mississippi State by Florida for $36 million over 6 years. Keep in mind, none of the student-athletes bringing in the revenue that allows athletic departments to throw this money around are seeing any compensation.

Just imagine for a second what Texas A&M could accomplish as a university if they put some of that money back into their academic programs. Or better yet, think about this, Texas A&M, could pay each of their 650 student-athletes $10,000 each, and still have left $1 million left over from that area of the budget left over for Jimbo. Rocky Long, the Head Football Coach at San Diego State summed it up best when asked about Jimbo’s contract; “He doesn't make 1 tackle, doesn't catch 1 pass, he doesn't score 1 TD. We’re not only in this to have a salary, we're in this to develop young men so (coaching salaries are) embarrassing at times.”

As social workers, this annual tradition of shuffling, hiring, and firing has implications for the student-athletes we work with. We need to be mindful of the effect that a coach leaving can have on their psyche. We also need to be there to support them if they decide to transfer, or if that decision is made for them, and they need support during a time of personal transition. I would also like to make a call to social workers in sports everywhere to advocate for all student-athletes to be able to take advantage of the one-time transfer exception, and have the ability to compete right away if they decide to transfer. NCAA rules currently state that student-athletes participating in football, baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, and men’s ice hockey are not eligible for the one-time transfer exception. These sports are also the highest revenue producing, and although the NCAA doesn’t track coaching turnover men’s basketball, and football have two of the highest rates. As long as the power is so heavily shifted in the direction of coaches and administrators, student-athletes will continue to be taken advantage of.

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