It’s something the NCAA has pledged to focus on for years; Player Safety. They make it clear that the various colleges and universities are giving student atheletes a valuable service, an argument they also use to avoid paying the players in return for the millions of dollars they earn for their schools. It’s even on the front page of their website.
“We were founded to keep college sports safe. Today, we work hard to promote safety, excellence, and physical and mental well-being for student atheletes.”
“All college atheletes deserve a fair shot. We focus on respect, integrity, and responsibility, both on and off the field, so that college sports prepare student atheletes for life.”
Keep college sports safe. Physical and mental well-being. Integrity. Responsibility. These words truly ring hollow after all we’ve witnessed over the last decade, especially after the events that transpired this year at the University of Maryland.
For anyone that needs a refresher, back in May, the Maryland football team was in the middle of one of their spring football practices when offensive lineman Jordan McNair collapsed from a severe case of heat stroke. It took over an hour after showing symptoms before the team’s medical staff finaly called an ambulance, and never gave him the standard treatment for heat stroke; Cold water immersion. McNaur died in the hospital 2 weeks later. He was just 19.
Fast forward to August, and nothing had really happened. McNair’s death had faded from the news, only referenced by the support and fight in his name by the Terrapins for the upcoming season that included painting McNair’s number on the field. A damning report from ESPN changed all that.
On August 10, ESPN released an article by Heather Dinich, Adam Rittenberg, and Tom VanHaaren, detailing a toxic, abusive culture brought about by head coach DJ Durkin and his staff. They interviewed several players, coaches, and others close to the program who described how the U of M coaching was “An environment based on fear and intimidation.” and that “The belittling, humiliation and embarrassment of players is common.”. Among horrid anecdotes from the Terrapins football program are ones where a player was accosted and verbally belittled after passing out during a drill. Another where players described being forced to overeat to the point of vomiting.
Needless to say, this was damning for both the team and the university as a whole. Maryland suspended coach Durkin and senior members of is coaching staff while they investigated the program.
And through it all, the NCAA had little to say. After McNair’s death made the news, the University of Maryland accepted responsibility for what happened to McNair and promised a thorough investigation. The NCAA didn’t say a word. When it became clear the university’s timeline of events in no way matched the timeline described by medical professionals who treated McNair, the NCAA didn’t say a word. And now, after everything that has happened, and the fallout from this tragedy has begun, the NCAA hasn’t said a word. Player safety, integrity, and physical and mental well-being be damned.
Despite all of this evidence, the acceptance of wrongdoing, the report by ESPN, the desire by the University President to fire Durkin, and their own internal investigation that detailed all this and other “disturbing findings,” the University of Maryland reinstated Durkin on October 30th. This sent shockwaves through the college football world, with many shocked and outright furious that Durkin still had a job. McNair’s father described his return as a punch to the gut: “I feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach and someone spit in my face.”.
Several Maryland players walked out of their Tuesday meeting with Durkin, who was set to coach Saturday’s game Michigan State. A massive community rally was scheduled for Thursday to demand Durkin’s firing, which happened that morning. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan demanded a public hearing into the incident and condemned the University Board’s decision to reinstate Durkin, urging them to reconsider. And, just like all the other times the NCAA could and should have said something, they remained silent.
There won’t be any penalties handed down to the Maryland Football team. No lost scholarships. No vacated wins. No postseason bans. The Terrapins will get to play in their bowl game this year, the football team’s millions of dollars will keep on flowing, and the names Jordan McNair and DJ Durkin will be allowed to fade from our collective memories. All because the NCAA doesn’t care.
Remember back to the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State; Despite only being tangentially related to the situation, Joe Paterno, arguably the best coach in college football history, was stripped of 111 wins, had his name erased from the Big Ten Championship trophy, was immediately fired mid-season, and had his statue in front of Penn State’s stadium removed.
The University was given a $60 Million fine and a 4-year postseason ban, had all their wins from 1998-2011 stripped away, (Including 2 Big Ten titles.), was stripped of 40 scholarships between 2013-2017 (Dropping from 25 per year to 15.), and placed on a 5-year probation by the NCAA.
Contrast that to Durkin and the University of Maryland. Contrast that to Urban Meyer and Ohio State. Why isn’t the NCAA coming to punish these coaches and these programs for what they did?
If it’s the NCAA, you already know the answer: Money.
In 2017, Ohio State was the second most profitable school in the country, behind only the University of Texas. Ohio State Football alone averaged $78.7 million per year over the last 3 years, up 29% over the last 5 years. They made the College Football Playoff in 2 of it’s first 4 seasons, winning the National Championship in 2015. Ohio State was too profitable and too front and center to sanction. It would be like going after North Carolina or Duke’s men’s basketball programs. It would kill the sport’s marketability and revenue. Barring a federal investigation and criminal charges, like what happened with Sandusky and Penn State, Ohio State is untouchable.
As for Maryland, the inaction is both the fault of the university and the NCAA. On the NCAA’s end, Maryland was proving to be a new cash cow. In 2013-14, the final year Maryland was in the ACC, the Terps totalled just over $73.43 million. In 2016-17, the last available year reported, Maryland brought in over $94.9 million. That’s an increase of over 29%, similar to Ohio State’s 5-year jump, but in just 3 years.
On Maryland’s side, it’s even more straightforward. The school’s athletics are bringing in nearly $100 million per year. For a public university in a small state like Maryland, that’s a fortune. The University Board of Regents couldn’t do anything that would risk all that income. And that’s what brings us to the final, and probably most depressing part of this saga.
One of the only voices calling for Durkin’s firing in the Board’s meeting this week was University President Wallace Loh. It was Loh that told the family over the summer that he took “Moral and legal responsibility.” for McNair’s death. It was at Loh’s direction that the team started testing players’ hydration at practice and added cooling stations, extra medical staff, and extra trainers. Loh was trying to do the right thing through all this.
But before the backlash of Durkin’s reinstatement caused the Board to fire the coach anyway, it was Loh that had resigned. He fought a power struggle with the Board and the football program, and despite everything, he lost. The lone voice that had done everything he could to support McNair’s family and memory was forced out, just because the football program was worth too much money to the school. The school won’t be punished for this debacle because the football program is worth too much to the NCAA.
Just remember, the NCAA was founded “To keep college sports safe.” and that they’re working hard “To promote safety, excellence, and physical and mental well-being for student atheletes.”, right?
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Photo Credit: University of Maryland, NCAA, USA Today Sports, the Washington Post, the Daily Collegian,