Cicero and the Crimson Tide

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“0 tempora, a mores,” lamented a Roman kibitzer named Cicero about two millennia ago. Oh the times, oh the customs! He thought the “civilized” world was standing on its head.

I wonder if Cicero went to the games at the Colosseum. Wonder if he followed sports. I wonder what he’d say about Mike Shula and college sports today.

Mike Shula is the well-spoken, seemingly intelligent young man who coaches the University of Alabama football team. I say he’s well-spoken because I note that his vocabulary is adequate and totally devoid of crudities. I have only his sound bites to evaluate, but at least he doesn’t educate “his kids” with clever aphorisms such as “We gonna beat their butt” when talking about next week’s opponents. (So spake the Mississippi State coach. Turns out that he was a better prognosticator than advertisement for a university education.)

I like Mike Shula, don’t get me wrong. My problem is with his employer, the University of Alabama, who, rumor has it, yearns to give him a 5-year contract at $1.4 million a year. Let me correct the above statement; the coach’s employer is me – Joe Taxpayer.

The university acts as a proxy in my dealings with Coach Shula. But I don’t want to pay a football coach 1.4 mil, especially when the university president is taking home less than half that amount.

What’s amazing here is that the prez, Dr. Robert Witt, concurs with this extravagance. Of course, it’s my money, not his. And it could be that the good doctor feels that such generosity will eventually inflate his own paycheck.

Compared to carpentry, accounting, and engineering, coaching is a plum. Football is a game, not a science. Coaching a children’s game has a Peter Pan aura about it, allowing my employee, Mr. Shula, to remain ever childlike and playful, enjoying plenty of the big, fresh, hearty outdoors. There’s no great brain strain – as there might be if he were working, say, in the university physics department. And there are perks like sweatshirts and jerseys and free tickets to games and maybe a pair of Nikes now and then.

But one and four-tenths million dollars! That would probably buy you eight or nine really good economics professors who could think up a dozen reasons why an educational institution shouldn’t be in a game that calls for a $1.4 million coach.

Don Corleone says to his lieutenants in liThe Godfather”: “Boys, we’re bigger than General Motors.” He could have said the same about this game we call college football. And Cicero would have muttered lIincredibilis” under his breath.

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