I’m not going to beat you over the head with this. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about college football and how much we all try to take the goddamn fun out of it.
A lot of the shit I chased the hardest was the bad stuff. Define it however you want, I think you kind of know.
This is why the games felt so good. The statements are unambiguous. They make the plays or they don’t. They win the game or lose. Either way, you sure as shit weren’t thinking about whether or not Kirk Ferentz gave up a portion of his salary or if his donations, past and present, were enough to help the athletics department recover from the catastrophic financial loss that the COVID-19 pandemic wrought upon it.
But people do. That’s how it goes for public institutions. A huge percentage of people? Probably not, but enough to make waves in the wave pool.
The question is totally worthy. The athletics department had to know it was coming. Basically, everyone took a bite of the financial shit sandwich, it’s just everyone took a bite from a different side of the sandwich. Several stories to read on this with the accounting details. I’m not going to sift through it because you guys have been taxed enough already in the offseason. It’s not even May and the coach going into his 23rd season has an unflattering caricature on the web, courtesy of Little Village, an alternative news organization in Iowa City.
Is your coach George Bailey (Ferentz has donated millions to the University and the hospital)? Or is he Mr. Potter (the football staff got their raises for next season, which, again, optics alert, but also likely is industry standard for college football, where the sharks swim)?
Holy shit, the offseason really sucks, doesn’t it?
I hate the word and the concept of “optics,” but so much energy goes into that shit. It’s the constant buzz and clip at the front where people think college sports are too big, too mean and too rich. Well, they are. Sorry about that. The TV money isn’t going away. College football is probably the second most popular sport in the country. With the NIL coming down, players have a chance to get a taste of the money.
College football is a leviathan and is only going to get more leviathan-y. I’ve lost my sense of scale and react with “Wow, look at those salaries go, isn’t that something?” If someone starts on sentence on this topic with “What about …,” walk away. You’re not going to enjoy an argument with someone who likely makes their own deodorant.
The “Jocks vs. the Academics” is so goddamn tired and this topic, beyond the original question, feels like we’re all looking for something to fight about.
In 2010, I had a one-on-one with Ferentz. Now in 2021, and with an accumulated wealth from the UI at maybe $25 million, this next thought no longer holds. Yes, coaching is an “eat what you kill” business. Ferentz will be 66 in August. He’s probably saved a lot of money. He’s made it to the other side.
In 2010, Ferentz signed a contract that I called a “lifetimer,” at the time even. Can you believe I got that right? Shaddup.
Ferentz reflected on his first head coaching job in Maine in the early 1990s.
“I was up there three months and they were talking about dropping the program. It was the first time I understood and appreciated and valued what a contract is. You at least had some security that way. I wouldn’t have been doing what I wanted to be doing necessarily, but at least, you know you weren’t going to be put out on the street. That part’s nice and it’s good not to have to worry about those kinds of things. But at the end of the day, you approach your job the same way you always have. That hasn’t changed since I got going back in the late ’70s.”
I’m going to pass on the joke about the offense.
So much of this is symbolism. For some, large, contracted salaries in the UI athletics became fodder for the “hey, they didn’t do their part” narrative. Never mind that the guy who cut that deal, athletics director Gary Barta, cut that deal knowing what it might look like to the outside. Maybe here don’t be a supplicant, put on your big-boy pants and say, “Kirk, you’re taking a cut. I don’t want to put up with this bullshit.”
Maybe that would’ve rung the bell with KF. There was a statue moment in this for him. Make a big deal out of giving some salary back. Give that speech. Mention the men’s swim team, the men’s gymnastics and men’s tennis teams, all washed away by pandemic debt. (They’re totally coming back. Lawyering up works and if the swimming lawsuit headline drops this summer, that will be worthy of everyone’s attention.)
But hey, it went down the way it went down. Way back when, Ferentz and his agent, Neil Cornrich, spent two years on KF’s first contract with Iowa. The hold up was “separation language.” Being an assistant coach with five kids, I can absolutely understand wanting to be taken care of. During that time, I had a ton of convos with then-Iowa AD Bob Bowlsby. I remember asking if he could envision paying a football coach $1 million. He said it’d be more like $2 million with incentives and if Iowa won the natty, who gives a shit? He’d write those checks with a smile.
If in 2021 you’re still pissed at how much college football coaches get paid, I suggest you get into coaching. Get on that golden bus. I’m kind of sorry I spent film sessions (it was an actual projector that had a hum that made me very, very sleepy) snoring.
That was more than I wanted to write on this. I do think the history of KF’s contract and salary at Iowa is interesting. I’m not blaming him for receiving market value, I think it’s an accurate symbol for the growth of college sports. Iowa’s last non-televised game was the Pig Game in 2001. Since then, the TV money changed everything.
I’m writing about the secondaries Iowa is going to face in 2021 for the rest of the week. The “this is good, that is bad” will be good for all of our brains. Let’s make it to the greatest college football season ever without bludgeoning each other with symbolic bullshit.