College football stinks to high heaven.
Consider the college football story on page one of Friday's Tribune. It's by John Keilman, and it's about Adrian Arrington, who's only 26, and just a few years ago was playing in the defensive backfield at Eastern Illinois University. According to Keilman, Arrington says he was coached to play "hard, fast and without regard for safety." And he paid a price.
Now Arrington is suing the NCAA, claiming the concussions he suffered on the gridiron led to "memory loss, migraine headaches, depression and seizures" that keep him from holding a job and compromise his ability to care for his children.
Helping illustrate Keilman's story is a picture of Arrington back in the day. The caption: "Penn State running back Joe Suhey leaps over Eastern Illinois cornerback Adrian Arrington in 2009. Arrington was a star defensive player."
In the picture, Arrington is flat on his back. But that's not the only reason it illustrates perfectly the idea of a football player thrown to the wolves.
Eastern Illinois had a pretty good Division I-A team in 2009. The Panthers finished 8 and 4. But they lost the Penn State game 52 to 3. Keilman's story doesn't reference that game, but it does mention the 2007 Purdue game: Keilman tells us one play made Arrington's personal highlight reel, the clip showing him blasting a receiver "so viciously that the man's helmet flew off."
Eastern Illinois lost the game 52 to 6.
Division I-A teams like Eastern Illinois go on the road to play Division I teams like Penn State and Purdue because they're promised a nice payday and more media exposure than they're used to. Not only that, the players have the thrill of measuring themselves against opponents who are bigger and faster and really good.
Division I teams schedule these games because they're almost always turkey shoots.
Regardless of which team you root for, these games are usually embarrassing to watch.
But once in a blue moon a school like Eastern Illinois holds its own. This year the Northern Illinois football team miraculously made it all the way to the Orange Bowl, where Florida State smacked down the Huskies 31-10. NIU was smaller and slower than the Seminoles but the game was competitive, and Dave Doeren, who coached the Huskies this year, had nothing to be ashamed of.
Except that he watched the game from the stands. Opportunity knocked, and the day after NIU won the Mid-American Conference championship game, Doeren quit to become head coach at North Carolina State. Thanks to the success of NIU's "mid-major" program, it's had four head coaches in the past six seasons—including Rod Carey, who took over the team for the Orange Bowl.
There's nothing unusual about ambitious football coaches leaving their teams in the lurch: three years ago, NIU's Jerry Kill quit two days after the MAC championship game and before the Humanitarian Bowl game to take the top job at Minnesota. Some of his players found out he was leaving via Twitter.
ESPN's Orange Bowl announcers chatted up Doeren during the game. If they asked him whether he was ashamed of himself, I missed it.