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Guest Commentary

July 26, 2012
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Question the Coach? For NCAA Inc. that’s Heresy! Heresy!

by Herb Strentz

Granted this is old news. But great events in sports always are enjoyable to remember and relive:

• Drake reaching the Final Four in the NCAA tourney in 1969!

• Iowa State beating UConn in the NCAA basketball tournament in March!

• Shawn Johnson and Gabby Douglas.

And add to that list:

• Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz stopping by the John Deere PGA tourney in the Quad Cities!

If you think that last item doesn’t merit listing in great moments of Iowa sports, then maybe you didn’t see the TV coverage lavished upon his visit or The Des Moines Register’s story about how the coach came to wish Zach Johnson well in the tournament.

What was ironic about the worshipful coverage given Ferentz was that it came just at the time when still more was being exposed about how Penn State football in general, and the late Joe Paterno in particular, covered up the child molesting by a longtime Paterno sidekick and Penn State fixture, Jerry Sandusky.

The generally uncritical, if not slavish, nature of the coverage of Division I football and mens basketball coaches testifies to why Joe Pa and his colleagues and their fans believe the coach is always to be revered, never reviled, and always to be unquestioned, never unappreciated. Maybe the press should be named an unindicted co-conspirator in the Penn State mess.

Oh well. Maybe next time. And there will be a next time.

That’s because boosterism is the watchword for much of “news coverage” of the coaches and almost all of the commentary by talking heads on sports shows and by those broadcasting football and basketball games.

If you doubt that, consider how routine these seven stories are in print and on TV when it comes to NCAA Inc.:

• The coach deserves to go out on his own terms and only when he is good and ready to do so. Sports commentators were aghast when it was suggested that Paterno and, say, Bobby Bowden at Florida State might be forced out when they still wanted to stick around.

• The coach needs a contract extension to assure recruits that he will be around throughout their years of servitude on the court or on the field. Thanks to the press and the nature of NCAA-Inc., coaches almost never have one or two years remaining on their contracts.

• The coach’s compensation through salary, shoe contracts, summer camps, etc., is below the million-dollar-plus average for the conference! Surely, this travesty needs to be addressed.

• The salaries and the number of assistant coaches, trainers and consultants needs to be increased to be competitive.

• The coach needs a long-term contract to assure him of our love and to assuage worried alums. When the long-term contract is reported, it is in terms of “locking in” a coach at our good old U and it is not reported that a coach can still leave for another outlet of NCAA Inc. whenever he wants.

• The coach needs a contract revision right now because the team has won three in a row and other NCAA outlets might lure him away.

• Improvements must be made in training facilities, the stadium, you name it, if the coach is to be kept happy.

When a sports reporter or columnist questions a coach in print or on the air, he is publicly rebuked by the coach, castigated by the fans and is a lesson to his peers about what could happen to them if they step out of line.

And so it goes.

One other frequent item when it comes to news coverage of NCAA-Inc. It goes like this:

“The coach and athletic director declined to comment, pending completion of the police investigation of the alleged incident.”

One thing for sure when it comes to NCAA Inc: Unfortunately, you always get more than what you pay for. CV

Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes occasional columns for Cityview.

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