|Petrino's on-field success makes it hard for Arkansas to fire him for his moral failings. (AP)|
Time to grow up, you stupid little kid. Time to get wise to the ways of the world, rube. Don't be offended, my reader friend, I'm not talking to you -- I'm talking to me.
And I'm talking about Bobby Petrino at Arkansas.
And about Chip Kelly at Oregon.
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And even a little about Jim Tressel at Ohio State, come to think of it.
I'm talking about all those top-dollar college football coaches who win so many games and generate so much revenue that normal rules do not apply. Tressel lied to his boss about having ineligible players and then used those ineligible players to win the Sugar Bowl. Kelly's football program wrote a $25,000 check to a talent "scout" who sent the school zero scouting but one super tailback recruit. Petrino hired a woman with whom he said he has carried on an "inappropriate relationship" and put her on his staff -- on the payroll of a public university -- and did it without telling his bosses.
And a gullible guy like me, I expect heads to roll. Because I keep insisting that college football is like real life.
In real life, people who do what Tressel did are fired the instant their lying, cheating, scheming ways are discovered. In real life people like Tressel do not survive for five months, as their cuckolded superior (OSU athletics director Gene Smith) and even his superior (OSU president Gordon Gee) throw fragrant word bouquets until finally, belatedly the pressure on the school is too much and Tressel is shown the door.
In real life, a public official who makes an ethical end-around as flagrant as the one by Kelly does not keep his job as long as Kelly has managed to keep his. Kelly's public-school football program sent a $25,000 check to "scout" Willie Lyles, and nearly a year later Lyles still had sent nothing Kelly's way -- nothing other than five-star recruit Lache Seastrunk. Not until the media started sniffing around did Kelly ask Lyles to send something, anything, to justify the $25,000, and Lyles sent a bunch of useless video of former high school players who were in college by then. Well, not all of them. One of the players on that $25,000 video package wasn't in college. He was dead.
In real life, a man who works for the state of Arkansas cannot hire his alleged mistress and be allowed to keep his position of power, although that's where Petrino remains today. He remains the Razorbacks' head football coach, the richest -- and obviously most powerful -- man on campus.
Maybe Petrino won't remain in his job for long, once Arkansas concludes its review of his motorcycle crash/cover-up, but I'm not hopeful. Which is to say, I'm not naïve and gullible. Not anymore. Not as naïve and gullible as I was a few days ago, anyway, when the news first broke of Jessica Dorrell's position under Petrino (ahem) and I fired off a scathing missive that said of course Petrino would be fired. Because I was under the illusion on Friday that real-world rules applied to the Candyland that is college football.
Don't I feel dumb.
Over the weekend I did some research, read everything I could read about the marriage in question, and realized Arkansas probably can't afford to divorce Bobby Petrino. He is the biggest provider for the Arkansas athletic department, and not because he's the football coach -- but because he's the best football coach in Arkansas history. Since Petrino got the Hogs rolling in 2009, according to Forbes magazine, the value of the Arkansas football program has increased more than any football program in the country (59 percent), all the way to $89 million. That value will skyrocket ever higher once the school completes construction on its 80,000-square-foot football facility, a facility that will cost at least $35 million, a facility helped along by Petrino's run of success.
A facility that has not been paid for, as yet.
The school has commitments for much of the money, but a commitment is not cash. And those commitments were made by donors under the impression that Bobby Petrino would be the coach working in that new facility.
At Oregon, the story is similar. The school has reached crazy new levels of revenue thanks to the surge in football under Chip Kelly, and as a result the school built a crazy new $200 million basketball arena with the help of state-backed, 30-year bonds. But the arena isn't paying for itself as cleanly as the school had hoped, forcing the school to consider dipping into its $130 million Legacy Fund, which was started with a $100 million gift from Nike CEO Phil Knight, the biggest booster at Oregon.
And a friend of Chip Kelly.
You see how it all comes together? I do. Now. Finally. It took a while, but it has dawned on me why Chip Kelly is still the football coach at Oregon, and why Bobby Petrino is still the football coach at Arkansas. They aren't merely valuable commodities.
They are irreplaceable commodities.
Which means the schools that employ these guys face a difficult choice: They can do the ethically right thing, or they can do the fiscally right thing.
Come to think of it, that's not such a difficult choice after all. I mean, we all see who's coaching the football team at Oregon. And we all see who's coaching the football team at Arkansas. I'll hold out hope that one or both of those schools will do the ethically right thing eventually, but I won't count on it. Just like when I looked out my window on Sunday -- I didn't really expect to see the Easter Bunny. Nor did I.