I have watched Michigan's football season unfolding and the fate of Coach Brady Hoke.
To be fair, midway through Hoke's fourth season, there are still no seniors on the team from a class fully recruited by Brady Hoke and his staff.
It is hard to build a "program" in four years. But we are in the era of "team-building" over "program-building".
"Team-building" is finding an undervalued house, making short-term changes to get a few extra wins and then "flipping the house" and leaving it behind for a higher-paying job at a better school or the NFL. "Program building" requires a lengthy commitment to build a solid foundation for a coach to enjoy long-term success. If the coach does leave, the fundamentals are solid.
Many fans are focused on the "team-building" and not "program-building" so they are quick to turn on someone like Brady Hoke.
College football fans have grown increasingly restless and impatient. Why?
I'll sum it up in one word; Money.
College football is big business which is nothing new. What is new is what the public the discussion of money in college football has become. It is higher ticket prices requiring big donations, television rights fees, and escalating coaching salaries to lure one away from another school or merely to keep the one you've got. It is schools jumping from one conference to another for more money.
College football, maybe more than any other sport, is about tradition, and in college football tradition is established over time. But money is the new College Football "Tradition" and there is absolutely no going back.
There was a time when rivalries and traditions were valued and honored over money. Now everything is for sale. Naming rights to the stadium? No problem. Putting a corporate logo on the nets behind the goalposts? No problem. The shoes on our student-athletes feet? Sure write the check and we'll make sure they wear them. Oklahoma and Texas playing in "The AT&T Red River Showdown" why not?
Conference commissioners are not building conferences -- they are building television networks to capture the most television sets.
Nebraska-Oklahoma, Penn State-Pitt, Texas-Texas A&M; all gone as season-ending rivalries. Those teams played a combined 300 times. Imagine erasing the Duke-UNC hoops rivalry or putting the Yankees and Red Sox in different divisions. But college football magnifies that damage because those games are only played once a year — Ohio State-Michigan, Alabama-Auburn, Florida-Florida State, USC-UCLA.
Right now college football fans are restless because they expect results sooner than later. They are paying more and as such are demanding more. Don't believe me? Then you didn't hear Penn State fans booing a 4-0 team playing a close game into the last quarter.
This week Michigan hosts Penn State at night with a special jersey designed just for the game. For years Michigan never played night games, never really altered its uniform and played great football. Traditions have eroded for money and television and the fan base knows it.
They see that we have graduated to a world where all that matters are money and wins. That's it.
Increasingly, college football is not about building programs centered on the welfare of the student-athlete competing on the field and in the classroom. It is about making sure television networks have live sports programming showing in major markets. It is about grinding out every possible cent of revenue from your fan base.
There's a fine line between making a fan feel appreciated and not fleeced. Right now many athletic departments are making fans feel the latter. Long-time season ticket holders get moved from seats they've held for decades to make way for the highest bidder. Astronomical salaries have to be paid to ballooning staff rosters in football and athletic departments. Non-revenue sports have to be supported. But charging fans more changes the equation; with higher prices come elevated expectations and more impatience with short-term failure.
Which brings us back around to the life cycle of coaches. The average head coach at a big-time college football school has been at his school for a little under 3.5 years — not enough time to really grow a program.
Some have bucked the trend. Michigan State is thriving under Coach Mark Dantonio. Dantonio was given time to build. After going from 7-6 to 9-4 in his second year they slid back to 6-7 in year number three. But since then the Spartans have had 11 or more wins in three of four seasons and have won a pair of Big Ten Championships. It was program-building and not just throwing a team together with quick fixes and the short-term Pyrrhic victories in recruiting, rankings and over-hyped marketing.
Look at the two routes taken by Michigan and Michigan State. In 2007 Michigan State hired Mark Dantonio, patiently allowing him to build a program. In 2008 Michigan hired Rich Rodriguez and fired him three years later before bringing in Brady Hoke. Now they appear ready to change course again.
The question for Michigan; do you mirror the rest of college football and continue with the instability of "team-building" or do you build for the long term? It is the same question faced by every school as the increasingly public emphasis on money drives short-term expectations that fuel the instability that plagues college football.
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