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Wednesday, December 13, 2017, 5:25 a.m.

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OPINION

JOHN BRUMMETT: Poor state? Psshaw!

By John Brummett

This article was published December 7, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

The University of Arkansas was in the process of being played like a cheap fiddle. It was offering a reported $50 million over seven years to make Gus Malzahn the fourth-highest or fifth-highest-paid coach of a college football team.

I offered one of my more banal social media comments.

It was a mere observation about the misplaced priorities of a poor state investing at elite levels in a football coach at a school that probably couldn't do any better year-to-year than 8-4, considering the limitations of its recruiting base stemming from its location and the population pattern around it.

"Crimson Tide money for Jayhawk talent" is how I believe I put it.


Three general reactions ensued, one purely a matter of athletic prognostication, the second sufficiently valid to put me in my place, and the other ... let's just call it revealing.

The athletic prognostication was that Arkansas could do better than 8-4 because Bobby Petrino coached it just a few years ago to 10-2.

All right, then. Your highest hope is my aberration. You see the prospect of sustainability and I see a motorcycle crash.

Here was the valid reaction: What's it to you how much the University of Arkansas pays its football coach? It's not your money. It's not taxpayer money. It doesn't come from academic spending; to the contrary, the Razorback Foundation sends money each year to academic coffers.

If boosters with lots of money want to spend it on a college football interest, then that is entirely the business of those boosters with lots of money.

All I needed, it seemed, was to shut up and watch the games in high definition on a big screen from the comforts of my easy chair as cheese dip plopped from every third chip to belly.

I am persuaded.

If rich people with millions--whether in Arkansas or College Station, Texas, or Auburn, Ala., or Clemson, S.C., or Columbus, Ohio--want to express themselves through what amounts to ownership in a major sports franchise only nominally associated with a college, pursuing enough victories by the young men performing for that franchise to make these boosters feel vital and gratified and equal to, or even occasionally superior to, counterparts in Mississippi and Louisiana and Tennessee--if not so much Alabama--then I should accept the whispered words of wisdom to let it be.

The greater issue of abusing young men's dreams of professional wealth by paying them nothing to risk major brain injury while the guy sending them out to take that risk gets millions, because that's what a market based on TV and rich boosterism demands--that's not an Arkansas issue.

It's an American issue. It's a human issue. It's a moral disgrace.

The third reaction, the one I call revealing, was that Arkansas is not a poor state.

Why, it has millionaires galore, from Jerry Jones and his Cowboy empire to Wal-Mart to Tyson Foods, I was advised.

Two things about that:

One is that a smattering of millionaires does not a state make, though it represents prevalent Republican thought that a few millionaires make life better for everyone who gets trickled on below.

The second is that we have evolved generationally and regionally into self-identification less by full states, which are typically varied, into what some call city-states, or metropolitan statistical regions.

If you are a young professional adult sprung from somewhere else, settled for your professional life in the Northwest Arkansas region from Fayetteville through Bentonville, then you behold wealth all around, from a couple of the world's richest businesses to one of the world's great art museums. There's an amphitheater, a performing arts center, great hotels and restaurants and funky crepes joints.

There's plenty of money evident in plain sight to compete with Tuscaloosa or Auburn or Athens or Baton Rouge--or anywhere--for a football coach or on any other obsession.

For an antique newspaper guy in Little Rock--a place you don't know but deem a Chicago-style killing field--to put on Twitter that you're living in a poor state ... why, you never heard such nonsense.

Dermott? Pine Bluff? Marianna? Where are those?

You live in a commercial hub surrounded by majestic hills to the south, eastern Oklahoma to the west and the quintessentially Midwestern environs of Kansas and Missouri to the north.

It's its own place, possessed of plenty of money for a rich football coach who will toil amid great financial wealth, though not so much player-recruitment wealth--nestled as this coach will be in the mid-American hills remote from the major urban population centers producing greater numbers of athletes who'll tend to favor the rosters of conference opponents who'll keep his upside at ... well, someone said 8-4.

But that'll get the rich boosters eight autumnal validations as well as the holiday-season trip to a bowl game that they paid for.

------------v------------

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 12/07/2017

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TimberTopper says... December 7, 2017 at 5:08 a.m.

Good one, John. Careful there as the rich like control and contracts. What they can't control, they might be willing to put a contract out on! LOL!

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drs01 says... December 7, 2017 at 8:56 a.m.

The end of the world must be at hand. For the 2nd time this month, I agree with JB. I would add that the UofA-Northwest Arkansas is delusional if they think that $3.5 million will buy them anything better than 8-4. I see at least 4 West losses every year, maybe more.

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PopulistMom says... December 7, 2017 at 9:15 a.m.

Another good JB column. While I always root for the Razorbacks unless they play one of my alma maters, it is distressing to see how much time, energy, and money is spent on the Razorback football team. The status of the team takes up more ink on the ADG pages than just about any other topic. We definitely should be worrying more about quality education and jobs and less about the team.

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GeneralMac says... December 7, 2017 at 9:23 a.m.

All three of the above posters ( and JB) are free to donate as much money as they want to the academics at the university.

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drs01 says... December 7, 2017 at 9:28 a.m.

The University of Arkansas is a tax-payer supported institution. Those tax dollars we all contribute go towards academics, not sports programs.

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al52 says... December 7, 2017 at 9:51 a.m.

Good job John, I wanted Gus but NO coach is worth that type of money, even If he's coming from AL back home to AR.

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glh05230944 says... December 7, 2017 at 10:40 a.m.

The tax bill scam should be factored in as favorable to U of A's football program. The tax break for the very rich alumni will allow them to increase their contributions to their alma mater's athletic programs. As for graduate programs, which the tax scam will extinguish, what university needs them as long as it has a winning football team?

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GeneralMac says... December 7, 2017 at 10:45 a.m.

al52...........and no pro athlete is worthy of those high salaries.

However, since I ,as a tax payer, don't have to pay those salaries ..........have at it .

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GeneralMac says... December 7, 2017 at 11:34 a.m.

A lot of people upset over coach's salaries paid by private donors.

Yet no one upset that the Razorback's refusal to play the Red Wolves results in an out of state team collecting close to a MILLION $$$$$$$$$$$ ?

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Jfish says... December 7, 2017 at 11:48 a.m.

Good point Generalmac. John, we are the Romans, our lives revolve around entertainment and in Arkansas the pigs are king, so no amount of money is too much. I just don't understand how they can keeping justifying adding on to the FB stadium. Maybe the new coach and AD will be smarter about playing ASU and playing a game or two in LR. If the boosters and Razorback Foundation would leave them alone, they would probably make smarter decisions.

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