How not to lose your high-paying job in major college sports: A five-step guide
The editor called Wednesday following the release of the Rutgers report detailing Scarlet Knights coach Kyle Flood's Adventures in Grade Changing. He had one question: Do we need to update Cheating For Dummies?
For those who haven't read it, Cheating For Dummies is a resource I created in 2011—translation: wrote while waiting for a pork butt to finish smoking on July 4—to help those coaches who occasionally need to bend the NCAA's rules to get ahead. Major college sports were in the midst of a real cheating crisis in '11. I don't mean there was any more cheating than usual; coaches had simply forgotten how to cheat properly. Chip Kelly, viewed almost universally as a genius, paid a recruit's handler for a bogus scouting service with a $25,000 university-issued check. Who pays a handler with a check? When that came to light, every coach who ever recruited in the Southwest Conference clutched his chest. Those guys did business the old-fashioned way—with bags of cash and Trans Ams with clean titles.
After reviewing the Rutgers report and revisiting Cheating For Dummies, I can't in good conscience add to those rules. Cheating For Dummies is darn near perfect, seven commandments that guarantee a coach won't get turned into his compliance department or caught by hamfisted NCAA investigators. Those rules really do cover every eventuality.
Still, there is a new epidemic afflicting major college athletics, and it seems necessary to create another resource to help those who might be too hapless to help themselves. People keep putting their seven-figure jobs in jeopardy, and not in the typical way. It's one thing to get slapped on the hot seat or fired for losing too many games, or for hiring people who lose too many games. Yet these days, people are putting their high-dollar gigs in jeopardy for the stupidest of reasons. So, if you're a coach or athletic director in danger of Peter principle-ing yourself out of a honeypot of a job, pay attention to these five simple rules.
1. Review Cheating For Dummies. Follow those rules first.
If Cheating For Dummies is the keeping-your-job-in-college-sports equivalent of the Constitution, consider this to be the Bill of Rights. Had Flood followed these rules, he wouldn't be the only person on the planet who wants to attend the Kansas-Rutgers game on Sept. 26 but can't.
It doesn't appear any money changed hands during Flood's quest to get junior cornerback Nadir Barnwell eligible, so rules Nos. 1, 4 and 7 don't apply here. (In case you've forgotten, rules Nos. 1, 4 and 7 are all "Always pay cash.") But all four other rules apply. This does not include the Rutgers rule against coaches contacting professors directly, which seems pretty cut and dried.
Flood violated rule No. 2 ("Nothing in writing") when he emailed Barnwell's professor. This also violated a very specific Rutgers athletic department rule against coaches emailing professors. I don't know how I can make this more clear, but major college head coaches should never email anyone. Flood used his personal Gmail address so the email wouldn't be subject to New Jersey's open records law, but that doesn't change the fact that he put something in writing. Using a personal address doesn't preclude the recipient from somehow making the correspondence public. Had Flood been a better cheater, he would have used a burner phone—thus following Cheating For Dummies rule No. 6—to call the professor in order to discuss the situation. Had the professor reported a conversation, Flood could have denied it ever took place, and there would have been no record that it did.
The Rutgers report also outlines how Flood consulted an academic advisor about the situation. This is a blatant violation of rule No. 3 ("Keep the circle tight") and might have been the act most responsible for Flood getting hit with a three-game suspension. When pressed about the meeting, Flood offered a different account than the advisor, who had no reason to lie. If Flood had never consulted the advisor, he couldn't be painted as a liar.
Perhaps the biggest issue here is the institutional violation of Cheating For Dummies rule No. 5 ("Plausible deniability is your greatest ally"). A head football coach should not meet a professor in front of a library 37 miles from campus. (That coach also shouldn't worry about ditching his Rutgers gear before the meeting. You don't coach at Alabama; you are not likely to be recognized.) This should be the job of some low-level operations staffer or—even better—a graduate assistant. That way, when caught, the coach can simply say that person went rogue.
Of course, none of the players should be in academic distress in the first place. A school that truly cares about football would offer at least one major so easy that a houseplant could earn a bachelor's degree. Or a school should set up a bogus department that issues good grades for little or no work. But if your school does opt for that approach, don't create any PowerPoint presentations detailing the fact that you have a bogus department that gives out good grades for little or no work. These things are supposed to be done with winks and nods.
2. Be nice.
Steve Patterson got fired from a $1.4 million a year athletic director job at Texas for doing exactly the same things that got him run off as the president and general manager of the Portland Trail Blazers. Perhaps the most prescient thing written during Patterson's tenure was this column by The Oregonian's John Canzano shortly after Patterson was hired in 2013. Canzano predicted exactly how the Patterson era would unfold, and Patterson didn't disappoint.
Patterson was canned Tuesday because donors disliked him, coaches disliked him and fans disliked him. Why did they dislike him? Because he insisted he was smarter than everyone else when that simply wasn't the case. Patterson's predecessor, DeLoss Dodds, might have actually been smarter than everyone else, but he never felt the need to tell anyone. No single Patterson idea got him fired. Patterson's attitude got him fired. Your mom had an expression, You'll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Listen to her, and you'll also keep catching huge paychecks.
3. Don't be a tyrant.
Illinois coach Tim Beckman was accused of dangling players' scholarships as carrots to get them to play while injured. Beckman has denied this, and Illinois hasn't released its final report on the matter. But we do know this: Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas fired Beckman less than two weeks before the Fighting Illini's 2015 season opener. Beckman was fired for cause, which means he won't get a penny of buyout money.
Beckman has promised to "vigorously defend" his reputation and his legal rights, but thus far he hasn't mounted that defense. It may be that he never does, because schools usually part with a little buyout money even in cases when they have the coach dead to rights. Illinois paid Beckman nothing, and that's quite telling.
Any coach who does what Beckman is accused of will eventually get chased out of a job. Threatening to take away a subordinate's pay—or whatever the NCAA is calling a scholarship these days—unless that subordinate jeopardizes his health will not sit well with other subordinates. In fact, it's a great way to incite a mutiny.
Mutinies jeopardize paychecks. They also lead to getting fired for cause. When in doubt, just keep losing games. Then a school has to at least pay the buyout and you can live the American dream—getting paid millions to not work.
4. Don't be a slimeball.
Former Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague only made $500,000 a year, but since that's a higher salary than most of us will ever make, we'll discuss how he could have kept his job this year. It's pretty simple. If your creepy romantic advance is rebuffed, leave the target of that advance alone. Or, better yet, don't make creepy romantic advances at all.
Teague sexually harassed at least two Minnesota employees and a Minneapolis Star-Tribune reporter. Teague blamed the harassment on "alcohol issues," but plenty of us have gotten drunk and managed to avoid sexually harassing anyone. If Teague didn't want to sexually harass those women, he wouldn't have. If you would like to keep your lucrative job in college athletics, don't sexually harass people. This should go without saying, but apparently some people need to see it in black and white.
Just as Cheating For Dummies had three rules that offered the same advice, rules Nos. 2, 3 and 4 here are basically the same. Treat people with common decency, and you will probably get to keep making gobs of money. (Or at least you'll eventually get paid a lot to go away.)
5. Work for Rutgers.
Unless someone has video of all the bad stuff you've done and leaks it to ESPN, there is no way you'll get fired.