Friday, August 05, 2016
Lessons from Last Chance U
If you like football and behind the scenes sports documentaries, I highly recommend Netflix's Last Chance U. It spends a season with the players, coaches and administrators at East Mississippi Community College as the Defending National Junior College Champions look to win their fourth championship in five years. Because this is a JuCo, I think the players and coaches were much more unguarded than they might have been at a big university. The series is entertaining on its own, but also provides some great insight into the larger world of college football and provides perspective about how we do things at BC.
[SPOILERS TO FOLLOW]
Chaos on the sidelines
Whenever one of our coaches messes up a two minute drill, we all go crazy. Yet here is Junior College's most prolific offense -- in theory a fine tuned machine -- screwing up. At one point, the head coach didn't even realize it was 4th down or what the call was. And this team wins. This reinforced for me that so much of this is talent, talent and talent. East Mississippi is not winning because Stephens is some great Xs & Os guy or a great game manager. He's winning because he is out recruiting his fellow JUCOs and filling up on Power 5 talent that either can't qualify or had trouble at bigger programs.
BC will never be able to recruit JUCO players
It is not a good fit. I am sure we will have the occasional exception, but in general there will be very few JUCO players who would ever get by our Admissions Office. These guys are taking what amounts to remedial classes (Algebra, Basic Comp, etc.) and really struggling. Few seem motivated to try at all, even as their teachers and administrators hold their hands through the whole process. The only JUCOs we might ever be able to land are players like John Franklin III. He already qualified for an ACC team and is only at East Mississippi to showcase his talents. And based on what the conversation the East Mississippi people had with Auburn, he breezed through their classes with mostly A's.
And even if Admissions allowed our coaches to go all in on JUCOs, I still think BC would be a tough sell. Getting on a plane and going to Southeast Missouri intimidated Ronald Ollie. Can you imagine what it would be like trying to get some of these isolated and immature kids up to Boston? They all dream of the SEC. BC is a very different sell.
Academic Advisors are the unsung heroes of any successful program
The breakout star of the series is East Mississippi's Academic Advisor Brittany Wagner. She serves as den mother, big sister, baby sitter, tutor and school supply closet to the team. Without her, half of this team wouldn't be eligible. While the academic cases at East Mississippi are more extreme, don't think that this sort of support is not going on at every Power 5 program. Our players come to BC much more prepared than your typical JUCO, but there is a whole team of people at BC making sure they go to class, that they sign up for the right classes, that their GPAs remain strong, that they graduate on time, etc. You can question whether these players should even be in a college environment or what they are truly learning, but you can't question Wagner's passion or commitment.
There is still a lot of corruption in College Sports
It was just one passing moment in a six hours series, but I was surprised by the exchange between one player and a recruiter, when the player said he couldn't say what else he needed to commit "in front of the cameras."
The coach clearly understood what he meant and said, "there is nothing else. We follow NCAA rules..."
But as we all saw on Draft night, under the table payments are still alive and well in the SEC. I am sure it is rampant at other places too. If a marginal JUCO recruit is asking for extras, you can only imagine what the elite guys are doing.
BC is different but not that different
I think BC wants and tries to do things the "right way," but I am not naive enough to think we're perfect. Last Chance U isn't the same as a behind the scenes might be at the Heights, but there are probably more similarities than we would ever realize.