Well, looks like the University of Connecticut fired their men’s basketball coach. Who should they replace him with? Dan Hurley? John Becker? Larry Bird? Whoever the assistant coach is? I’ve even heard Jim Calhoun’s name come up.
I have a better idea, though: let’s not replace him at all.
The Kevin Ollie firing rankles for a whole bunch of reasons, not the least of which is that the university, and by extension everybody in Connecticut, will be on the hook for the remaining $10 million of his salary. Ollie was supposedly fired “for cause” because the NCAA is investigating UConn (again) for violations of their byzantine rules, and if the investigation turns up nothing, Ollie would have been fired for no reason. If that happens, his contract says he gets all the dough.
Oh, and who should be standing behind Ollie in all of this but his union. Has there ever been a clearer example of the utter uselessness of most public sector unions than this? Sure, go to bat for a millionaire during a decade-long budget crisis. Brilliant idea. Also your pensions bankrupted the state, thanks for that too. Solidarity!
Of course, that is literally what his union is there to do. Past a certain point of comfortableness, some unions are less about reducing inequality than they are about protecting their own no matter the cost to everyone else. That makes them deeply conservative and reactionary organizations, especially when it comes to the rank-and-file.
For proof, look at the steelworkers’ union members at President Trump’s signing of what will be disastrous tariffs, or the police unions’ protection of officers who shoot unarmed black men, or state employee unions protecting their generous benefits and pensions while vital services like health care get cut.
That’s how a millionaire basketball coach trying to get the last $10 million on his ridiculous contract somehow has become an issue for organized labor.
Contrast this woeful situation to the announced strike of health care workers organized by the SEIU 1199. The state funds them through nonprofits, and none of these workers, who work exceptionally hard doing vital work for the mentally and intellectually disabled, make more than $14/hour. They are striking because their situation is desperate, and the union is their only way of fighting back.
It’s striking that two unions can be fighting for such different things, and it’s very hard to reconcile the one with the other.
We need to get our priorities straightened out.
So here’s what we should do: tell the state universities that the basketball and football programs, both of which require millions of dollars for coaches and facilities, are now Division III. Let them play in the NESCAC with Wesleyan and Trinity. No more scholarships, no more big money, no more taking advantage of players who get paid nothing, no more serving as the de facto minor leagues for the NBA and the NFL.
It’s getting harder and harder to justify big-time college sports, especially as the rot within the system is exposed. There’s a scandal of some sort every year, from fake classes with easy tests, to under-the-table payments to players, to Jim Calhoun’s many recruiting violations.
College athletics are such a big deal that they start to color every aspect of university life. College presidents and alumni focus on athletics to the detriment of academics, colleges are less known for academics than for their sports teams, and local college teams become inextricably tied to regional identity.
There’s a reason why the highest-paid state employee in nearly every state, including ours, is a coach.
The excuse is that one of the biggest and best ways for colleges and universities to raise money from alumni and other donors is through the athletics program, and supposedly this benefits academics. Studies show that this is just not true, however, for most places. The problem is that it’s expensive for a school to compete in high-profile athletics, and only those who have winning teams tend to see any kind of return on that sort of investment. Hence: the firing of a losing basketball coach.
This nonsense has to stop. A state bleeding money no longer has the luxury of publicly-funded big-ticket college sports.
What would we lose if the state universities dropped out of big-time athletics? Some national media attention, sure. But in return, they could recover both our money and their souls.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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