Tag:Jon Solomon
Posted on: January 16, 2012 2:06 pm
Edited on: January 16, 2012 2:18 pm

Sumlin hire a sign of King's quest for equality

Posted by Bryan Fischer

When milestones are being broken and they lack notoriety, does that make them less of a milestone?

It's an intriguing question to ask on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with regards to the hiring of African-American head coaches in college football.

In the case of new Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, perhaps it is best to see the arrival of yet another black coach - to the SEC no less - not as a milestone in itself but rather as a significant sign of progress with how far the sport has come. King's famous "I have a dream" speech 49 years ago called for racial equality along with an end to discrimination and, when looking at this hire, that seems to be truer now than it was just three or four years ago.

"I think it's significant progress," Sumlin said last week at the AFCA Coaches Convention about the lack of race being brought up with regards to his hire. "I can remember four or five years ago when I was hired at Houston, 'The first... the first... the first...' I said at the press conference that my hope five, six, seven years from now that it wouldn't even be a topic of discussion."

As Birmingham News columnist Jon Solomon notes, The Associated Press didn't mention Sumlin becoming the first black head football coach at Texas A&M until the 11th paragraph. While it's certainly possible Sumlin's hire might have brought up the discussion behind closed doors in College Station, there was no dwelling on his skin color when making the hire in public. Race was mentioned in passing because it wasn't a positive or negative in filling the job because Sumlin was judged on his merits as a head coach.

"They only talk about coaches two ways, moving on and getting hired or moving out and getting fired," he said with a chuckle. "When it gets to those deals now, race isn't part of the discussion."

Kentucky head coach Joke Phillips (above) played Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin in 2011 in the first ever meeting of two black coaches in the SEC. (US Presswire)
Sumlin will be the SEC's third black head coach when A&M moves to the league officially, joining Kentucky's Joker Phillips and Vanderbilt's James Franklin. Last season he was one of 19 Division I (excluding historically black institutions) minority coaches, up from just 11 in 1996. Beyond just numbers increasing, more and more assistant coaches are getting looks at top jobs around the country and it's not limited to smaller schools. Stanford's David Shaw took over for Jim Harbaugh and led the Cardinal to a BCS bowl while Franklin improbably took the Commodores to a bowl game in his first year with essentially the same squad that went 2-10 prior to his arrival.

That Sumlin moves from Conference USA to the nation's best league without much fanfare is much different from when Mississippi State hired Sylvester Croom and a positive sign that perceptions have changed just as reality has. Former Arkansas coordinator Garrick McGee took the head job at UAB to become the first black head coach at a major school in the state of Alabama, just as Sumlin became in the state of Texas. The moves are notable in their significance but also significant because they have not been noted with the attention they would have had not too long ago.

Unlike the NFL, where the Rooney Rule (instituted in 2003) has mandated teams interview minorities for openings, college hires have been left up to athletic directors and presidents' discretion. Though they are not forced to, many are giving some of the 479 black assistants in college football (as of the 2010-11 season) an interview without so much as a second thought about their race because of what they've accomplished on the field.

"I think any success I've had or can have helps the process," said Sumlin, proudly pointing out the SEC logo on his Texas A&M polo. "I think it's important that it is something that isn't being talked about. That is real progress."

Though the stark contrast between the number of black players in Division I (46%) and head coaches (less than 20%) remains a wide gulf, it is becoming less noticeable with each passing offseason. According to the NCAA, not only has there been increases in opportunities for coaches, but there has also been a broader distribution of those opportunities in other areas such as athletic administration and at the coordinator level.

In the case of Sumlin and others over the past few years, the best stat about them is that they are not talked about as one. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, that is certainly something to note as a sign of progress and a true milestone in the sport.

Posted on: June 28, 2011 3:07 am
Edited on: June 28, 2011 9:48 am

NCAA's nine-credit rule change meets resistance

Posted by Adam Jacobi

Back in April, the Division I Board of Directors passed a rule change that required football players to pass nine credit hours in the fall semester in order to avoid a four-game suspension the following year. The rule had been six credit hours before this year.

As Jon Solomon of the Birmingham News reports, that rule change is causing some consternation within the SEC and the rest of the NCAA. Here's how Solomon put it:

At the SEC spring meetings, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said he opposed the new nine-hour rule. However, he acknowledged it's "not really" too much to ask players to pass nine fall credits.

"Most of our guys are pretty good academically," Spurrier said. "Hopefully, we'll find a way to make sure they pass the nine hours. That's what you have to do."

Find a way.

Spurrier didn't say or suggest South Carolina will cheat. But those words should send chills to true educators because they reflect how the eligibility game gets played.

For pockets of football players -- some, but certainly not all -- academic requirements mean playing a shell game. Go to this major, go to that professor; go to this class, go to that tutor.

Find a way to keep playing on Saturdays. 

Sure, it seems just slightly unfair that Solomon implies Spurrier will resort to cheating and then backs right off it. But this is the SEC we're talking about; half-jokes about whether a coach will cheat are standard procedure.

That's a good reason to oppose requiring 12 credit hours, say, because let's face it, things happen in college. Two classes out of five being poor fits is unlikely, but in a class of 25, it could conceivably happen for a few players per year. That results in fewer players on the field, and that negatively affects the product on the field, and nobody wants that, right?

That's the argument of someone with a purely cynical view of the schools' role in college football, though, and there's a difference between an argument and a good argument.

As long as the schools are the ones handing out scholarships, they should be allowed to act with the schools' core interests in mind, and there is no way that allowing an athlete to earn six credit hours in a semester and then maintain his eligibility unfettered (so long as his grades were in order, of course) going forward is in a school's best interests. They take certain risks admitting athletes in the first place (though APR figures show those risks are generally overblown by average commenters), and allowing those athletes to maintain a scholarship while earning 40 percent as many credits as a typical four-year student doesn't make the schools look as if they take those risks seriously.

Also, a little real talk here. I personally struggled during my first year at a certain university (which one it was isn't important to the story at hand). I got back on track by taking six credit hours in one semester. It was pointed out to me by one well-meaning family member during a come-to-Jesus talk that if I had still been playing football, I wouldn't even be academically eligible by taking those six hours, and he was right: I wouldn't have been. At no point during that talk or thereafter did I think that was unfair to athletes. The fact of the matter is, they should at least be on a path toward five-year graduation, and allowing semesters with six credit hours isn't a serious step toward that goal.

I am a bit of a college football libertarian, as my previous post would indicate, so it would seem a little incongruous that I would turn around and advocate for stricter standards and enforcement when it comes to student-athlete eligibility. But considering the extremely low level of college football players who go on to the NFL and make enough money to last them even five years after retirement, it is a very difficult argument to suggest that allowing a football player to receive basically minimal collegiate instruction while he sacrifices his physical well-being for the good of the school's football program is in that young man's best interests.

So, yes, I would like to see more stringent standards for directing these young men toward earning degrees.

The NCAA already investigates academic fraud, and that should absolutely continue. But the nebulous threat of academic fraud when it comes to forcing football players to earn nine flippin' hours in one semester should not act as a deterrent for common-sense academic standards.

It's time to hold student-athletes to reasonable standards of academic progress, and if those student-athletes want to cheat about it, the NCAA can deal with it then; assuming those student-athletes are incapable of following those rules without cheating (which is what a failure to observe the new rule change would amount to) is an assumption from the inside that the entire NCAA is corrupt, and if we're at that point, then quibbling about credit hours is the least of the NCAA's worries.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com