You Can’t Spell Disappointment

I know I’ve said I’m focused on just discussing hockey, but it would be against human nature to not say something about the Pitt Football situation. And to be frank I have a feeling this is going to turn into a long one…

I don’t care that Todd Graham left. I really never liked him, and I really never bought into his promises. What eats at my heart as a proud University of Pittsburgh student is that somehow Steve Pederson still has his job as Athletic Director.

Pederson has served as Athletic Director at Pitt twice, first from 1996-2002, and more recently from 2007 through at least today. During his first tenure he was responsible for trying to make people refer to Pitt as Pittsburgh, destroying Pitt Stadium, and getting in trouble for trying to bribe alumni to make donations for their seats at the then brand new Peterson Events Center (no relation, thank God). To give a little bit of credit, he did hire Walt Harris and Ben Howland to coach Football and Men’s Basketball respectively. Both of these coaches helped to right the sinking ships that these programs had represented, but ultimately both are probably better known for underachieving with what they had.

Pederson left Pitt in 2002 to take the Athletic Director job at Nebraska. His first order of business was to destroy approximately 100 years of successful triple-option football. Note that this was the absolute defining characteristic of one of the most storied football schools in the country. In order to do this he hired Bill Callahan, a man with no collegiate coaching experience, nor any head coaching experience. Pederson however stood by his man and after five years of missed bowl games Nebraska fired both Callahan and Pederson.

Pederson returned to Pitt in 2007 after his successor, Jeff Long, the man responsible for hiring Jamie Dixon (well and Dave Wannstedt), left to take the AD position at Arkansas. Pederson’s first order of business was to try to not screw up signing Jamie Dixon to a contract extension, somehow, through hard work and perseverance, Pederson got through it, and the Pitt basketball program is still as good in the regular season as any college team in the last decade (if only they could get past the Sweet 16, but that’s a story for another time).

Since his return Pederson has continued to demonstrate a complete lack of ability to manage his greatest revenue earning asset, football. Presumably feeling good about giving Dixon a contract, he decided to extend Dave Wannstedt for an additional 5 years. To me this extension was okay, the program was coming off its best season since the Larry Fitzgerald-era and this showed confidence in your coach, which can only be a good thing when said coach goes out recruiting. But then it really went down hill, less than one calendar year later Pederson had bullied Wannstedt into resigning, replaced him with a thug who was charged with felony assault two weeks later, and then replaced the thug with a used car salesman. Now, as of yesterday (the 14th) the used car salesman has jumped ship.

The message that Pitt’s chancellor, Mark Nordenberg, has stressed throughout his tenure has been that the University of Pittsburgh puts academics ahead of athletics. This is true. Requirements for admission have gone up every year for more than the past decade and as I and most Pitt students can tell you, the classes are not easy. What it boils down to though is that the athletics department under Steve Pederson has become a black mark on the progress that has been made in academics. When the university chooses to not hold its professionals accountable for bad choices, then there is no way that the university can hold its students accountable academically. Its the same reason why Penn State had no choice but to fire Joe Paterno following the Sandusky issue.

There is no doubt that 2011 has been a horrible year for collegiate athletics, and that this doesn’t even come close to cracking the top 10 bad things to happen. For that matter, its probably not in the top 10 worst things to happen in college football this year. In many ways, this event could just be added to the pot of why athletics should be removed from colleges in general, and its getting harder to argue against that point of view. But ultimately that is not going to happen any time soon, and whether we like it or not colleges generate a lot of their revenue through athletics.

Good athletic programs encourage alumni and benefactors to buy season tickets, when they buy season tickets they have to buy more officially licensed apparel to wear on game days, and when they are happy with the progress that their alma mater is making, they tend to make bigger donations. Its a fact of life and it becomes even more important the larger the university. When an athletic director abuses his power, or expresses his power in a situation that is not his decision alone to make, many more groups suffer. As I mentioned above, it hurts the university’s revenues, it hurts the student athletes who need stability on the playing field, and it hurts the image of the university for everyone, alumni, current students, applicants, and the professionals who work there. That’s where the University of Pittsburgh is at, and its really sad. Its even more sad that Pederson hasn’t been fired yet.

My last point is one of opinion really. Assuming Pederson does get fired (I still don’t understand how he didn’t get fired after the Haywood incident, so maybe he won’t get fired this time either) I can think of one great candidate to take his place. Dave Wannstedt – he didn’t wow on the football field but there is no doubt that he is a great organizational leader and a good judge of character. He’s a Pitt guy through and through, and I think it would be karmic justice for him to become the school’s next AD.

I will say one thing about Todd Graham, if he couldn’t protect leads against teams in the Big East, what the hell does Arizona State think he’s going to do in the Pac 12? I’m taking bets, I’ll take the over that Oregon scores at least 70 against them next year.

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