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Michigan State Mel Tucker hire underscores imbalance NCAA ignores

Mere hours after a media tour to explain why he had rejected overtures from Michigan State to remain as Colorado’s football coach, Mel Tucker reversed course Tuesday night and reached an agreement to leave Boulder after just one season and head to East Lansing. 

The machinations of the move aren’t terribly difficult to figure out. According to a report in The Athletic, Michigan State will “more than double” Tucker’s guaranteed salary of $2.4 million and will give him significantly more resources to build his staff than he had at Colorado. For anyone in coaching, that’s a significant bump in pay. For someone who went 5-7 in his only season as a head coach, it’s an opportunity you can’t turn down. 

Though the optics of Tucker’s sudden change of heart are awkward at best, it would be silly to criticize him for being disloyal. As one coach who recently got a mind-blowing contract told me, you might only have real leverage in these situations a few times in your life so you better take advantage. As Michigan State’s search for Mark Dantonio’s replacement became increasingly desperate, Tucker had it and used it. Good for him. 

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But it would be impossible to let this particular money grab pass without noting that it came on the same day several college athletics leaders — including NCAA president Mark Emmert and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby — went in front of a Senate subcommittee to argue that more money for athletes through name, image and likeness rights could create a competitive imbalance.

Earth to Mark and Bob: Your sport is already there. 

Because even within the ecosystem of the Power Five, where the powerbrokers like to believe in a level playing field, it is now obvious that there are haves and have nots based on nothing more than the ability to pay coaches. When a Big Ten school can pile up the money so high in front of a Pac 12 coach with a 5-7 career record that he would be dumb not to take the job, it’s time to admit that more money for the players is a potential solution to the imbalance rather than the extinction event of the college model. 

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Brett Gonzalez
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