The recent decision by former the Fresno State football coach to accept the head coaching job at the University of Washington tells not only a story of local college football and its fate, but also speaks loudly on issues of money in college athletics, the status of inland v. coastal areas in the West, and ultimately tells us much about of politics in the United States.
Money has taken over college football, an all-conquering colossus standing tall astride the athletics field. The salaries paid to head coaches dwarfs that of other university personnel, usually in the area of millions of dollars a year. Television income is now paramount, and starting times of games are now determined by TV schedules, not the convenience of the fans.
College athletes are now players on a vast money stage without regard to their needs. They are mere puppets dancing to TV networks’ tunes. Only lip service is played to their academic needs. A handful will reap rewards in the National football League, but most will lurch from college to uncertain futures.
The move from a Central Valley city to a coastal one also tells a story. David Brooks has outlined in a recent Atlantic article, the new status of classes in the US. Unlike the Gilded Age where the “robber barons” like Rockefeller and Carnegie dominated, the new age has a coastal elite ruled by those educated in elite universities (like Stanford, which I attended for law school, or my undergraduate university, Duke.)
Think of Silicon Valley or the Seattle area, dominated by Microsoft, Apple, Meta and Amazon. The new billionaires are those in the tech industry and they are insuring that their children continue in their elite status, as witnessed by the recent scandal on admissions to USC and Stanford.
Elite status is now measured in large part by one’s education. Pay and prestige flow to them. Lower classes have historically low upward mobility rates.
So, it seems both appropriate and ironic that Kalen DeBoer is moving from our Valley to a coastal area with superior resources. Media reports tell of the University of Washington’s vast athletic program. They, in turn, are firing their losing football coach in search of winning teams that will increase their athletic income. Since this is a zero-sum game, this will no doubt come at the expense of other universities’ programs, who will in turn scramble for the TV and ancillary revenue from athletics.
One must ask: Where are academics in this mixture? I don’t see them at all, and I see university educational missions subverted by this focus. My dad’s university, the University of Chicago, gave up on football long ago to focus on scholarship. Why haven’t others followed suit?
Lastly, this split between the educated elite and the masses has fostered a deep divide in the United States. It is no coincidence that the coastal areas of Washington state and California lean towards the blue spectrum of Democratic party faithful, and our Valley to the red-tinted Republican party of Trump.
In a sense, it is symbolic that DeBoer is moving from our Valley to a coastal area lured by an extravagant pay package. We are used to being kicked around by those elite places. Yet, resentment lies below the surface and sometimes surfaces, as in the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol building in Washington, DC.
I share this anger (but not the resulting politics). A winning program at Fresno State has been put at risk by “fat cats” basking in coastal breezes.
Kalen DeBoer, I wish you well as you follow the American dream of ever better employment and compensation. But your move symbolizes a monetarism of football and a deepening divide in the U.S. I pray that football will one day return to its core mission and politics return to policy and not class resentment.
Phil Fullerton of Fresno is a retired lawyer.