Johnson: Is UT selling out when it sells the NFL?

In his 1961 farewell address, President Dwight Eisenhower issued a dire warning. “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex,” Eisenhower said. Eisenhower’s prescient speech didn’t dissuade America from continuing its involvement in the arms race of the Cold War.

Given the strategies of the new football staff at the University of Tennessee, it appears another warning is warranted. To paraphrase Eisenhower; “We must guard against furthering the unwarranted influence of the sports-entertainment complex.”

College football is already locked in an arms race. Facilities expand incessantly — Neyland Stadium’s facelift alone will cost $200 million. Coaching salaries escalate exorbitantly — $5.325 million for head coach Lane Kiffin’s staff, including $2 million for Kiffin and $1.2 million for Monte Kiffin, the head coach’s father.

More troubling than the money madness, though, is the professionalization of UT football. Perhaps it’s somewhat understandable. Kiffin came from the Oakland Raiders. His father was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Defensive line coach Ed Orgeron last coached for the New Orleans Saints.

But the professionalization goes disturbingly deeper. The News Sentinel’s Dave Hooker last week documented how displays at the Neyland-Thompson Sports Complex flash photos of pro players, some from UT, others who played at other schools for one of UT’s new coaches. The message to recruits: We can get you to the NFL.

In the News Sentinel this week, Athletic Director Mike Hamilton was asked about selling the NFL instead of promoting UT’s football tradition. “That’s the reality of it,” Hamilton said. “A lot of (recruits) are not as concerned about traditions and probably don’t know our traditions.”

There’s a bigger problem here than selling techniques. Many young men dream of playing in the pros but shift their focus to their education when their lack of size or speed or strength or skill pushes them to the sidelines. I saw firsthand how damaging unrealistic dreams can be when I coached football at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn., many moons ago.

Doing double duty as the academic adviser, I heard player after player with academic struggles say, “Coach, nobody ever made me study.” Too many authority figures sent the message that athletics was their ticket to success, and their eyes were mainly on a pro football career.

We didn’t discourage their dreams, but we dealt in reality — play hard but plan for the future. According to a 2007 study by the NCAA, of 1,071,775 high school football players in America, only 17,501 went on to play NCAA football. Of those college players, only 250 were drafted by the NFL. The NCAA estimates the probability of a high school football player making the NFL at 0.08 percent.

Sure, UT currently has 38 former players in the NFL, but the overall percentage of NCAA players who go to the NFL is only 1.8 percent. What does that say about selling UT as a four-year training camp for the NFL?

At best, UT’s new coaches come off as hired guns who are using the university to entertain the masses while they advance their own careers. At worst, UT’s football staff, with the blessing of the athletic director, is promoting a pipe dream to the vast majority of players. By doing so, they perpetuate the sports-entertainment complex that exerts devastating influence on so many of America’s youth by diminishing the importance of education.

Greg Johnson is an East Tennessee native and resident. His columns appear in the News Sentinel on Thursdays, Fridays and every other Sunday. E-mail him at jgregjohnson@hotmail.com.

Get Copyright Permissions © 2009, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!

© 2009 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Comments » 119

tennesseebee writes:

I'm not going to say it.

VOL_FREAK_91 writes:

Thats a bunch of baloney

volsrm writes:

I take ex-NFL coaches over TSSAA staff any day!

ChipKaneisAnIdiot writes:

who is greg johnson? and why does anyone care what his misinformed opinion is?

andy112382#209793 writes:

Gearing up for the slow 'pre-spring-practice' period by creating a bunch of nothing to write about and create potential grumblings.

A large number of these guys have the dream of playing in the NFL, so why not let them know that Tennessee has as-good or better facilities to train them in to get them NFL-ready, not to mention NFL caliber coaches and gameplay styles to go with the tradition of putting large groups of guys into the NFL.

Kiffin has played the 'must go to class, academics is just as important' card just as much as the 'come here to get prepared for the NFL' card.....so the man isn't completely and solely telling guys to come there to launch into the pros but also to get the most out of a scholarship offer at a great school.

Spring practice can't get here soon enough so we can read real football articles!

GO VOLS!!!

Chartervol writes:

The message is not "come to Tennessee and we'll make you into a pro prospect." The message is "if you are in the .08 percent who have a shot at the NFL, the best place to play college ball is Tennessee."

Huge difference.

Voluvr writes:

First of all, I doubt that Greg's coaching experience at Austin Peay involved much if any NFL discussions at that level of play. I'm sure there was probably no shattered NFL dreams there. Greg mention of coaching didn't mention doing it himself so he must have been a grad asst at best.

Second, to say AT Best UT coaches come of as hired guns promoting their own careers, WHAT? Is this sports reporting? Surely, there is someone besides Adams that can write.

Let me ask this question, If any player wanted to go to the NFL, what universities coaching staff could best prepare for that level? Tennessee. Period.

This story is a pure stretch and supports itself on wobbly legs.

Can we get a stinking recruiting update from today?

highVOLtage writes:

It is what it is.

Perhaps UT should copy Vandy and not have an athletic department, or just tell the recruits with NFL dreams to go elsewhere because they only have a 1.8% chance of making it, and that's not what UT football is about.

And perhaps the Engineering Dept at UT should tell their students that statistics say not all of them will become successful engineers. Some won't graduate with an engineering degree, and some won't graduate at all.

Voluvr writes:

I'm surprised that this kind of story fabrication is accepted through the KNS. To paint selling everything you have including what everyone else is saying is smart.

Wow. This is worse than Griff and purely amaturish. I think the Clarksville Gazette is looking for a beat writer to cover a small time program.

Seriously, this article is just weird. Probably another jilted reporter who lost his buddy's and contacts in the old staff and now actually has to work to come up with a story.

Greg, get off your butt, quit using a Hooker opinion as your source, get over to the ath dept. and do a real story.

1vol writes:

in response to ChipKaneisAnIdiot:

who is greg johnson? and why does anyone care what his misinformed opinion is?

He is a Bama fan..

DrJCrown_theMagicMan writes:

Most kids thinking about coming to UTK don't know anything about the Vols?

This may sound a little weird but how can they not?
Are they living in a cave?
Do they not watch college football.
I knew about all teams when I was 10.
I know about every school since I am a sport fan.

WHo cares if they are selling the NFL!
Anybody being recruited wants to go to the NFL right!

Recruiting update please?

Voluvr writes:

in response to highVOLtage:

It is what it is.

Perhaps UT should copy Vandy and not have an athletic department, or just tell the recruits with NFL dreams to go elsewhere because they only have a 1.8% chance of making it, and that's not what UT football is about.

And perhaps the Engineering Dept at UT should tell their students that statistics say not all of them will become successful engineers. Some won't graduate with an engineering degree, and some won't graduate at all.

Great point!

And when they can get 106,000 people to come up every weekend to watch some guy work out a math problem we'll spend 5,000,000 on the professors salaries.

ChattVol2485 writes:

Duly noted on both counts VOL_FREAK and volsrm.

IMO there are some brutally honest facts missing from this story. These athletes are here to bring in money and that's it. Nobody in positions of power (the A.D., boosters, etc.) care about their feelings, their life stories, their hopes, their dreams, or anything else. The only things that matter are bringing in good talent, winning, keeping butts in seats, donations, and ultimately the bottom line.

No one wants to admit it, no sports news channel will say it, and no writer will ever put it in his column.

After all, each college sports program is a business.

Mr. Johnson and the rest of the KNS staff, drop this bull phooey, get real, and do it quickly.

Voluvr writes:

I think this guy should go back to reporting how bad the economy is so the economy might get worse. This article is clearly a stretch written from a NON-athletic mentality. Written out of pure naivity.

Greg, have you even gone over to the dept. to ask if there have been any commitments today?

redrod writes:

Total garbage. I want to say lots but this phooey doesnt even warrant more words. I agree with lets see a reqruiting update instead.

tripper writes:

Is this a Metro Pulse article? Austin Peay, need I say more.

VolPatrick writes:

in response to Chartervol:

The message is not "come to Tennessee and we'll make you into a pro prospect." The message is "if you are in the .08 percent who have a shot at the NFL, the best place to play college ball is Tennessee."

Huge difference.

THIS!

If we are recruiting the best .08%, I don't see a problem. And, since when is "Hey, we're going to pay your way through school, for up to six years, and while you get prepared academically you can prepare for a shot at professional football" a bad thing? You think Vanderbilt shows any baseball recruits film of David Price mowing down the Red Sox in the ALCS? How disingenuous of them!

I can't imagine a player coming to a school whose pitch was, "Yeah, there's no way on God's green Earth you have a prayer of getting to the next level of competition so come play for us!" ever being productive.

And how is this for irony: A newspaper writer bemoaning the amount of attention paid to a sport while simultaneously deriving his income by providing news to the fans of that sport. I am assuming the author has never done anything to inform or entertain the public while at the same time seeking any reward for himself.

I would keep going, but my words turn into reverse social commentary, and my head wants to explode from trying to deal with this nonsense.

He won't rain on my parade tonight. GO VOLS. 6 of 7 on the hardwood against the Gators, TOP 10 recruiting class for the gridiron!

Kennedy08 writes:

A thoughtful and honest analysis of college athletics. Great article.

newtonrail writes:

in response to ChattVol2485:

Duly noted on both counts VOL_FREAK and volsrm.

IMO there are some brutally honest facts missing from this story. These athletes are here to bring in money and that's it. Nobody in positions of power (the A.D., boosters, etc.) care about their feelings, their life stories, their hopes, their dreams, or anything else. The only things that matter are bringing in good talent, winning, keeping butts in seats, donations, and ultimately the bottom line.

No one wants to admit it, no sports news channel will say it, and no writer will ever put it in his column.

After all, each college sports program is a business.

Mr. Johnson and the rest of the KNS staff, drop this bull phooey, get real, and do it quickly.

You forget the NCAA still calls the Players at our University STUDENT Athletes. They did when graduated forty years ago, and they do now. Do some people pay lip service to the SA label? Sure. What's wrong with this guy's article. He's saying the same thing that various athletes who do spots during FB and BB games are saying: " most of us will be going Pro in something other than sports". Do you people not see those NCAA adds during commercials for several years? Nothing different in Greg whoever article. He's trying to get across the SA needs to get his degree. Yes, I know that won't get through to some of them, but does that mean we should stop trying? IMO the display Hooker mentioned the other was just wrong. Not surprised that Hamilton supported it. He doesn't wear glasses anymore, so I guess he got Lasik or $$$$ Dollar sign contact lens implanted in his eyes. That's the way he looked on the court tonight.

dvols writes:

kns is no commercial appeal

BSweet writes:

"...and $1.2 million for Monte Kiffin, the head coach's father."

Didn't he also forget to mention the man most consider to have been the best DC in the NFL for the past 14 seasons? Seriously, when you throw a comment like that out there, how can you claim no bias against UT with a straight face. This isn't a man who's only qualification for the job is that his son is the head coach. KNS, how can you print garbage like this. I thought even you guys wouldn't stoop that low. This isn't journalism and I daresay you know it. Stories like this one only serve to further the theory that KNS has an anti-Vol agenda that it's trying to serve up to the public. You guys really messed up on this one. Shame on you.

BSweet writes:

On another note, how many people go on to fail the bar exam? Perhaps our law school shouldn't promote the idea of teaching law? College is about preparing young men and women for their chosen profession. Guess what, they get to choose what field they go in to. For many of these young men, football is their chosen profession. They know the pitfalls and the possibility of failure, yet they choose it anyway. It is up to the school and its teachers(coaches) to prepare them for their profession. It is up to the graduates to succeed. This article is a joke.

MidTennVol writes:

in response to Chartervol:

The message is not "come to Tennessee and we'll make you into a pro prospect." The message is "if you are in the .08 percent who have a shot at the NFL, the best place to play college ball is Tennessee."

Huge difference.

I would tend to agree with that, based on everything I'v read about these coaches on the recruiting trail.

It remains to be seen, however, how this coaching staff deals with the 99 percent of players at UT who will NOT go on to play on Sundays.

What will they be taught about life, school, ethics, etc. during their time on the team?

grogpaw#362163 writes:

Why would sports editor allow this drivel be published in the first place? Could it be the editor has an agenda against UT sports? Oh how silly of me. For a moment I forgot who the sports editor is-none other than the UT hating John Adams.

murrayvol writes:

in response to tennesseebee:

I'm not going to say it.

Thanks!

murrayvol writes:

in response to VOL_FREAK_91:

Thats a bunch of baloney

Unfortunately it's not.

turner_c writes:

Greg Johnson, was Austin Peay's football program self-supporting or did you have your hand in the taxpayers pocket. If you're a native East Tennessean, how have you ignored that UT football has been "big in the sports/entertainment business" since before your birth? You are either naive or an agitator, which is it?

arkyvol writes:

excellent and honest column.

vailvol writes:

i am sure if you look back at USC's percentage of players drafted it is way over the average johnson refers to. not that kiffin or ordgeron were responsible totally, but they are selling that. makes sense to me.

i also disagree with johnson's premise here. the whole point is that, yes, its a pipe dream for kids to make it the NFL, but at UT you will have your best shot.

jimr07 writes:

in response to andy112382#209793:

Gearing up for the slow 'pre-spring-practice' period by creating a bunch of nothing to write about and create potential grumblings.

A large number of these guys have the dream of playing in the NFL, so why not let them know that Tennessee has as-good or better facilities to train them in to get them NFL-ready, not to mention NFL caliber coaches and gameplay styles to go with the tradition of putting large groups of guys into the NFL.

Kiffin has played the 'must go to class, academics is just as important' card just as much as the 'come here to get prepared for the NFL' card.....so the man isn't completely and solely telling guys to come there to launch into the pros but also to get the most out of a scholarship offer at a great school.

Spring practice can't get here soon enough so we can read real football articles!

GO VOLS!!!

and, most of the writeres cannot walk and chew gum at the same time. there is a cartain amount of envy and spite in this article. the KNS continues to trash the UT program. something tells me they wanted someone else to be named head coach and they are sulking.

pdhuff#552644 writes:

in response to murrayvol:

Unfortunately it's not.

Sadly in life, when drowning it does not matter whether it is called a plank or a board you're hanging onto to.

7 points versus mighty Wyoming is the stark reality of where we are.

easleychuck writes:

This is an opinion piece. Everyone has an opinion. The KNS chooses to publish this particular opinion 3 days prior to the national signing day for a new football staffs' first recruiting class. Also, I might add, on the most critical weekend for a staff already behind the eight ball during a shortened opportunity to recruit the type of blue-chip guys who give a school the chance to compete at the highest level of college football. I believe that is the goal of a football program at school that pretty much funds the bulk of the remainder of the men's sports at the school and currtently pays its own way.

I live in the real world where if UT's football program cheats, doesn't graduate a good portion of its players and fails to start competing to win with the better programs in its own conference......it will cease to be relevant.

If encourages the best to come and be a part of this competion that is getting ready to leave the station then how you sell the message is not an issue with me.

Again, this is my opinion, just like this "writer" gave his. I love UT and it's sports programs. I doubt if this "writer" gives a dam* about anything UT related.

I am positive that he doesn't care how UT is attempting to join the big boys on a regular basis at the top of the college football's mountain. Recruiting is selling, the new packaging will either work or not. Only time will tell. But without the best players (many of whom ascend to the next level of the sport that they excel at) UT football will become irrelevant.

alwaysorange81 writes:

well...thats it guys. Lock up the doors, send the kids home because god knows most of them cant afford an education here. give all the money back and lets play games for free admission. We've spent to much and made to much and of course it will lead to our and every other school that engages with us in this great coaching arms race to ruin. Another stellar article full of facts and objective opinion. GO BACK TO THE 50''s. where things were simpler. If you dont like it.

GerryOP writes:

Probably less than 0.08 percent of high school kids who continue their education become commercial or societal leaders. So ... as college prepares pro-quality players for the NFL, college also trains non-athletic students for success in the non-athletic world. Don't see a problem.

CHS52VOL writes:

Don't look now, Mr. Johnson, but your professional jealousy is showing. How much would the tone and content of your article change if Coach Lane Kiffen offered you a position in the UT athletic department? You would jump at the chance! Stop trashing an outstanding head coach and his coaching staff.

I'm proud of the manner in which our new coaching staff has been assembled, and the manner in which they are recruiting student athletes to The University of Tennessee. While Austin Peay is a fine school, any comparison between UT and Austin Peay's athletic programs is humorous at best.

hotrodvol writes:

The way KNS reports on UT I can understand why Fulmer closed practice. If this keeps up CLK will do the same. Are they trying to start a bad relationship with the new coaches?

SCarolinaVols writes:

Just read the story...WHAT...HUH..... Its apparent there are 2 type newspapers, one that sells based on good reporting and the other that sells based on "stiring the pot" stories. I think we know what KNS uses.I would guess if people started canceling subscribions, maybe that would resort back to what newspapers are bought for, Good reporting.

pdhuff#552644 writes:

in response to GerryOP:

Probably less than 0.08 percent of high school kids who continue their education become commercial or societal leaders. So ... as college prepares pro-quality players for the NFL, college also trains non-athletic students for success in the non-athletic world. Don't see a problem.

Dupree has proved to be a prime example of success in the non-athletic world.

Not all grab the brass ring but it will always be the journey.

Couchdummy writes:

Can the KNS get back to "reporting UT football" rather than writing editorials? Is the relationship with the UT athletics department so poor that the KNS cannot get "real" news from the hill?

tenndave writes:

How many students are sent to college to get a degree in a field that they cannot get a job in. Athletics is only one example. I am a retired school administrator. I believe in education as much as anyone but the great lie we give our students is that the college degree automatically leads to success in that field? What is the difference in telling a student you will help him get to the NFL or telling a student to major in my subject, knowing that working in that field is impossible? Each of us is responsible for our choices about the direction of our life. Athletes are no exception. If we make the wrong choices we pay. Get the wrong degree you pay. Instead of preaching don't reach for your goals, do just what Mike Hamilton said. Prepare yourself for other choices too. Let him do his job and send Greg Johnson off to write about something else. By the way, why would an article like this appear today, unless it was to discourage the visiting recruits from attending here. Nice job KNS. Your true colors may be showing!

graphpro#231211 writes:

The time it took to read this article is unfortunately is time I'll never get back.... Wasted time!

Kids have always had a dream for playing in college and pros... Bozo!

tenndave writes:

Second Idea that this article brings up is the cost of an education. How many of you with degrees from universities can think of at least 6 courses or more you did not really need but had to pay for anyway. It is time an independent source was put in charge of degree requirements so that the cost of education could be brought down. My first degree was in music education, yet I was required to take golf, tennis, field sports, and football. I loved them but in retrospect it cost me alot of unnecessary money, and this is just the tip of thet iceberg.

GerryOP writes:

216 - Fear The Kiffin...

CHS52VOL writes:

in response to CHS52VOL:

Don't look now, Mr. Johnson, but your professional jealousy is showing. How much would the tone and content of your article change if Coach Lane Kiffen offered you a position in the UT athletic department? You would jump at the chance! Stop trashing an outstanding head coach and his coaching staff.

I'm proud of the manner in which our new coaching staff has been assembled, and the manner in which they are recruiting student athletes to The University of Tennessee. While Austin Peay is a fine school, any comparison between UT and Austin Peay's athletic programs is humorous at best.

Oops! Misspelled Coach Lane Kiffin's name. Sorry about that. My fingers don't always do what they are supposed to do on the keyboard.

BIGEJ writes:

For those who worry about spelling Kiffin as Kiffen, well you spell it the same way ESPN did last night during the UF-UT BB game. They too have keyboard issues; ..it happens....
GO VOLS

OrangeMagic writes:

If CLK and staff weren't leveraging NFL for recruitment, this article would have been titled "Is UT selling out by NOT selling the NFL?" College athletics have long been farm systems for pro sports. The odds of making it to the NFL doesn't stop recruits from wanting to play at the next level.

It's not very different from a university telling you that you can get a degree by going to their school. Will you actually complete the four years? Maybe, maybe not. Some universities and colleges(Ivy League) even say their education process and facilities are better than other schools. Shameful, isn't it?

Cherokee writes:

Good grief I am so sick of the KNS finding 100 different ways to say the same thing. Once AGAIN there is no recognition by the writer who wrings his hands over UT's football salaries that this is the reality of football today, that UT is only 4th in the SEC in staff spending, and that UT was spending only about half a million less than this last year. We've been paying the coaching staff millions for years, but suddenly, not that Phil is gone, this is something that gets everyone's panties in a wad? We've been selling kids on going to the NFL, selling UT's success at preparing kids for the pros for years, but suddenly, now that Phil is gone, we're supposed to highlight the horror of this? College football quit being the game your great-grandparents remember a long time ago KNS - please get over it.

UrbanCryer writes:

"Sure, UT currently has 38 former players in the NFL, but the overall percentage of NCAA players who go to the NFL is only 1.8 percent. What does that say about selling UT as a four-year training camp for the NFL?"

This statement may be the dumbest thing i've ever read. if only 1.8% of NFL players come from the NCAA where the he** are they coming from. I would dare to say its more like 100%. maybe he means 1.8% each year or something. as far as recruiting im sure FOOLMORE never said anything about the NFL he just told the recruits the history of Volunteers football and the recruits were falling over themselves to get to k-ville. i do agree we need to keep traditions but im sure kiffin has that covered.

cltvol writes:

Don't see anything at all wrong with the article. CFB is a business. You sell what you have to sell, and NFL tracks are part of what we have to sell.

Doesn't matter to me. I still root for the Vols and watch the games, attend a few. I remember when TV became influential, the patrons would pitch a coniption fit when the 1 oclock game time was changed.

This recession will put a dent in this industry, because the administrations are generally poor managers and don't have a response to lower sales and revenue. Consumer sports spending is discretionary money for the most part.

UrbanCryer writes:

also has kiffin not dropped in on classes to make sure the students were attending? didn't he also give 2 players the "boot" already? looks to me like the football program will be run right in all facets. i will admit i wasnt that excited about kiffin when ut hired him but since ive seen how he goes about the football program or "plan" im on board all the way. also, arent all assistant coaches looking to further thiers careers. i cant remember the last time i heard about a linebacker coach turning down a d-coord. job because he loved the lb coaching job too much. lastly, i dont think you name your kid after the city your coaching in if you plan on leaving in 2-3 years.

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.

Features