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JOHN BRUMMETT: Poor state? Psshaw!

The University of Arkansas was in the process of being played like a cheap fiddle. It was offering a reported $50 million over seven years to make Gus Malzahn the fourth-highest or fifth-highest-paid coach of a college football team.

I offered one of my more banal social media comments.

It was a mere observation about the misplaced priorities of a poor state investing at elite levels in a football coach at a school that probably couldn't do any better year-to-year than 8-4, considering the limitations of its recruiting base stemming from its location and the population pattern around it.

"Crimson Tide money for Jayhawk talent" is how I believe I put it.


Three general reactions ensued, one purely a matter of athletic prognostication, the second sufficiently valid to put me in my place, and the other ... let's just call it revealing.

The athletic prognostication was that Arkansas could do better than 8-4 because Bobby Petrino coached it just a few years ago to 10-2.

All right, then. Your highest hope is my aberration. You see the prospect of sustainability and I see a motorcycle crash.

Here was the valid reaction: What's it to you how much the University of Arkansas pays its football coach? It's not your money. It's not taxpayer money. It doesn't come from academic spending; to the contrary, the Razorback Foundation sends money each year to academic coffers.

If boosters with lots of money want to spend it on a college football interest, then that is entirely the business of those boosters with lots of money.

All I needed, it seemed, was to shut up and watch the games in high definition on a big screen from the comforts of my easy chair as cheese dip plopped from every third chip to belly.

I am persuaded.

If rich people with millions--whether in Arkansas or College Station, Texas, or Auburn, Ala., or Clemson, S.C., or Columbus, Ohio--want to express themselves through what amounts to ownership in a major sports franchise only nominally associated with a college, pursuing enough victories by the young men performing for that franchise to make these boosters feel vital and gratified and equal to, or even occasionally superior to, counterparts in Mississippi and Louisiana and Tennessee--if not so much Alabama--then I should accept the whispered words of wisdom to let it be.

The greater issue of abusing young men's dreams of professional wealth by paying them nothing to risk major brain injury while the guy sending them out to take that risk gets millions, because that's what a market based on TV and rich boosterism demands--that's not an Arkansas issue.

It's an American issue. It's a human issue. It's a moral disgrace.

The third reaction, the one I call revealing, was that Arkansas is not a poor state.

Why, it has millionaires galore, from Jerry Jones and his Cowboy empire to Wal-Mart to Tyson Foods, I was advised.

Two things about that:

One is that a smattering of millionaires does not a state make, though it represents prevalent Republican thought that a few millionaires make life better for everyone who gets trickled on below.

The second is that we have evolved generationally and regionally into self-identification less by full states, which are typically varied, into what some call city-states, or metropolitan statistical regions.

If you are a young professional adult sprung from somewhere else, settled for your professional life in the Northwest Arkansas region from Fayetteville through Bentonville, then you behold wealth all around, from a couple of the world's richest businesses to one of the world's great art museums. There's an amphitheater, a performing arts center, great hotels and restaurants and funky crepes joints.

There's plenty of money evident in plain sight to compete with Tuscaloosa or Auburn or Athens or Baton Rouge--or anywhere--for a football coach or on any other obsession.

For an antique newspaper guy in Little Rock--a place you don't know but deem a Chicago-style killing field--to put on Twitter that you're living in a poor state ... why, you never heard such nonsense.

Dermott? Pine Bluff? Marianna? Where are those?

You live in a commercial hub surrounded by majestic hills to the south, eastern Oklahoma to the west and the quintessentially Midwestern environs of Kansas and Missouri to the north.

It's its own place, possessed of plenty of money for a rich football coach who will toil amid great financial wealth, though not so much player-recruitment wealth--nestled as this coach will be in the mid-American hills remote from the major urban population centers producing greater numbers of athletes who'll tend to favor the rosters of conference opponents who'll keep his upside at ... well, someone said 8-4.

But that'll get the rich boosters eight autumnal validations as well as the holiday-season trip to a bowl game that they paid for.

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John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 12/07/2017

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