Now that college basketball is out of the way, we can turn our attention to the coming of a different breed of big guys, the mastodons recruited as next fall’s college football linemen, and the fleet of foot who will run behind them.
One might hope the high paid presidents of American universities, through their duly appointed athletic directors, would provide some guidance as to what kind of young men their coaches seek to wear their colors, but apparently the thirst for fame and respectability — using the term loosely — overshadows character.
We can look forward to the same campus stories again next fall — muggings, barroom brawls, thuggery, rapes -- all in the name of good old college fun. Big boys like to push people around.
An example of how selective coaches are is the University of Arizona, a school so spoiled by the perennial wizardry of its snowy-haired basketball maestro Lute Olson that it starves for recognition from its football hordes. Totally embarrassing in recent years, they now are under control of a new master, Mike Stoops.
Stoops rode into Tucson on the shoulders of his better known older brother Bob, for whom he labored as a defensive specialist as they put together a national championship team at Oklahoma. Tucson is entranced by their handsome new coach, and encouraged by his enthusiasm.
The Arizona Daily Star announced last week that a 6-4, 270-pound tackle named Rickey Parker had signed on with the Wildcats. The headline on the story read, "Lineman joins UA carrying baggage."
Heavy baggage, it turned out. Two years ago he was kicked off the team at Arizona State, Arizona’s bitter rival, reportedly for "repeated violations of team, athletic department and university rules." One of the problems involved an incident, which led to charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon — a 13-inch butcher knife -- after a fight with roommates. The matter was dismissed five months later and never reached court.
His new coach, Stoops, perhaps not aware of the ironic humor of his words, called his new guy with baggage "a prototypical defensive lineman," who also had offers from USC and Fresno State.
Another transfer to the new order at Arizona, also a defensive tackle, Byron Smith, is awaiting a court date in Texas for aggravated robbery. Of him, Stoops said, "Byron has been a great addition to this team with his work ethic and his attitude”¦Everything he does is pretty special, and I couldn’t be happier with what he’s doing off the field and in his workouts."
There were no quotes from university president Peter Likens or athletic director Jim Livengood about the new arrivals, but there were huge headlines in the Arizona Republic in Phoenix, 100 miles away, about recent happenings at Arizona State.
A tailback named Loren Wade, who never was funneled into the university disciplinary system by his coach or athletic director despite alleged threats against female athletes and a fight that left a roommate with a concussion, was arrested after he allegedly shot and killed a former Arizona State player named Brandon Falkner.
Musing about what would happen to Arizona State’s football program as a result, the Republic columnist Andrew Bagnato wrote, "Nothing. The reality is that programs are beyond control. In major college athletics, the program nearly always outlives any apparent threat."
Football will go on at Arizona and Arizona State, much as it has since 1992, when the then president of ASU said, after 19 athletes there faced criminal charges or complaints, " For reasons I do not fully understand, the system is somehow broken and we’ve got to fix it."
The reason remains the same now as it was 13 years ago. It is called money, and it transcends academic standards, character, or caring about all of that stuff if the football team can just stop embarrassing the school and get to a bowl game. And it isn’t just Arizona or Arizona State. Name your poison.