Given the headlines that have plagued college football over the past couple of years, this piece submitted by a former Longhorn letterman who played under Mack Brown was particularly timely and relevant. He currently serves our country in the United States Navy and is the proud wearer of a Longhorn T-ring.
It’s called INSTITUTIONAL CONTROL, and it isn’t rocket science.
I have start this guest editorial with a quick disclaimer. I'm nobody in the world of college football and I'm not trying to be. I am writing this at a friend's request to provide some insight on how a clean program operates.
Yes, I "played" at Texas while on the "poly-sci and fly" program with the Navy ROTC. When asked about my time in Austin, I commonly say that I "practiced" there, and I got to live out my dream of the experience of college football with the team that I grew up rooting for. My grand contribution on game days probably adds up to less than 50 total special-teams plays, a couple of assisted tackles, and 1 recovery of a blocked punt in my senior day game against Kansas. The roster claimed that I was a defensive back, but I never took a Saturday snap in the defensive backfield I’m nobody’s star, but I’m no Moonlight Graham either. I got my shot, I made a play (and tons of great friends) and I loved every minute of it.
When I walked on to the football team in the spring of 1999, I was the typical stupid "wanna-be" who thought that he would be able to come into the program and play. Oh how things changed for me in my first drill wearing orange and white where I had to run "Gauntlet Tackle" and the 3 guys in the "chute" were Casey Hampton, Sean Rogers, and Aaron Humphry. That was my "welcome to college football" moment, and my bubble was burst and I came crashing down to earth (probably with a mild concussion). One advantage that I had over most of the other 17 "wanna-be" students that survived the grueling 2 day tryout process (MadDog could have been charged with attempted murder for what he put us through) was that I was had two years in the military under my belt. I was a little older, a little more mature, and when my head was spinning I was able to fall back on "just follow your last direct order" and that was always enough.
Mack’s standing order for walk-ons and really everyone was to "know your role", and there was never any ambiguity that it was part of everyone’s role to know and follow the rules. With that military background, I also walked onto the program with core values that I take seriously. My service talks about "Honor, Courage, Commitment" (sound familiar Tressel?) and those were values that I tried my best to live up to through my time in Austin and in my continuing career. I am proud to say that I am very confident in the knowledge that those same core values are held by Mack Brown and every member of his staff that I have ever interacted with.
My eyes were probably as big as silver dollars when I first made the team, and I had no clue about how things actually work on the inside. As you might expect, the first few weeks as a new player at Texas are a whirlwind. Coach Brown and the Texas program do an amazing job of integrating the walk-on players into the regular roster and academic support structure, but it is still an adjustment getting to be friends with a peer group that is revered across campus and the state. There was no class system between scholarship and non-scholarship players, but respect had to be earned through hard work and dedication.
The "family" atmosphere that is often talked about is very real, but there were some things that were different between scholarship and walk-on players. Each and every one of those situations was because the NCAA rules mandate such differences (I had to pay for my meals at the dining hall, for instance). Before any of the new players in my walk-on class could even use the weight room, we had to spend several hours (part of what would be an annual ritual) with the good folks from our NCAA Compliance Office. I probably could have saved those good folks some time by just bringing them my 30 something page FBI questionnaire that I had to keep current for my Military Security Clearance. To say that the questions were invasive would be an understatement.
To use some blunt military language, the Texas compliance office does not fuck around.
If you have a car, the compliance office will have the make, model, and plate number. You have to show how you are making payments or who is making payments. They let you know that if you drive something other than the car you tell them about, it better belong to a family member and if you park it on campus you have to bring it to the attention of the compliance office. God forbid that the UT Parking Nazi’s give you a parking ticket and it go unpaid before sunset. Got an unpaid ticket? MadDog had a way to remind you to park in your correct spot and that’s AFTER the ticket was paid. If you live off campus, you have to provide your lease at the beginning of each semester and show where the money to pay the rent is coming from.
Every time ANOTHER SEC school gets busted giving cars or cash (or having an agent do it) to a player they parade the usual suspects (Holtz, Meyer, Saban) onto ESPN where they cry crocodile tears about how HARD it is to keep track of 85 guys and what they do in their off time?
You have 85 players to go with 8 position coaches, 10 S&C coaches, 5 full time academic support personnel, 5 full time athletic trainers, 15 student assistant trainers, 5 guys on the film staff, 10 equipment managers, a recruiting coordinator, 5 guys in your compliance office devoted to football. You can do the math on player to support personnel ratios, but it’s pretty obvious that if the people in a NCAA football program are paying one lick of attention and actually give a rip about playing by the rules, it is IMPOSSIBLE to have a car (worth driving) that people in the program don’t know about. This "open secret" at Ohio State with cars ranging from free to ultimate sweetheart deals is unforgiveable.
We had our "open secrets" in Austin too, for instance: It was an "open secret" that Cory Redding drove the worst piece of shit on campus for his entire time in Austin. Seriously, if you got stuck riding with him to the morning conditioning session, you had to schedule a tetanus shot for that afternoon. Nathan Vasher still owes me about a grand in taxi fees for the time that we spent together in Austin. I drove that dude EVERYWHERE and he always changed my radio stations, even the presets. If Texas boosters were giving handouts, they were skipping our best defensive players, not to mention walk-ons. I drove the same car that I bought with my enlisted pay after I got out of boot camp and I bought my new truck in 2001 from Benny Boyd (they clobber big city prices) with money I saved from my ROTC stipend.
The 2nd most annoying comment in these compliance discussions (common from folks at Aggy and OU) is "Well, everyone is doing it."
They say that as an implicit allegation against Texas since that they KNOW their school is breaking rules, and since we kick their ass on a regular basis and out recruit them, Texas MUST be breaking rules also. I don’t know how many times I heard from friends and acquaintances, "Well, your starting QB drives an Escalade, so you must be cheating." Only an aggy can make a statement that retarded, especially considering the fact that the "offender" in that situation had a father who was a Super Bowl MVP and was gainfully employed as a NFL Football Color Analyst for a major network. Having your dad buy you a car is not an NCAA violation. Yes, our star running back had a Caddy too. It turns out that he was good baseball player in high school, was drafted and had a summer job playing professional baseball. The compliance office probably had to reinforce the floor under his file, but all of the paperwork was done and the car was legit.
When it came to summer jobs not involving professional baseball, our athletic staff and compliance office would verify and check up on player hours and salary. Then they would cross check your employer's hours with times that you checked into the weight room or were otherwise noted in the building. I had to go on Midshipman Cruises during the summer so I never took a summer job in Austin, but I had to do a mountain of paperwork when I got back justifying my military pay for that period and to show that my ROTC scholarship was awarded on merit that had nothing to do with athletic ability. I guess those guys could not take my (lack of) playing time as evidence that my scholarship was not contingent on "athletic ability". Mack also let us know that we were subject to university drug screenings during the summer. If players were going to take scholarship money during the summer, we were going to play by his rules. It's called INSTITUTIONAL CONTROL, and it isn't the rocket science that Ohio State, USC, and the entire SEC make it out to be.
The idea of selling equipment would never occur to anyone in the Texas locker room. We used to joke that new socks and jock straps came out of Chip’s personal salary. If you "lost" a helmet or set of shoulder pads, odds are that you would have to practice without them for a week, pay for them, and Mad Dog would have one of his "reminder" sessions with you. That’s a guess though, because nobody was stupid enough to try to sell gear.
Playing for Texas wasn’t without it’s perks though. I don’t know if it was an "extra benefit" or not (and it’s past the 4 year statute of limitations), but we all looked forward to the end of the semester when we got to take home our bags of used workout gear. This is going to sound lame, but the big prize was the Nike workout shorts that were unique to the football team. Everyone on campus knew that the REAL workout shorts could not be bought at the Co-Op, and if you had those shorts it was the mark of a REAL player on campus. I still have mine, but that’s because they seem to be indestructible and I am cheap. Nobody in Memphis cares about my shorts (but they do notice my rings, because I still have all of them), and these SEC homers don’t believe that BY GOD TEXAS does not cheat just because they do. After all, keeping track of 85 guys on a multi-million dollar budget is REALLY, REALLY hard. Just ask any Navy Division Officer, USMC 2nd LT, or any flavor of civilian middle manager who does it every day.
No, Institutional Control is not rocket science, but the INSTITUTION and the person at the top must actually try and he must demand a culture of accountability (not just the illusion of morality). I am proud to have played for and learned from a head coach who ran an organization with ethical clarity. No, Texas is not perfect in all respects and we report our share of minor violations just like any program. Reporting those issues when they happen are proof that your program is controlling and providing oversight. I would suggest that representatives from tOSU, USC, and the whole of the SEC come to Austin to learn how it is done properly, but I doubt they really want to.
After all, it’s just too hard. Right? It’s not a riddle that can’t be solved in Austin.
After all, We’re Texas.