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Monday, August 7, 2017

A review of Netflix's Last Chance U … Pay to play college football. Is it time to reverse who pays and for what?


This is perhaps the longest post in TK history: a review of the Netflix series, Last Chance U, and a list of questions to consider. So before lulling yous to sleep, here are the questions this blog post will eventually ask.
Should college football players be paid? If so, how much?
What about a national minimum wage for the hours they dedicate to their sports (to include training)?
What about medical coverage that extends beyond their playing days?
And are educations really necessary at institutions where athletes are hustled for the sake of eligibility?
Why not treat college football the way MLB treats its minor league affiliates?
Since the NFL gets most of their players from college football, can’t they pay for the salaries/health costs at the college level?
Please post comments on the FB page where it appears (i.e., mine).
Last Chance U … is a Netflix series about a dominant junior college football team, East Mississippi Community College. They won back-to-back national championships, and the series begins with their attempt to turn it into a three-peat. EMCC (East Mississippi Community College) is a JUCO (junior college) with an excellent “football” reputation that takes players from Division I and II teams who have had problems (i.e., personal, educational, and legal) and have been released for the sole purpose of getting their acts together (i.e., becoming “football eligible”) again, so that they can return to bigger programs. I’d call it a football factory coached by a man who has ZERO business anywhere near a football field, except to maybe water the grass.
But that is my opinion and it is not the popular one. I tend not to fly with flocks, but I’d rather see your opinions.
Netflix Season I … We are presented with a very successful (i.e., winning) head coach who curses more than myself (that’s tough to do). He is a tyrant and has very little control of his temper. His team consists of what I would call ringers from Division I programs. They are GREAT athletes who were released by the bigger programs. Some have attitude issues, drug issues, educational issues, etc., but they all have undeniable athletic ability and football talent. The team (EMCC) dominates league play by rolling up scores, which is what the head coach feels gets the voters for National Championships attention. What he ignores, and seems to enjoy, is how the same roll-up policy also pisses off every other team in the division (and probably those same voters he’s so desperate to impress). His vocabulary is not only loaded with vulgarities, it is also thuggish from the word go. He likes to “beat people to sleep” … it is his mantra. He uses many other violent phrases to motivate his team. The argument that football is a violent game isn’t a good one, I don’t think. Nobody questions whether football is a violent game or not.

The series also highlights the other coaches and the team’s guidance counselor, Brittany Wagner, a single mom who puts everything she has into attempting to help the kids stay educationally eligible, as well as emotionally stable. She and a few of the assistant coaches (and the vast majority of kids) are the positives I took from this series. Everything else seems to me to be a case study for shutting down any junior or major college program that entrusts their kids/players to a head coach like Buddy Stephens. I say “shut it down” because if the college president and board of trustees is willing to ignore this guy, then they’re equally guilty as the absolute disgrace this man is. In my opinion, they should all be fired.
Without going game by game (the blowouts featuring upwardsof 50-69 point wins—the next season they will beat a team 73-7), there comes a point when the head coach becomes so out of control, he pushes one of his players more than once on the sideline. It’s something I think is an automatic suspension and possible termination, but I know some people won’t agree with that. If I were the president of that college, he would have been gone immediately after that game … which would have saved that school a ton of embarrassment and two future national championship shots.
The head coach’s body language is very telling, I thought. He’s a cheerleader when a play goes right and looks like a dejected madman (picture Hitler in his bunker with the Russian army surrounding him) when things don’t go right, and it’s almost play-by-play.
I’m not sure if it’s the same game, or if it’s one of the next two games, but eventually the head coach has a fist fight (literally) with one of the referees after a sideline curse fest. I don’t know who created the video above (labelling it Ref hits coach), but it really doesn’t make a difference who threw the first punch. Both the ref and the head coach were so out of control, at that point there isn’t a doubt both should’ve been retired.

 What happened was both the ref and the head coach were ejected from the game. The head coach was then suspended for the next two games. Needless to say, he should’ve been fired after that as well. Once again, the fact he wasn’t suggests to me the entire governing board of EMCC should’ve been fired.
Before I forget to mention it, the town EMCC plays in has a population of 700, but the facilities for football look like what one might expect at a Division 1 program. One has to wonder how much coin EMCC gets from the Division 1 programs using the school to better their own programs. Wherever they get their money from, it is obvious that winning is the motivating contributor (pun intended), and perhaps why the governing board of EMCC permits a lunatic to coach their team (i.e., that age old American theme of profit over people).
Fast forward to the last game of the season, which will guarantee EMCC a very high national ranking, and I think an undefeated season. It is a game being played against one of the weaker teams in the division. However, the weaker team has a bad history vs. EMCC because of losing past blowouts. What Stephens (head coach of EMCC) doesn’t seem to realize is just how demoralizing and classless rolling up a score can be, but he seems to knows it enough so as to warn his players before the game not to fall for the cheap shots, etc., and to walk away from any kind of extracurricular trash-talking etc., to keep them from getting ejected and suspended for their next game (which would be the first round of the playoffs). What the other team does is exactly what Stephens warns against, except they take it a bit further than just cheap shots and begin to mug an EMCC player while he’s on the ground. Eventually, both teams’ benches empty and a full scale brawl takes place. The refs stop the game and afterward, Stephens berates his players for being thugs. The constant comment from players has to do with how Stephens had gotten himself suspended for two games when he had brawled with a ref. Paying attention EMCC president? 
Of course, probably because he realizes he’s been on camera and he’s heard the rumors about what his players said, the head coach tells his team he’s sorry for what he called them (“thugs”) and thinks what they did was exactly the right thing (brawling) because, like some hockey fights, they were looking out for one another. It’s a crock of shit apology and a worse message. There are 12 players on the ice at a time in hockey, and even if benches empty, it is not a 110 man (two 55 man rosters) brawl. A team brawl should never be applauded. Not ever.

The end result of that brawl was a double forfeit and a 2 game suspension for all the players on the field when the benches emptied. It means EMCC is eliminated from the playoffs and will have to start their next season by playing only the new players on their roster for that season (i.e., freshman and new transferees).

There were several hard cases (players) highlighted during the first Netflix season and most seemed to have moved on (as we’ll learn at the end of the second Netflix season). One in particular, Ronald Ollie, was five years old when his father shot and killed his mother. Ollie was brought up by other family members. Ms. Wagner and Ollie had a special connection and there’s no doubt in my mind that she kept several dozen players from walking away from the program on her own, via her total devotion to them, and not just football, although football is their true “last chance” at attending college on football scholarships.
That’s a rap on Netflix season 1.  For the life of me, I don’t know how that coach was permitted to continue, but he does.
The offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator and quarterback coach and defensive line coach all did fine jobs and seemed to at least provide both the tough love and emotional support when it was necessary, with Ms. Wagner taking up any slack (as well as doing her normal job of saving souls). The defensive coordinator moved on, while the offensive coordinator rejected other offers and remained at EMCC.
Netflix Season II
Head Coach Buddy Stephens quotes from the Bible and the Dalai Lama. It is his effort to “change.” He’s a new man, at least he’d like the cameras to believe it. He’s trying to be a better person and he starts off with a very determined effort to quit cursing and to keep his temper in check. Game 1 is that 32 man roster vs. a 55 man roster (due to the brawl at the end of season 1). The freshman kids and transferees put up a good effort but fall short, giving EMCC a one game hole to work out of, as well as a possible excuse for voters to keep them out of the national championship, no matter if they run the table, which they will do.
In this season we see more of Ms. Wagner’s efforts to keep kids in school/from quitting and/or giving up on themselves, but her discontent with Head Coach Stephens becomes obvious with each passing episode.
Season 2 also features several players, some I wouldn’t have put up with myself, but Ms. Wagner is a far more patient and better person than I am. The assistant coaches are also featured, including the new defensive coordinator, Ed Holly, who appeared to be a bit out of his league coaching wise. The defensive line coach, Davern Williams, is a consistent tough love coach who I came to respect more and more as the season progressed. An excellent coach, I thought. His philosophy is a simple, no nonsense, obey the rules approach, but when one player is pushed to the limit (the head coach had his mother removed from the stands because she was heckling him), Coach Williams handled it in the locker room the only way possible. I didn’t think it was possible, but he managed to keep the player in check.
The offensive coordinator, Marcus Wood, his Bible study classes for players aside (I’m not big on that shit), was the most reasonable coach on the staff. He proves there is no need to be an asshole, and he will pay for being a good coach by end of season.
We learned more about Quarterback Coach Clint Trickett in the first season (forced to stop playing due to concussions), who seemed fine, although we never really watched him actually coach (he was the coach assigned to the press box).
Of course after the limited roster first game loss, EMCC wins out, but their defense isn’t close to up to par with their offense. They have a few very close calls where the offense had to bail out the defense. Lots of points given up and the defensive coordinator didn’t seem to have an answer for it (and actually says that at one point on the sideline—ouch!).
They make it to the playoffs, of course, but there’s a lot of bad stuff going on with the players. Some have ZERO respect for their head coach. One has ZERO respect for everybody, it seems, except Ms. Wagner. As a coach, I wouldn’t have tolerated his shit, but this is a program built to be a football factory for bigger schools, so no players were ever kicked off the team. In fact, a literal babysitting service was provided for players who sleep through team/position meetings. A coach actually drove a golf cart to wake them up and drive them to the practice facility/meeting rooms.
The highlight of season 2 (football wise) was learning the worst team in the league, a team made up of walk-ons and whose weight room was a bench outside the building, won their last game of the season. They were a TRUE junior college team with a long losing streak who had no shot against EMCC. It was a merciful 42 or 48-0 loss for them against EMCC, but a new and allegedly improved Coach Stephens used his “Buddy Rule” and didn’t run it up any further.
What you will see in season 2 is a lot of close scores, even if only for a half or a quarter, wherein the head coach forgets his new image and continues to lose it time and again, reverting to cussing and acting like a four-year-old throwing a temper tantrum.
And, yes, he seemed very happy Trump won.
The head coach FINALLY takes a hard stand on a player late for a meeting. Shuts him out. The problem, of course, is what went on all season long—no consistency, so maybe the player tried him one last time (with a terrible excuse—he didn’t have his phone). The player bumped heads with several coaches during the season and was wrong to continually try to have the last word. Not a good idea. Another player put it best: “Sometimes you need to know when to keep your mouth shut.” Of course, the same player was allowed to play in every game he was physically fit to do so (making some dumb mistakes and getting into it with the head coach on the sidelines again and again).
The first round of the playoffs goes as planned in the second half, but the head coach loses it a few times during the first half. It’s difficult to see why anyone would want to play or coach for this asshole.
State Championship Game: The head coach goes from mocking the defensive coordinator on the sidelines to berating him. One has to wonder what in the hell the president of this college and/or athletic director (assuming they have one) do to justify their salary.
It gets better when the head coach argues with a fan, the mother of one of his players who drove to Mississippi from Atlanta to watch her son. He has someone try to quiet her and/or throw her out. She is forced to watch from the back of the end zone. This is where Coach Williams (Defensive Line Coach) handles the player the only way possible and it turns out okay.
EMCC is not voted into the championship game and is forced to play in some kind of state bowl instead. During this game, the head coach humiliates the offensive coordinator and makes the coach in the press box come down to take the OC’s place. It is unbelievable to watch this shit transpire. He continues to berate the OC with cameras rolling and makes a punk comment about how “that sniveling shit may have worked with your ex-wife, but not me.” The OC does EXACTLY what he should by telling his players, “Don’t worry about me. You just focus on the next play.”
Ms. Wagner. Who cannot love this woman? Before the state championship she voices her problems with the head coach (working against each other). She couldn’t do more for the kids, and the head coach just hasn’t changed, or changed enough, for her to continue fighting what too often is a losing battle for the kids. She is ready to take another job for another school, and it will be a tremendous loss to EMCC.
Highlight of this final episode for me is Ms. Wagner taking a picture of the tag on her office and then pulling it down. She’s done with this asshole and is going into business to provide counseling.
The defensive coordinator left to coach high school football. The offensive coordinator is now on EMCC’s administrative staff. I hope it was his own decision. The defensive line coach stayed and would like to be a head coach sometime. I hope he makes it there.
But they lost Ms. Wagner, so the program suffered immeasurably.
Players from previous years attend one of the games. Ollie, the kid whose father killed his mother when he was just five years old, was there. He went on to a smaller D-2 school and is doing very well (it appears).
Ollie’s opinion of the EMCC head coach: “Fuck that boy. I’m gonna give you the honest truth about that boy there.”
I couldn’t agree with Ollie more. Good on you, kid.
Injuries … It is football, and its being played at a very high level, so you know there are injuries. A few concussions and leg/foot injuries where the head coach questioned whether they were being faked (hey, he was a very well rounded asshole). Since the entire purpose of the program has NOTHING to do with the kids’ education, except to get them Div-I eligible (i.e., a 2.5 grade point), and EVERYTHING to do with winning, each player knows the story (they need to get as many reps on camera as possible for scholarships). So, why not let the player determine the injury? If he says he has a concussion and can’t practice, then he can’t play. It’s as simple as that. If he says he hurt his ankle, same thing. No practice, no play in game. Doctors should ALWAYS be consulted, but if a doctor clears a player and he still says he has an injury, if he doesn’t practice and doesn’t play, he’s hurting his own chances. If he’s truly injured (and there’s no reason to think otherwise, no matter how “suspicious” you may be), he shouldn’t play anyway. The head coach at EMCC … well … what can I say?

Just a thought here: When attempts are made to reduce injuries, especially head injuries, that doesn’t “pussify” the game, but it does piss off some who’ve played under less injury-conscious rules and are paying the price for it today (the list is too long to post) and many have died or killed themselves.
Religion … I’m not very big on rah-rah shit, especially off the field, so the Bible study stuff doesn’t belong (for me). I don’t mind it the same way I don’t mind the national anthem being played. I wish neither was done, but if the players are comfortable enough to attend, so be it. And to be fair, the show never asked whether it was a requirement or not. My guess, especially since it was the Offensive Coordinator, Coach Wood’s program, is that it wasn’t a requirement. That man seems too reasonable for it to be required.
Politics … Oy vey, Trump wins and the players express their feelings against him (“Make American White Again”) and Hillary … they were smart enough not to like either. Who says they’re dumb?
Okay, so now you’ve read my opinion, let’s see some of yours. I am truly interested in how this series is perceived by any and all, to include former coaches, players, fans, parents of players, etc. I think it revealed a horror story of football in American football factories today. My experience in a small school in North Dakota was nothing like it, and we sent two players to the NFL. We had our issues as well, but even reflecting back on it (42 years now), it was nothing like what this series presented.  If that’s what football is today, I’m glad I’m a hockey fan.
And to be fair, the Netflix show has received way more positive messaging than negative, but that has more to do with the popularity of it than anything about football. Not many people fell in love with Buddy Stephens … whereas almost all fell for Ms. Wagner.
Should college football players be paid? How about starting with a minimum wage for the hours they dedicate? And how about medical coverage that extends beyond their playing days? What about their educations? Are they really necessary? Lots of us know that for many programs, the education factor is a joke. Since the NFL gets most of their players from college football, can’t they pay for the salaries/health costs at the college level?
Fire away, amici …