Rooney: CU regents show Mel Tucker he’s no longer in SEC country

Rick George wants to compete for championships. Mel Tucker surely does as well.

A small but vocal section of the non-athletic administration at the University of Colorado? Meh. If it happens, great. If not, at least we’ll find a cure for cancer.

That essentially was the message delivered by the dissenting voices on Colorado’s Board of Regents this week while approving Tucker’s new five-year, (that’s five-year, not six as originally, erroneously drafted), $14.75 million contract, turning a simple formality into a circus of posturing and grandstanding that easily could have left Tucker wondering what exactly he’s gotten himself into after leaving the reverent football-is-life confines of the SEC.

The ink had yet to dry on that five-year contract (that’s five-year, not six) before Tucker already was shown what football means at Colorado compared to the other collegiate logos dotting his resume. Boulder isn’t The Ohio State U, LSU, or Georgia. And it certainly isn’t Alabama.

Here football apparently is little more than a political banner to be waved at one’s convenience.

While Tucker eventually received the contract he was promised, it wasn’t exactly approved with a pat on the back and an encouraging “Go get ’em!” for a program that, despite pratfalls along the way, nonetheless is in far better shape than when it hired its previous head coach.

On Wednesday, regents Linda Shoemaker and Jack Kroll made a very public show of their mutual dissention in the vote to approve Tucker’s contract. For a little perspective, the initial contracts of the Buffs’ past two coaches, Jon Embree and the recently-fired Mike MacIntyre, were approved unanimously. Neither had the resume, nor the talent inherited at CU, as Tucker.

It would be easy for more than a few hard-working professionals on campus to take offense at Shoemaker’s remarks. Football is being coached far more safely from the youth through the NFL levels than ever before. And while Shoemaker’s remarks in explaining her dissension, taken at their surface, reveal a passion for player safety impossible to dismiss, they also nonetheless reveal a stunning ignorance to what is going on in her own back yard.

When Tucker made his remarks about making the Buffs tougher, anyone that watched this team on a regular basis this fall wouldn’t have been taking much of a leap to assume he meant mental toughness. It wasn’t a proclamation that CU players soon would be running head-first into brick walls. Anyone that watched this team crumble down the stretch in the face of adversity could readily diagnose a lack of mental toughness.

Coach Mark Wetmore’s CU cross country teams don’t run through walls. Yet those Buffaloes annually are as tough as any team on campus.

Shoemaker, however, apparently believed Tucker’s promise to make the Buffs tougher was a declaration he was taking CU Buffs football back to the game’s stone age, with the regent saying, “this would have been a perfect time to change the program’s emphasis from winning to safety.”

Hint: You can do both. Winning isn’t mutually exclusive to player safety.

Truth is, CU is at the forefront of the research being conducted to make the game safer. Last year, the Pac-12 chose Colorado as the host site for the league’s Student-Athlete Health and Well-Being Concussion Coordinating Unit. Researchers led by associate professor of integrative physiology Matthew McQueen coordinate with the NCAA Concussion Assessment, Research and Education committee in gathering baseline data from teams in the Pac-12, research. Admittedly, the research is in its infancy, yet the project nonetheless offers the promise of discovering more efficient methods of managing, and perhaps even preventing, head trauma across all sports.

At CU-Denver — not Boulder, obviously, but within the University of Colorado system — a group of researchers are working with the NFL to develop safer helmets.

It’s all pioneering work, and it’s being done right here in Colorado. McQueen was quick to say Shoemaker was entitled to her opinion, though he added, “If this isn’t doing enough, I’m not sure what else can be done.”

Kroll, to his credit, at least went on Altitude sports radio the day after the vote to attempt defending his comments, though it would have been interesting if he had been asked how exactly he connected such wildly divergent dots when, while pontificating about how a coach’s salary could be put to better use, he offered this nugget of wisdom: “How could this money get us closer to educating the next Nobel Laureate or finding a cure for cancer?”

If axing the football program would lead to a cure cancer, I’d write that column tomorrow. But that’s fantasy land. Regents Shoemaker and Kroll preached into the mic when convenient because few could disagree with the generalities of their sermons. Coaches are paid too much (duh). Student-athletes deserve to be paid (I’m still not sure how this would work, but I’m on board for the discussion). Not enough emphasis on player safety (obviously there’s quite a bit of emphasis, but who’s going to risk looking like they’re pushing back against player safety?).

More pertinently, none of those points have anything to do with Tucker’s contract. Love it or leave it, Division I coaching salaries reflect the market. If a certain section of CU’s regents genuinely wants to change the broken model of collegiate athletics, have at it. Few would disagree it needs fixing. But if the contention is big-time athletics isn’t worth the cost, financially or otherwise, best of luck forwarding that agenda. Even the Rice Commission, the Condoleezza Rice-led NCAA committee formed in the wake of last year’s arrests in the FBI college basketball corruption scandal, didn’t want to touch the basic collegiate model of amateurism. Shoemaker and Kroll apparently believe they can succeed where a former Secretary of State didn’t.

And about that contract. It originally was drafted as a six-year deal, which is forbidden by state law. It was dismissed as a mere typo, and as the author of many a typo over the past 20-plus years, I sympathize. But typos in, say, a high school tennis story, isn’t in the same class of mistake as a typo in a legal document with millions at stake. A document that, presumably, has been combed over thoroughly before its final draft. The inattention to detail is alarming.

A more appropriate welcome-to-Boulder variety show couldn’t have been better scripted. You’re no longer in SEC country, coach Tucker.

Pat Rooney: rooneyp@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/prooney07