At first glance, it seems pretty easy to identify the good guys and the bad guys in the drama that has unfolded at Pierce College this week.
The bad guy must be David Wolf, Pierce College president, who announced the termination of the school's football and basketball programs.
The good guys must be the football and basketball coaches and players, who have looked on helplessly as their future was snatched right out from under their collective noses.
But the closer you look, the more the vision blurs. Good and bad, black and white dissolve into shades of gray.
When Bob Burt, football coach at Cal State Northridge, learned of the demise of the Pierce football program, he called it "a sad commentary on the priorities of our schools. The educational plans of students cannot be fulfilled when there is not a complete athletic program. As a parent, as a citizen, you hate to see a program end, whether it's science or football. I question the thought behind it. I'm not sure there was a lot of thought behind it."
Oh, but there was. When you take a look at the numbers, they reinforce Wolf's decision and destroy several fallacies.
Fallacy No. 1: The student-athletes are suffering.
Because of faculty layoffs by the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees and increased demands on a Pierce budget that will not grow next year, Wolf was forced to kill football and basketball in order to save track, cross country, volleyball, tennis, golf, swimming, water polo, wrestling and perhaps baseball. Those nine sports involve 160 student-athletes. The loss of football and basketball affected about 115.
A college administrator's duty is to involve as many of his students as possible in sports. And while it's tempting to gaze in sympathy at football and basketball players throwing up their hands in frustration, there would have been runners, swimmers and golfers doing the same thing had Wolf not acted. Student-athletes are suffering all right, but the number would have been greater had Wolf followed a different course.
Fallacy No. 2: The coaches are suffering.
Coaches, who formerly taught a full load of classes and coached their respective teams for additional income, must now forfeit that income and log their coaching time as a class. That means giving up one of their other classes. So the nine surviving sports at Pierce will result in nine other classes now in need of instructors. To fill those spots will require three full-time faculty members. That's three fewer layoffs.
Again, Wolf went with the numbers.
Fallacy No. 3: The two sports that were killed are the two biggest moneymakers.
Football brings in more money than any other sport at Pierce. No argument there. But it involves approximately 100 athletes and, by the time you subtract the cost of equipment and various other needs of those 100, football is not as profitable as several other Pierce sports that were retained.
Every sport at Pierce makes profit for the district from state funds based on participation levels, but basketball, because of its overhead, is the least profitable sport at Pierce.
Even if Wolf could have somehow juggled the numbers to justify a continuation of football, he would still have been faced with a huge question. Who would have coached the team?
Jim Fenwick, last year's coach, is already gone, having jumped the sinking ship to become one of Burt's assistants at Northridge. With the coming layoffs, there was no way to go out and hire a new coach. The only alternative would have been finding somebody already on staff. And there was nobody qualified.
So, do you just throw somebody in there, send 100 kids out in uniform without experienced leadership and have them go through what would figure to be a negative experience just to say you have a team? Should it be football at any cost?
Of course not. It's a shame there will be no football or basketball at Pierce College. But don't blame the guy who pulled the plug. If he hadn't, even more people would have been burned.