UT Athletics: Out of Control

Firing Kiffin would have cost Hamilton; letting him run amok may cost more

A lack of institutional control is a phrase that strikes terror in the hearts of college sports fans. It is the phrase the NCAA uses before they put the hammer down on your favorite teams. It is a phrase being tossed about by University of Tennessee fans of late with reports of NCAA violations in the school's sports programs.

The institutional control at UT is allegedly in the hands of Athletics Director Mike Hamilton. It is hard for me to believe that Hamilton was aware of the incidents the NCAA is investigating—if so, he is incredibly stupid. It appears more likely that UT coaches aren't afraid of the "boss" and appear to be doing whatever they please without adult supervision. Is that the definition of a lack of institutional control?

I can't help but believe that we will discover the infractions in the football program under Lane Kiffin are substantial and that little occurred at UT that the head coach didn't know about and approve. And in an environment involving that many people, there have to be witnesses. If the NCAA has been thorough, it can't be good for UT.

Basketball Coach Bruce Pearl has already admitted his infractions, as well as admitting he lied to the NCAA. Another real no-no.

I was not a big fan of Doug Dickey but no one ever accused the former athletics director of being out of touch with the programs he supervised. Dickey had such a reputation that if he told the NCAA he had looked into a matter and disciplined those involved, they said fine and moved on.

But maybe this isn't Dickey's NCAA anymore. We are seeing a rise in enforcement actions as school after school gets hammered for violations—the most famous being Kiffin's new home at USC.

Kiffin is gone. Pearl has been penalized with a salary reduction. Who's left to be punished if UT gets NCAA sanctions? That would be the person in charge of institutional control.

New television contracts with the SEC have pumped millions into athletic department budgets. It has led to multi-million dollar coaching contracts. The smell of money attracts charlatans the way blood attracts sharks. "Agents" are swarming around top recruits offering them loans to tide them over until they get a pro contract. Can you blame a kid for taking the money when his school and his coach are making millions and he can't afford a pizza and a beer on Saturday night?

But rules are rules and they have to be obeyed.

Agents, sleazy coaches, and over-eager boosters can lead to NCAA penalties. These penalties can have a devastating financial effect on athletic programs, and by extension on a university. If the actions of these people have a negative financial impact on a state institution, then why can't the state take action?

The state Legislature needs to craft a law that allows the state attorney general to recoup losses to state institutions caused by people who flout the law and NCAA rules. We could rid our state of agents and over-eager boosters if they know that the state of Tennessee will come after them if they tamper with players or coaches and cause financial harm. If the NCAA discovers a coach breaking the rules, and sanctions the school, then the coach could automatically be fired and the remaining money on his contract forfeited.

The popularity of successful coaches is such that we can sympathize with athletic directors these days. Perhaps the days when an athletics director could fire rogue coaches have passed. Could an athletics director fire Urban Meyer? Nick Saban? Maybe the fans have set up a situation in which they vest so much power in a popular coach that institutional control is a quaint notion.

If Hamilton had reined in rumored excesses by Kiffin or he had fired him, it might have cost him his job. But he would have been a hero to a lot of people for doing the right thing.

The irony is that he may still lose his job for allowing Kiffin to run amok.