Win football games, or you’re fired. Ensure that your players are eligible to play, and if they are, make sure they’re physically and mentally prepared.
For head college football coaches, it’s that simple.
Their gaudy salaries aren’t dependent on team GPA or outstanding classroom achievements, regardless of whether they stress the importance of these publicly. They’re responsible for their players’ academic success because they have to be. Their livelihood could ultimately depend on it.
This cutthroat mentality is the harsh reality of collegiate athletics. It’s a performance-based job, and the leeway for failure is shrinking as popularity booms. The demand for yearly success is reaching unreasonable levels. The pressure to win now, regardless of the situation, is almost assumed.
This is where the job description becomes hazy, however.
Just how much responsibility does (or should) a coach have for a player's academic performance, social activities and failures outside the football field? Where does that part of his job both start and stop?
The answer will likely vary depending on the situation and the head coach.
But make no mistake, players’ academic standings will become an issue for all head coaches at some point. It can result in suspensions or expulsions, as football can quickly become secondary.
Notre Dame is the latest to learn just how much an academic misstep from an athlete can pack a punch. Starting quarterback Everett Golson has been suspended for the 2013 fall term—in football terms, the 2013 season—for what he described in a statement as “poor academic judgment.”
Dear Notre Dame Community,
I have been informed by the University of Notre Dame that due to my poor academic judgment that I have been suspended from the University for the 2013 Fall Term.
I take full responsibility for my poor choices and will do all that is asked of me to regain the trust of my family, friends, teammates, coaches and the entire Notre Dame community.
Federal law and university policy prevent Notre Dame from providing specifics, which makes the scenario difficult to analyze. Speculation has sparked plenty of message-board chatter but nothing official. It’s safe to assume, however, that this was more than just a bad test score in Physics 101.
At this point, the reason for his suspension means little. Golson has owned up to it, and Notre Dame is already moving on—at least in 2013—without him.
Brian Kelly is by no means to blame for Golson’s lack of “judgment.” The influence from Kelly and his assistants can only go so far.
The end result, however, could impact him dearly. And for that, despite the uniqueness of the situation, it’ll only continue to force coaches to stress this area further than they already do.
Bleacher Report’s Michael Felder, my tag team partner at Your Best 11, played his college ball at North Carolina. In doing so, he balanced football and school, all under the watchful eyes of the program.
“There were people affiliated with the team who would randomly appear in classrooms just to make sure students were going to class,” Felder noted. “If players were in danger of failing or being ineligible, the coaching staff was aware. They were pretty involved with us academically.”
Student athletes have access to unlimited academic resources, some of which are mandatory to ensure they stay eligible. Given the uniqueness of their schedules, excessive travel, practices and other time-consuming university functions, this help can be integral, especially in-season.
If the plan isn’t followed and the potential of ineligibility surfaces, that’s when the dreaded closed-door sit-down might come—likely with an upset coach taking time out of his tightly packed day to ensure that required work is completed.
“Coaches really didn’t like it when a professor showed up at their office or called them about one of their players who has an issue,” Felder said. “That will get a coach active in a hurry. There was always a lot of ‘make sure you do x, y, z’ and ‘take care of business on campus’ talk in the locker room.”
The NCAA has coined a popular tagline, one that has been used in commercials and other marketing materials for quite some time. You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again. The number referenced has changed since the campaign started, but the message remains the same.
It’s a message that seems lost at times, but the results are real and the outcomes are consistent. Most college football players will never get an NFL workout let alone play on Sundays. Their college coach is well aware of this, although that doesn’t change the mentality in place.
Win at all costs. Win now, or you might not have a chance to win later.
Coaches care about academics because they have to care.
That’s not to say they aren’t personally invested in the betterment of their players, or that compassion is absent. The relationship between a coach and a player isn’t just about a name on a depth chart. The players aren't a pawn on a chessboard.
But academics serve as a potential hurdle, a roadblock for coaches who work 18-hour days, even in the offseason. Coaches are responsible for a student athlete’s classroom success because they operate in a results-oriented business. Anything that could impact this negatively is handled with the utmost care.
As we’ve seen recently, however, some of these conflicts are unavoidable. And despite being unable to prevent the unpreventable, that won’t stop coaches from trying.
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