Column: The Crazy Days of June

For Michigan State's Tom Izzo, at least, sanity prevails
John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

For college coaches and athletes, June is supposed to be reserved for easy chores like conducting camps, fixing tackling dummies and replacing nets.

Well, so much for the lazy, hazy days of summer. This has been one of the craziest Junes of all time.

The NCAA finally completed its four-year investigation of the cesspool that is the University of Southern California’s athletic department. The NCAA was shocked – shocked! – to discover USC’s boosters were giving tens of thousands of dollars to their star players. (The NCAA officials must have been the last folks to know.)

But, to its credit, the NCAA actually came down with some consequences: a two-year ban on bowl games, and the loss of 10 scholarships for the next three years. The school cheated for wins and for money, and their punishment will cost them wins and money – though probably not as many wins and as much money as they gained by cheating.

That would have been pretty big news by itself. But then the Big Ten started talking about expanding, which sent every major conference into a paranoid frenzy, trying to keep their leagues intact. Rumors started flying about this school and that conference. Some said the Big Ten might expand to as many as 16 teams, including Notre Dame, and the Big Eight, the Big East and maybe even the venerable ACC would collapse.

Well, at the end of this national game of musical chairs, with schools scurrying to secure a seat, exactly two four schools have changed conferences: Colorado and Utah to the Pac-10, Nebraska to the Big Ten and Boise State to the Mountain West. And no conferences are close to collapsing.

Now, if you ask why the Big Ten now has 12 teams, and the Big Twelve has 10 teams – I’d say, you’re not very familiar with the logic of college football, such as it is. If you’re not a college football fan, for example, you might not know the answer to this riddle: What does the ‘N’ on Nebraska’s helmet stand for? Knowledge, of course.

So what was that whole dance all about? Not knowledge. Not student-athletes, either. But money, pure and simple. And lots of it.

And that brings us to the next big college sports subject this month: Michigan State men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo, who is rightly regarded as a living legend, a man whose success and character have stamped his school indelibly. So when the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers came calling, offering a $30 million contract, and the possibility of coaching LeBron James, Spartan fans shuddered. As Izzo said, “Sometimes there are opportunities that come about that must be thoroughly examined … This one was uniquely intriguing.”

Izzo, a born competitor, was tempted by the challenge of coaching at the highest level, and one of the game’s greatest players. He’s also sick of the recruiting madness that has taken over the college game – witness USC – which makes it harder and harder for an honest coach to succeed.

But, unlike the folks who run USC’s athletic department and the Big Ten conference, Izzo decided making the most money wasn’t the most important thing.

“It’s been an agonizing week,” he said. But, “I’m pleased to say I am here for life at Michigan State.”

That’s not just good news for Michigan State, but for the State of Michigan – and the state of college athletics.

About the author: John U. Bacon lives in Ann Arbor and has written for Time, the New York Times, and ESPN Magazine, among others. His most recent book is “Bo’s Lasting Lessons,” a New York Times and Wall Street Journal business bestseller. Bacon teaches at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio; Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism; and the University of Michigan, where the students awarded him the Golden Apple Award for 2009. This commentary originally aired on Michigan Radio.


  1. By Vic Rojas
    June 18, 2010 at 11:40 am | permalink

    Four schools moved, not two: Colorado, Nebraska, Utah and Boise State

  2. June 18, 2010 at 12:39 pm | permalink

    “[E]xactly two schools have changed conferences: Colorado to the Pac 10, and Nebraska to the Big Ten.” And Utah to the Pac-10. And Boise State to the Mountain West.

  3. June 18, 2010 at 12:42 pm | permalink

    Whoops, sorry. I swear, Vic’s comment wasn’t there when I typed mine!

  4. By Mary Morgan
    June 19, 2010 at 1:08 pm | permalink

    John U. Bacon sent this reply: “The readers are correct – but not when I finished the piece on Tuesday night, before traveling to New York early this week. This is what travel does to your deadline writing. I’m sure there will be more teams changing conferences in the weeks ahead, but nowhere near the mass shifting we were led to expect.”

    We’ve made note of the correction in the column.