CBS’ Barnhart Whiffs: “Loss of Face”, Public Disgust, and King Football Petrino

Well, I read Tony Barnhart’s screed (“Petrino’s Saga Another Reminder of New Rules for High Profile Coaches”),  about how Bobby Petrino didn’t get that the “rules have changed.”

With all due respect, I’m going to suggest that Barnhart’s naivete, combined with his failure to read carefully all the NCAA Committee on Enforcement decisions, sent him down a very misinformed chute. Barnhart is on the moon.

What is still intact, all around the country, is that “King Football” (the name given to every Head Coach at every major school) still has largely untrammeled discretion to do whatever he damn well pleases.

Barnhart sort of sloshes around, without ever accurately identifying, a major point: that every head coach across the land, still needs to “get” that his number one priority is to avoid at all cost using any digital/electronic method of communication which is retained and owned by the university. That’s all.

In fact, the big lesson here is that, in fact, Petrino really “got it.” He knew he could speed around the back roads (and probably the main roads) of Arkansas on a bike, with a non-wife blond on the back, and no one was going to make any objection. Bobby’s problem was not that he ignored some “new rules” (there are few of them); it’s that he got caught by a face-plant on the tarmac.

Barnhart made up out of thin air the notion that the NCAA and the Big Time School is going to be watching and enforcing closely, from here on in. Balderdash.

What will happen is that the NCAA and Big Time School will usually swoop in only after an outside third party (the U.S. Attorney, in OSU’s case, or the local police, in Petrino’s case) discover the Head Coach in some kind of fragrante delicto. And Butch Davis walked. John Calipari’s been walking for years. Rich Rod walked. Pete Carroll walked. Jim Calhoun’s been walking a long time.

What’s changed — contrary to Barnhart’s assessment — is just that the stakes are even higher, because coaching salaries and NCAA TV and apparel incomes have kept skyrocketing. So the result is the opposite of what Barnhart rather blithely suggests. In fact, now that Head Coach King gets increasing room to maneuver, just because of those higher stakes.

So let’s go down Barnhart’s list:

Barnhart Rule No. 1: You have lost the benefit of the doubt and you’re not going to get it back: This is absurd. One has only to read the entire transcript of Jim Tressel’s February 8, 2011 interview with the NCAA, and the chronology of events prior to that date, to understand the real-life rule that any half-brained coach can discern from those events: a Head Coach of a Big Time program can plan with continuing premeditation to daily, weekly, and monthly, for nine months, defraud the NCAA and his employer-university — and the public — to conceal what he knew about NCAA violations. The corollary to this rule is that the Big Time U (OSU) will, after discovery of unequivocal, incontrovertible evidence of that fraud, join in and continue to bury the fraud by their Head Coach, even as far as concealing that evidence in a nationally televised March 8, 2011 press conference.

The facile explanation of the OSU events is that every coach ought now be petrified: the opposite is true, since they should each be heartened by the extent to which a major university will perpetuate the long-term, deliberate fraud engineered by their head coach — explaining it, in their formal, written filing with the NCAA, as having been due to Tressel’s confusion (and trepidation) about “what to do.” And it appears that Barnhart never read the UNC decision this past March, which makes –if you can believe it –zero mention of former coach Butch Davis — whose fingerprints are everywhere around the tawdry tableau of runners, free tutors, funders, and enablers which infected Davis’ football operation. The rule which a smart coach would derive from reading  that decision: whatever you do, maintain maximum “plausible deniability.” Make sure there’s enough distance between you and the rampant underground efforts to subvert NCAA Bylaws.  Make sure that the tutoring done by the woman who is a friend of the family’s is done solely by her — and if things get tight, allow a set of events to unfold in which she, of a sudden, quits her employment.

Barnhart Rule No. 2: The Freedom of Information Act is alive and well and is going to get a helluva workout in the future. This is kind of cute, but has zero to do with Petrino’s downfall. Let me repeat: nothing to do with Petrino’s downfall. The police report was going to be available by walking into the station. Now, the U Ark response to all this was kind of cool: they responded, after the fact of Petrino’s firing, to FOIA requests with lightning speed. Figure that one out — after all, every Athletics Department at every big time school usually drags its’ collective feet in responding to FOIA requests. The only reason Arkansas responded so quickly here, is that they wanted — in the PR war they anticipated might develop, and which, it appears, in light of Petrino’s indication today that he will not appeal or challenge his firing, they effectively forestalled — to get way out front of Bobby Petrino.

To overstate it, one might imagine the Arkansas Sports Information Director calling up reporters two days ago to ask: “aren’t you going to be filing a FOIA request? (Sort of like that great old WWII story about the 16-year old Belgian girl, having heard that the Germans were about to march through the town square, breathlessly asking her friend, “Well, when do the atrocities start?”)

Barnhart Rule No. 3: Coaches used to have all the power. Thanks to technology and the social media, that is no longer the case   Nah. Wrong again.  This has no foundation in reality. The coach still has extraordinary power and influence. The cult of the Coach as King of Football (and the State) remains undisturbed. Entirely, completely undisturbed.

Barnhart Rule No. 4: Thanks to that same technology and social media, the truth will always come out.  I’m still on the floor. I fell down. Laughing. Reaching up to type, through my convulsions. For the last half hour. My stomach hurts. And Barnhart needs to lay off the substances. There is zero support for this conclusion.

In fact, the operating presumption, from the OSU, Michigan, UNC, Ga Tech, and Wisconsin-LaCrosse cases (just to name a few recent ones), is that the truth will never come out.

The truth at UNC?: Butch Davis engineered the entire environment there. The tutor who so “wrongfully” tutored for free and paid for thousands of dollars of parking tickets and plane tickets — she probably did that at Davis’ urging/acquiesence/request. (She babysat his kids, for cryin’ out loud, or something like that.) But do you find that ever mentioned in the NCAA decision? Never once.

The truth at OSU?: Tressel defrauded everyone, and then Pres. Gee and AD Smith colluded to continue to conceal the fraud — a concealment (we call that joining in on the fraud) which continues to this day. And they are still today burying Tressel’s many frauds on the NCAA, the lingering one having to do with Tressel’s concoction of preposterous stories about Ted Sarniak (one of the biggest “Booster” OSU ever had) not being a booster as regards recruitment and retention of star Terrelle Pryor.

The truth at Wisconsin-Lacrosse?: for twenty years they had been laughing at NCAA financial aid Bylaws.

The truth at Ga. Tech?: The AD, Head Coach, and Compliance DIrector colluded to suborn perjury.

The truth at Michigan?:  Like Tressel, Michigan’s AD, Bill Martin, deliberately and affirmatively planned and executed a coverup of all violations for nine months — until the Free Press blew his cover.

Barnhart’s Rule No. 4 needs re formulation: If you are a Head Coach: Avoid all twitter, email, and texting on university accounts.  (This sage advice is courtesy of that paradigm of probity and honor, Rich Rodriguez, who used his wife’s account.)

Barnhart Rule No. 5: Don’t think it can’t happen to you.  This points out why Barnhart just went oh-for-five against the change-ups which are thrown at him on the NCAA current playing field. Here’s how you re-state this naive formulation:

It will not happen to you if merely you lie to, and blow off, everyone you’ve dealt with for twenty years, treat people around you with contempt, take up with a twenty five year old blond, while you are married and raising kids, hire her as one of your relatively important football-staff aides, at university- (large) scale salary, while insisting on blowing off standard university hiring practice policy, and then parade her around the state at autograph-signing events, and then rocket across some back road on your helmetless joint motorcycle toot.

It will, however, happen to you if you wipe out off your bike, do a face plant, lie about the (adulterous) facts to your boss, and end up at a nationally notorious press conference in a Teddy Kennedy neck brace with a face which can only be described as “Arkansas Red.”

Stated in other words, here’s the more accurate formulation of the lesson from the Arkansas Back Road Face-Plant: Bobby Petrino and former Rep Anthony Weiner are major-league-outlier “public personas”, who had massive political or regional power and reputations, who committed such extraordinary, almost unimaginable, and publicly embarrassing wrongs that any average citizen would feel disgust. Ergo,

Loss of Face and Public Disgust.  Contrary to what Barnhart asserts, the threshold for triggering the firing of a Big Time College Coach is still ridiculously low (and has little, if anything at all, to do with the letter or intent of any NCAA regulation): Loss of Face, and and a strong sense of Public Disgust. That’s what matters to the NCAA, and to Big Time Schools. That’s all.

About brewonsouthu

lawyer, with interest in college sports and NCAA oversight and decisions, and sports generally.
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