Archive for Sunday, December 7, 2003

Who fired Solich? Boosters, of course

In Big 12 football, heightened competition is changing the definition of mediocrity

December 7, 2003


The indignation soon will dissipate. After all, money is a stronger force than emotion.

Nebraska followed the money, which explains why it fired a football coach for the first time in more than 40 years. Loyal Cornhuskers soldier Frank Solich is out of work because the people who sign the fund-raising checks have more influence than ever before.

The boosters gave Solich a boost out the door.

As super-conferences have altered the power base in college football, boosters have wielded more power.

Any outrage over Solich's fate only underscores the hypocrisy in the sport. Who cares that he graduated more than 70 percent of his players or that he won 75 percent of his games in six seasons?

The true bottom line is revenue, and it's becoming increasingly difficult for the Big Red to get some Big Green when Oklahoma and Texas dominate the Bowl Championship Series discussions in their corner of Football Nation. The Big 12, an amalgam of the late Big Eight and Southwest conferences, has become the nation's preeminent football and basketball league, and the heightened competition has changed the definition of mediocrity.

A 9-3 record no longer is acceptable when the Sooners, Longhorns and perhaps even Kansas State have usurped Nebraska's once-unrelenting dominance.

The message is quite clear. Nobody is safe anymore.

Nebraska and Michigan were the last of the old guard, programs that sold continuity as a virtue. Successors were handpicked from the loyalists who remained in the family for years. Solich was only the Huskers' third football coach since 1962. Lloyd Carr is the Wolverines' third since 1969.

But this proves what should have been understood all along: Loyalty has its limits, especially when there's a direct correlation between dollar signs and W's.

Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman and athletic director Steve Pederson insist the decision to fire Solich was purely performance-driven. Pederson adamantly denied a Lincoln, Neb., newspaper report last week that Solich would be fired after last Friday's regular-season finale against Colorado. The report cited pressure from unnamed boosters, but Pederson maintained that boosters don't call the shots at his school.

It's hardly a coincidence, though, that Solich's firing came at the beginning of a $40-million fund-raising drive to upgrade athletic facilities. This will be the athletic department's second substantial fund-raising drive in seven years, and it was much easier to raise capital for plush luxury suites when Tom Osborne was winning national championships.

As schools spend millions to expand and renovate buildings and practice fields -- and pay for scholarships to meet Title IX demands -- the coach who can't properly sell his product will be sacrificed.

Anything to keep the major contributors happy and the money flowing.

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