Saturday excitement has returned to the campus of the University of Colorado in a storm of food, sun, beer and 53,000 people cheering on the Buffaloes. Jon Embree is reigniting the passion of the black and gold faithful in Boulder. Nationally, however, Embree still has strides to make in returning the CU football program to prominence and he needs help from the administration.
Joining the Pac-12 put CU in a conference they always felt they academically belonged. The academic admission standards of becoming a Buffalo have always rivaled those of their new West Coast counterparts. Under the last head-coaching regime, this proved as a recruiting disadvantage.
History has shown that the football team needs flexibility around the rigors of the academic admission standards. During the glory years of CU football, coach Bill McCartney was allowed to enroll a limited number of non-academically qualified athletes. Embree needs the same opportunity – with one qualifier. Embree, and his coaching staff, must be held accountable for the educational success of these “wild card” recruits.
At this point, you can assume the academic community just stopped reading; but the truth is that a quality football team benefits the university as a whole. Football is unquestionably the highest revenue generator at major universities. Multiple budgets depend, and thrive, on a quality football program. So a quality football program can’t be stifled by broad stroke academic standards.
Before moving on, something needs clarifying. Embree and his recruiting staff shouldn’t be allowed to operate free of admissions standards just because they run a football team. They must still to be forced to meet standards.
On the other side of the coin, you can’t assume all high schools prepare students equally. Recruits should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. College athletics have the chance to provide educational opportunities where high schools have failed.
A balance must be found. The fact is that Embree isn’t preparing football players for the NFL – only a very small percentage of college football players go pro. Rather, the coach is preparing men for life. He needs the opportunity to mold young men from all walks of life.
If Embree is allowed a limited number of under-qualified academic athletes, he must personally take responsible for their academic success. In other words Embree, and his football program, must make it a priority to get these wild cards college degrees.
This philosophy can certainly spiral out of control. That is why Embree must be held accountable for his ability to judge the athletes who just need a chance and the ones that don’t get it and never will.
College football coaches live and die on their ability to recruit. Replenishing the coffers with talent is the hardest part of maintaining a consistently good football program. CU president Bruce Benson and athletic director Mike Bohn have a masterful recruiting tandem in Embree and Eric Bienemy. Now, they need to untie their hands and let them build on the momentum them have created.
No question that improving the football program isn’t the driving force behind loosening admission restrictions. Not admitting that is unfair. But it’s also unfair to not admit that a better football program doesn’t benefit the school. It’s unfair to not think that Embree can’t positively influence a greater number of young men given the opportunity.
Is this a tricky line to toe? No doubt. But Embree has been given the keys to Folsom Field and he is bringing back the passion to Buffaloes football. Now, he needs the tools to extend his reach, influence demographics he isn’t and bring CU football back to the upper echelons of college football.
Everyone can see that Embree has put the Buffs back on the right track. He now just needs the trust the administration gave his mentor. The trust given wont be regretted.