This is UConn football’s path to redemption

This is UConn football’s path to redemption

October 31, 2023 at 5:27 pm • Last updated: October 31, 2023 at 5:27 pm

The waves of tribalism dividing our country — either with us or against us — withdraw the principle of critical thinking: that two concepts, though perhaps conflicting, can be true at the same time.

This applies to recent comments by UConn football coach Jim Mora, who has been criticized for voicing his opinion about the importance of pumping more money into the program.

Two things are true at the same time: Yes, Mora has to understand that participating in a dying show has been tough, despite last season’s mirages, and he has to be careful with his woe-is-us narratives. And yes, Mora was (and still is) absolutely right about the need to dive deeper into “name-image likeness,” an increasingly important initiative across the country where college athletes are allowed to receive financial compensation.

“If you want to attract players who can beat the teams on our schedule, you’re going to have to pay them, you’re going to have to pay them nothing, you have to increase the cost of their attendance, and we have to provide them with better housing,” Moura said recently on his radio show. “And to give them better opportunities to earn money, and unfortunately we don’t have a lot of that at the moment.”

“And I’m afraid for this program if that doesn’t happen, because the teams that we’re tasked with trying to beat have those things and can attract players with money. We have great facilities, and we have a lot of people here that care, but without the money, look at those timelines in the future.” And I realize that if we don’t get some money flowing into this program, we’re going to have some dark days ahead of us.”

NIL concepts and applications are often misunderstood—or not understood at all—encouraging public opinion to condemn its importance. While paying players’ wages may be abhorrent to many of us who still value the concept of higher education, the inability to work is the latest example of mathematical Darwinism. Our individual opinions are irrelevant. Adapt and adapt to the new reality or fall woefully behind.

The words of Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy, in response to a question about where and how athletic departments should spend their money:

“Don’t build it, put the money in the bank,” Gundy said at a recent media session. “Put the money in the bank and spend it on nothing. That’s just the future. I’m not saying I agree with that. I just know the signs of the times.”

“Players are used to going somewhere to get shiny new facilities and new uniforms and things like that. They still want to go somewhere where they win, but they also want the other things. I would build a hypothetical situation: If you brought in 50 of our players and said to them: ‘I won’t We pay you $50-$60,000 a year in cash or we can build you a new weight room and conference room, which one will you do?’ He wants?’ “They’ll take (the money), right? That’s what kids do these days.”

This is in no way a criticism of UConn’s current NIL structure. UConn has a dedicated initiative on campus and two independent groups. But she needs to keep beating the drum to educate her fans and alumni. Football has the largest number of players and requires the most money. Lest you wonder about NIL’s other conquests, try this: For every new group, every player on the Utah State football team gets a Dodge Ram pickup truck, a published report says. It falls perfectly within today’s rules.

UConn fans need to know how and where they can contribute. And why? Some (and not just at UConn) were reluctant to give for ideological reasons. Although it is noble to maintain a value system, there is a practical side: If you do not contribute to future successes, do not complain about current failures.

“We’ve heard it all, right? Our fan base is no different than any other fan base. Our coaches are no different than any other coaches in college sports,” Oklahoma State athletic director Chad Weberg said during a recent media opportunity. The way college athletics has worked all these years and decades. There are quite a few people who don’t like it.

“It’s now a part of college athletics. It’s not going away. In order for us to stay competitive, this is one area that we’re going to have to compete in. We have to continue to do a good job of educating and telling our fans how to get involved. There are a lot of ways they can get involved. Through which to participate I think this is part of the confusion.

And here’s the “believe it or not” of the century: Nothing could be UCLA football’s path to redemption. There’s nothing stopping UConn from organizing and running a lucrative football-focused NIL initiative that would allow Mora more ways to compete for better players. Remember Gundy’s words: “They’ll take the money, won’t they?”

Suddenly, playing an independent schedule 20 miles off campus in an empty stadium doesn’t seem so bad if one has money in one’s pocket and a new Dodge Ram truck.

UConn has decades and decades and decades of successful alumni and a country full of fans who have some money to spend (to varying degrees). They need to start spending it on a nothing initiative that will benefit football. It has been proven that football — and only football — will pave the way for UConn to get into a bigger conference and more money.

For football to wake up, Moura needs more. UConn needs to educate all of us on how these mechanisms work. There is nothing else more important in the entire sports department.

That’s the opinion of Daily Sports columnist Mike DiMuro

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