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Barry Switzer: Never at Loss for Words

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Linda Robertson, a friend of mine in the sports writing biz, emailed me the other day.

She wanted to talk to veterans of scandal.

Robertson, you see, works for the Miami Herald, and these days, that means wall-to-wall coverage of the scandal surrounding the University of Miami’s football team. Nevin Shapiro. Improper benefits. Six dozen former and current Canes involved.

Big ‘ol mess.

There’s little doubt that the NCAA is going to bonk Miami pretty good when all is said and done, so Robertson was looking for folks who’d been in football programs that had gone through NCAA sanctions. Unfortunately for our fair state, we have several candidates. Barry Switzer and Pat Jones were both contacted for and quoted in the story. Most of it was stuff we’d heard before.

Switzer reflected on the mess that erupted at Oklahoma right before he was forced to resign. The gang rape. The teammate who shot another teammate. The FBI cocaine sting. But the most interesting things the coaching legend had to say were reserved for Shapiro, the Ponzi schemer who appears to have caused all the troubles at Miami.

“He had that little-guy mentality,” Switzer said of the 5-5 Shapiro. “You’re going to have these rogue boosters because their egos need to be massaged, and they need to feel accepted.”

He also took aim at the guilty athletes.

“The athletes know the rules and know they are jeopardizing their eligibility and they must be held accountable or they’re out,” Switzer said. “Unfortunately, they will take whatever is offered to them, nine kids out of 10.”

I agree that Shapiro is to blame, and I understand that many college athletes knowingly break the rules when they accept improper benefits, but I think one large group that is at fault is being overlooked.

The adults who were supposed to be in charge.

Coaches. Administrators. University leaders. These are the folks who promised moms and dads that if they sent their sons to Miami that they would look over them, would make sure they were all right. Where were they when all of this was going down?

And please, don’t try to tell me that no one had any idea of what was going on. The alleged indiscretions went on for too long and involved too many players for there to have been no red flags.

Listen, I’m not suggesting that dirty boosters and cheating players don’t deserve blame. They do. They know the rules, and if they break them, they deserve to face the consequences.

(Leave the argument about whether college athletes at big-time programs are properly compensated for another day.)

But the adults in charge deserve to be held to the highest standard. They’re the ones who are supposed to be teaching and monitoring and watching out for the best interest of their school, their program and their players. Fall down on the job like the folks at Miami seem to have done, and you deserve whatever fate befalls you.

Switzer was right about Shapiro. He was right about athletes, too. But don’t forgot those adults who were supposed to know better. The fire that their feet are held to should be the hottest.


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Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›