Once every comet or so, somebody in sports does something so brain-boggling that you drop your spoon in your raisin bran, fall over backward in your chair and scream to the Saint Bernard, "I'll be dog-damned!"
Well, two weeks ago it happened.
It was in college golf. The Tulsa men's team was tied with Southern Methodist at the end of 54 holes for the Western Athletic Conference championship. The day had crawled along at Squire Creek Country Club in Choudrant, La., and now there would be a sudden-death playoff, with Tulsa's five players going against SMU's five for the title.
But it was 3:20 p.m., and Tulsa had to catch a 4:30 flight, the last one out of town. It was a half-hour drive to the airport. Ten guys in a playoff hole could take almost an hour, and Tulsa was supposed to be in the car and on the way five minutes ago. The players would never make their plane, and three of them had final exams in the morning. Four of the five had GPAs of 3.2 or better.
That's when Tulsa coach Bill Brogden did something so insane, so unheard of, so slap-the-priest new that he runs the risk of being barred from coaching forever.
"We have more important things than this," he told his boys as he herded them to the airport to get on that plane. He chose academics over athletics, No. 2 pencils over No. 2 irons. He finally let the dog wag the tail.
A coach looking out for the "student" at the expense of the "athlete"? Does the musher suddenly pull the sled and let the husky ride? What part of the term college golf factory doesn't Brogden understand? Who does he think he is, Coach Carter? "The guys were disappointed," Brogden says, "but I told them I had to do what I thought was right. By the time we were in the air, I think they agreed it was the only thing to do."
The only thing to do? Is he bats? Nobody does this! Ever! This is college sports, in which NFL defensive end Dexter Manley finished four years at Oklahoma State and couldn't read! In which Nicholls State just got four years' probation because a coach and an academic adviser did course work for more than two dozen jocks! Hell, what Brogden did has to be a shock at Tulsa, where only 42% of athletes who entered in 1997 had graduated in six years, the seventh-worst rate in Division I-A.
No wonder Tulsa president Steadman Upham wrote a memo to every faculty member at the school. "I have never been more proud of a coach or a team," he said, adding that the decision "shines brighter than any trophy."