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In turn, this means wholesale turnovers in assistant coaches and in recruiting miscues while the new guys learn their way around. There is obviously no such problem at Nebraska, where assistant John Melton has been around for 26 years, George Darlington 15, Milt Tenopir 14 and Charlie McBride 11. "The problem is kids want security," says Parrish, "and winning is security."
What's more, their routine appearances in major bowls give Oklahoma and Nebraska an extra 18 days of practice every year. Considering that most players are around for five years, that's some 90 additional days of workouts—which amounts to almost another year of practice. How in the world can a K-State, which has been to exactly one bowl, the Independence in 1982, compete with that? It can't.
And it bothers Stan Parrish, who hasn't won in 14 games, enormously. "Look," he says, "the crime is not losing but in failing to do all you can to win. But we are crawling on our elbows to get the job done. And after games we are totally spent." At Lawrence, Valesente sounds more optimistic—sort of like a fortune cookie: "Adversity never lasts forever. Failure is never fatal. Success is never final."
But, ah, futility, thy name is Kansas. On Saturday the state's two teams showed up for their annual classic, and sure enough, nobody won. With no time left Mark Porter's 38-yard field goal attempt for K-State was blocked, and the game ended in a 17-17 tie.
The perennial dominance of the Big Two has had a snowball effect. Colorado coach Bill McCartney points out that Oklahoma and Nebraska "use all those rings and all those watches and all those trophies. All that glitter attracts a lot of kids." Then because the two biggies are good, once players are signed they tend to stay. Conversely, athletes slogging along at schools mired in adversity often drop by the wayside—academically as well as spiritually. Valesente says that last year he was missing 34 players who had been in the program but left before their appointed time. Naturally Osborne thinks keeping players is simple: "You do that by winning."
Which brings us to the heart and soul of the problem: scholarship limits. Currently the NCAA allows a maximum of 30 players to be recruited each year, but no more than 95 may be on scholarship at any given time, and the 30 limit is scheduled to drop to 25 next August. These strictures make it nearly impossible for schools that are losing, and which suffer higher attrition, ever to have 95 players on scholarship. In fact, Iowa State has 58; K-State has 73, but six are hurt, leaving 67. The only schools in the conference at the scholarship limit of 95 are Oklahoma and Nebraska—of course—and Colorado.
The disparity makes Parrish boil: "I say, please let me have at least as many bodies as you do even if they're not as good bodies. The big schools have got to give us a chance. You know what the current system is? Nuts. Flat-out nuts."
The NCAA should consider a remedy, and several coaches and athletic directors in the Big Eight are considering a proposal to that end. They are hoping to introduce legislation at the NCAA convention in January that would give today's have-nots a fairer deal. It comes down to this: If a coach needs to bring in 40 players on scholarship to reach 95, so be it.
Parrish says Switzer and Osborne have both told him they would go along with such a proposal. And Oklahoma AD Donnie Duncan sounds encouraging: "My position is that I'm going to be a good listener." Good. After all, even Switzer said, following the drubbing of Kansas, "It really means nothing." Precisely.
The Big Eight has other ways out of the darkness that don't require anything but common sense. And innovation. For example, the schools should consider giving a new coach at least a five-year contract. That way, says associate Big Eight commisioner Prentice Gautt, the coach can move the program forward "without people yapping and the hound dogs at his heels." At Colorado, where McCartney has done wonders with a moribund program, the coach says schools should "settle on a guy and have blind faith in him."