Commentary

College football, not Kiffin, to blame

It's a cesspool of money and power; don't be suprised by slimy moves

Updated: January 14, 2010, 2:03 AM ET
By Jemele Hill | ESPN.com

If you're expecting me to spend the next several paragraphs criticizing Lane Kiffin for taking the USC job after just one season at Tennessee and waxing poetic about how loyalty in sports is as outdated as stonewash jeans and penny candy, then it might be best if you click on another column.

I'm going to bring the real, which probably will irritate those naive fans who still cling to the notion that college football stands for something pure and innocent.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Jim Brown/US PresswireLane Kiffin stirred interest in Tennessee and ire from SEC foes. Now the Vols feel that anger, too.

I don't have a bunch of hateful adjectives for Kiffin. Instead, I'd like to thank him, because with this bold -- albeit shady -- move, Kiffin has confirmed what a cesspool big-time college sports have become.

It ain't nothin' but a hustle, folks.

I'm not mad at Kiffin. He's just exploiting a corrupted system that has made someone with his paper-thin coaching résumé a big get for a tradition-rich school like USC. I have no idea whether Kiffin can coach, since he has half as many NCAA secondary violations (six) as he does career wins (12) on the pro and college levels.

What I do know is that Kiffin is not only arguably the greatest self-promoter in sports, but also an extremely gifted salesman. If you combine those traits with the often shameless pursuit of victories -- to the extent that integrity and character don't really matter -- then it should come as no surprise that Kiffin is able to job-hop at such a dizzying rate with virtually no consequences.

You know what they say: Don't hate the playa; hate the game.

Colleges and universities have bills to pay, and most times, they don't get paid because of Prof. Beaker's new take on the Pythagorean theorem. University presidents are paying coaches handsome salaries to bring wins and -- more importantly -- exposure, and millions of dollars in bowl money and sponsorships.

Someone has to fill those new luxury suites, and it's not going to be the new chemistry professor. Since college football fans are paying top dollar to attend these games and boosters are signing blank checks to bolster their athletic teams, they need reassurance they are supporting not only a winning program, but also a brand.

That's why college football programs have gladly backed up the Brink's truck for Bobby Petrino, Rich Rodriguez, Brian Kelly and Nick Saban -- all top-notch coaches whose combined lies could outweigh an ocean liner.

Their successful results encourage university presidents to roll the dice on someone like Kiffin, who spit so much game during his short time at Tennessee that it gained the fading program enough national exposure to warrant Lil Wayne's penning this lyric: "Smoke weed, talk s--- like Lane Kiffin." A coach whose career-defining "wins" were close losses to Florida and Alabama wound up in a song by a Grammy-winning rap artist?

If you're star-crazed, Hollywood-infused USC and you need to make a splash with Pete Carroll leaving and NCAA sanctions looming, how could you possibly resist Kiffin's upside?

Besides, haven't the Trojans already proven with the Reggie Bush, O.J. Mayo and Joe McKnight scandals that they don't mind overlooking a few major rules as long as they get results? And when you consider Kiffin's own brushes with the NCAA, it makes him even more of a perfect fit.

That's the game now: risky buys, hopefully followed by big rewards.

I don't feel sorry for the Tennessee's mattress-burning fans, because, for the past year and change, they have justified Kiffin's arrogance and cheered him on as he took shots at Florida and accused Urban Meyer of cheating. All you heard from them is how gutsy and gangsta Kiffin is.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireNick Saban trades in the currency that college football values above all else: winning titles.

Hire a gangsta, and it won't be long before he does something gangsta to you.

I don't feel sorry for Tennessee's athletic department or the school itself just because, overnight, they have a coach to get and a reputation to salvage. They knew what they were getting into with Kiffin, given the controversial way he left the Oakland Raiders. If Al Davis reads a multipage letter to the media about what a slimeball a guy is, you should know you're not exactly getting St. Peter.

I don't feel sorry for the recruits who gave verbal commitments to Kiffin or the players currently on Tennessee's roster. For one, the recruits are still free to go anywhere they choose. And I hate to be cold, but the athletes on Tennessee's roster -- and their parents -- have access to Google just like the rest of the free world. And while I do believe the NCAA is hypocritical in allowing coaches, but not athletes, to pick up and go whenever they want, the players and parents were also aware of Kiffin's reputation, and if they were banking on his staying at Tennessee, they need to chalk this one up as a loss and a lesson learned.

If, in today's age of college sports, you still believe a coach is going to choose coaching you over a great opportunity like USC or some other big-time university, then you also believe I buy lottery tickets to support education.

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.

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