There’s Nobody Good Enough for Oregon?

Peter Courtney

The Oregonian’s John Canzano received an unexpected call recently.

It was from an upset college football fan — nothing unusual there. I can only imagine the number of irate messages John must receive on a daily basis. What made this one a little out of the ordinary was that the caller was none other than Oregon State Senate President, Peter Courtney.

“Are we to believe that there’s not one high school senior who plays football in this state good enough for Oregon?” Courtney asked Canzano, alarmed that not a single in-state player ended up in the Ducks’ fold come National Signing Day earlier this month.

The white-haired, 71-year-old Courtney, it should be noted, is not a native Oregonian. Born in Philadelphia, he grew up in New Jersey, West Virginia, Rhode Island, and Virginia. After graduating from Boston University’s law school he moved to Oregon in 1969, to become the clerk of William S. Fort of the Oregon Court of Appeals.

Courtney launched his political career in 1974, as a member of Salem City Council. He’s held numerous seats in both the Oregon House and Senate — today he’s the most tenured member of the Oregon legislature.

He loves animals. He’s a Democrat.

And, oh yes, he played high school football.

Lineman Alex Balducci, one of twenty two players on the University of Oregon football roster from Oregon

Lineman Alex Balducci, one of twenty-two players on the University of Oregon football roster from Oregon

I relate all this because context is important. Courtney’s concern obviously doesn’t flow from a family tree that dates back to Champoeg and Oregon’s first provisional government, in 1843. He wasn’t even around to sit with me and my buddies in the cheap seats (that’d be wooden bleachers) at Hayward Field watching Bob Berry toss the pigskin in the early ’60s. Like many present-day Oregonians (many of them Ducks fans), Courtney is from Away.

No, the Senate president’s concern seems to stem from a concern about money and, dare I say it, politics.

On the money side of the equation, Courtney notes the University of Oregon is a taxpayer-supported institution. Out of the university’s $75 million athletics budget, $1.8 million comes from the state supported general fund for athletes’ academic support. That, he seems to feel, should obligate the U of O to ensure plenty of kids from Coos Bay and Clackamas and Creswell receive football scholarships every year. Not sure if he extends that thought to tennis, lacrosse, and field hockey, too.

Of course this rather misses the point. Anyone, including politicians, who feels college athletics, especially football and basketball, have ballooned out of control and need to be reined in has a perfect right to make that case. But until the system itself is changed, university sports teams’ primary objective is to win. To make that happen requires the best possible infrastructure, coaches, and … wait for it … athletes.

So are the overburdened taxpayers of Oregon being hard done by here?

Last time I looked, the more the Oregon football program has won, the more money it has generated for the university.

Marcus Mariota, from Honolulu Hiawaii, bringing the Heisman and national recognition back to Eugene

Marcus Mariota, from Honolulu Hiawaii, bringing the Heisman and national recognition back to Eugene

According to an article in Forbes by Alicia Jessop (“The Economics of College Football: A Look At The Top-25 Teams’ Revenues and Expenses”), federal Department of Education data from 2011-2012 indicated total football-related expenses in Eugene came in at $20,240,213, while revenues topped out at $51,921,731. For comparison’s sake, Alabama’s numbers were $36,918,963/$81,993,762, Ohio State’s were $34,026,871/$58,112,270, and Pac-12 North rival Stanford’s pegged out at $18,738,731/$25,564,646.

So much for the ol’ “the taxpayers are being ripped off” argument.

Oh, and by the way — state support has slipped to a paltry seven percent of the University of Oregon’s overall budget.

Which brings us to politics.

Seems to me Courtney’s playing a palpably populist political card, conjuring the twin images of tax dollars slipping away to support undeserving kids from exotic places like Texas and Hawaii to come to Eugene to play football, while leaving poor-but-deserving youngsters from both sides of the Cascades standing outside Autzen Stadium holding tin plates while muttering, “May I have a little more, Sir?”

Facts often get in the way of fiction (or in this case, politics). The fact is the state of Oregon has never been a hotbed of high school football talent. While the trend is up, make no mistake, Oregon’s relatively modest population size alone ensures it will never produce the number of outstanding young high school football talents that come galloping out of Ohio, Alabama, and Florida every year.

Senator Peter Courtney talking about issues going on in the state of Oregon

Senator Peter Courtney talking about issues going on in the state of Oregon

Speaking of those three states, Courtney noted in his conversation with Canzano that Ohio State, the Ducks’ opponent in the inaugural National Football Championship game, signed 12 in-state players to their roster this year, compared with the University of Oregon’s zero.

He failed to mention that Ohio produced 148 high school kids who signed Letters of Intent with FBS schools on Signing Day. The Crimson Tide took in seven in-state players out of the 104 young Alabamans who signed LOIs. And what about Florida? Florida State, the team the Ducks crushed in the Rose Bowl, signed 12 student athletes out of the staggering 380 kids from the Sunshine State who signed LOIs.

By contrast, depending on the source, the state of Oregon produced just seven players who signed with FBS programs this year. (Rivals says it’s only five, go figure). Only one of them, Cameron Scarlett, had a Ducks offer.

And Scarlett spurned his in-state school, instead opting to become a Stanford Cardinal.

The general point here is that every football program in the land needs those three components to succeed. When it comes to Oregon, infrastructure? Check. Coaches? Check. (See Mark Helfrich’s new five-year contract extension.)  Players? Clearly, to be successful, an FBS program in a state that produces only a handful of kids capable of excelling at the top tier of college football has to recruit out of state to survive, let alone prosper. I mean, duh-uh.

Having said that, the in-state talent pool varies from year to year. This year the pond was relatively shallow. Next year might well be deeper.

The Ducks have already offerred Summit High (Bend) junior Cam McCormick, a 6’5″, 225 lb tight end/defensive end who’s run an 11.3 100 meters.

The University of Oregon and Ohio State meet for the National Championship Game in Arlington Texas

The University of Oregon and Ohio State meet for the National Championship Game in Arlington, Texas.

They’ve also offered Central Catholic’s LaMar Winston, Jr. a 6’3″ athlete, and safety Brady Breeze (a 6’1″ four-star player who’s already committed to the Ducks), as well as Tigard’s Conner Crist, a 6’3″, 305 lb lineman.

Coach Helfrich (who as Courtney pointed out in his chat with Canzano was born in Coos Bay, not Philly) and his staff are clearly trying to court in-state talent. But it’s still a relatively free country. Young lawyers are able to pull up stakes, move across the continent and start a job 2,500 miles from home with impunity, even though in Courtney’s case it might be argued he scooped a position with Judge Fort back in ’69 from some deserving but out-of-luck graduate of Salem’s Willamette University or … the University of Oregon … who’s education was invested in by the state’s taxpayers.

Just as there’s no guarantee that young men like McCormick, Winston, and Crist will ultimately choose the Ducks. They might end up at Penn State.

Heck, some of them may even head for Corvallis.

You can legislate a lot of things, but common sense and taste are not among them.

Top photo credit: From Video

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Randy Morse

Randy Morse

Randy Morse (Editor and Writer) is a native Oregonian, a South Eugene High and U of O grad (where he played soccer for the Ducks, waaay back in ’70-‘71). After his doctoral work at the University of Alberta he launched a writing & publishing career – that plus his love of mountaineering has taken him all over the world. An award-winning artist, musician, broadcaster, and author, he’s written 8 books – his writing on media & democracy earned him the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting’s 2014 Dalton Camp Award. He swears he taught LaMarcus Aldridge his patented fade-way jump shot, and is adamant that if he hadn’t left the country (and was a foot taller) he would be the owner of a prosperous chain of fast food outlets and a member of the NBA Hall of Fame by now. If there is a more rabid Ducks fan in the known universe, this would come as a major surprise to Morse’s long-suffering family. He resides in the tiny alpine village of Kaslo, British Columbia.

  • Michael Oaks

    I’ve been a fan of the ducks, and beavers both since Van Brocklin days, and also the Beavers when Tommy Prothro was coach on through the great pumpkin Dee Andros!. It’s a numbers game folks! When we a have population base to feed our universities like the sunshine state of California, where the weather is great all year and kids can train all year at the sport of their chosing, then we can find more players from in state. It’s imperative that we do not waste scholarships on players that really haven’t got a prayer of being able to compete with the big dogs! It is much better lately on the in-state recruiting game, but it hasn’t always been that way. Sure you have the past greats like George Shaw, Mel Renfro, and a few others over the years but honestly there was never a great supporting cast to go along with the great ones. Once in a blue moon the Ducks would get to a bowl with a 6 and 4 record or something near those numbers. No folks! If we had to rely strictly on in-state recruiting, We would sink back to the days of empty seats, and fans that swore every year that they would not be renewing their season tickets. Let Helfrich and his staff recruit where the spirit moves them and chuckle! chuckle! They haven’t been doing too bad have they! I love my ducks. Let’s keep the Whiners! on the outside and the Winners on the inside! Go Ducks!

  • worldwidewebfoot

    If it isn’t broken don’t fix it. We have seen remarkable success in the UO Football program in recent years. Whatever they are doing there we should not lightly tamper with. If good players come from places like Hawaii (Mariota, et al), California (Van Brocklin), or even Texas (Thomas) then fine. If Oregon high school players of that caliber (example, Tyner) come along then by all means offer them.
    Where are the examples of good Oregon football players that were unfairly denied scholarships, at least at some University? The example given was an Oregon student that elected to go to Stanford rather than UO. Fine. I see no injustice there.
    What I am leery of is a possible movement to a sort of Affirmative Action program for Oregon High School players whereby UO would be expected to offer up to some quota number.

  • cfluegge

    I’m a busy man, so I only skim articles. So don’t bury the lead. Not that you did. But seriously: don’t question the coaching staff’s zeal for taking an in-state recruit worthy of an offer. As a Duck fan and Oregon grad, I hope we never offer a kid a coveted scholie simply because he hails from the state. That is NOT a recipe for success. Since Brooks, every coach has pointed out the obvious dearth of D-1 talent in a small pop. state like Oregon. I trust our coaches to offer the players who can help us. That said, I think Kelly did a great job of getting Oregon’s best preps. And now we have a coach who actually played football as a prep in the state. If Helfrich thinks an Oregon kid is the best option, don’t you think he’ll offer?

    • willamettevalleyboy

      If you scan toward the end of the piece you’ll see exactly what you’re looking for. Oregon’s offered four in-state prospects so far for the next class. One of them, Central Catholic’s Bradey Breeze, has already made a verbal commitment. These things ebb and flow, of course, but the bottom line is based on simple demographics: if you want a winning college football team and your school is based in a lightly populated state like Oregon, you’d better be ready and able to recruit further afield or forget about it.