“They only need to be good men, broad men, men of dignity, of character, of executive ability, of generalship; but the college president must be all that and more ”
— Mark Twain
You have to forgive Twain for his overindulgence when describing those whose duty it is to identify and promote a university’s mission and values and principles.
In the early 1900s, there was no Bowl Championship Series or TV money to covet, though it was a time when leaders spoke about men not standing idly by and allowing enemies to dominate the world, so maybe someone knew what was on the horizon for college football.
When it comes to the second-by-second updates of the expected expansion and deaths and various states of limbo being assigned athletic conferences across the country today, presidents have emerged much like that famed wizard from the Emerald City, dictating the fate of schools by operating a console of wheels and levers all designed to secure the most enviable financial position.
There’s no place like home?
For many presidents, when the curtain is pulled back, greed is the most apt description.
Home is where the biggest paycheck resides. Things such as longstanding rivalries and geographical boundaries haven’t been considered relevant in some time.
I would like to give John and James Knight, rest their misguided souls, a pair of first-class noogies, punishment for their formation of a commission in 1989 that identified university presidents as those best to run college athletics. It’s like MC Hammer being in charge of the Federal Reserve.
It’s true most presidents answer to a board of trustees, those who also are more than happy to continue feeding their respective university’s monetary beast that is big-time college athletics.
But what we have seen more than anything else as talks of superconferences take center stage is what happens when those presidents entrusted with setting the finest examples of integrity instead allow their egos and agendas to supersede any sense of loyalty that might remain within certain leagues.
Not much is left, by the way.
Football and television control college athletics, and those presidents in charge have been swept up in the need to get bigger and more powerful in both areas, not to mention having their faces on “SportsCenter.”
We have heard for years how presidents want to curtail spending on athletics, and then notice Bob Stoops just received a $34.5 million extension to coach football at Oklahoma. How nice for him. I’m certain those department heads across campus in Norman whose budgets have been slashed the past few years are giddy about it.
Bottom line: Presidents lose their jobs over athletics, and the last thing they’re going to do is upset those same influential sorts they share Saturday afternoons with in fancy skyboxes atop spectacular stadiums.
There has been no better example of a president gone wild the past few days than Oklahoma’s David Boren, who answered questions from reporters Tuesday while standing feet from a wall that featured a large painting of himself.
Boren publicly flirted with taking the Sooners to the Pac-12, until realizing no one wanted his program unless it brought along Texas, thus sending Oklahoma back to the Big 12 in which it resides and almost destroyed.
In short, Boren showed up to a gunfight with a water pistol, all the while floating demands of the Big 12 concerning revenue sharing and why commissioner Dan Beebe should be out of a job.
There’s that presidential ego for you. Boren has that part down.
The chaos isn’t over. Far from it. The Pac-12 has decided not to expand for now, but you can be sure the Big 12 and Big East and Southeastern Conference will add teams shortly to shore up membership numbers. The Mountain West and Conference USA, whose presidents probably would prefer to have more power but oversee leagues the BCS never has deemed worthy anyway, are talking mega-merger. I’m not sure anyone would notice if it happened.
I am sure college presidents, specifically those in BCS conferences, today are far more about holding hard and fast onto their positions at the forefront of college athletics than upholding the honor of their universities.
Because when it comes to such matters as conference expansion, in case you missed this part, it is not today nor ever has been about the student-athlete.
And the next university president who suggests as much deserves far harsher punishment than a first-class noogie.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 3 to 5 p.m. Monday and Thursday on “Monsters of the Midday,” Fox Sports Radio 920 AM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.