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The Big Picture: It's Big Business

It's time for me to slip into my lecture garb as we put this whole Ramonce Taylor episode into perspective. There's going to be lots of chatter amongst Longhorn fans about his possible return to the team in the fall. On the one hand, it's far too early to speculate about RT's guilt or innocence in this particular incident, but there are rock solid conclusions that can, and should, be drawn immediately.

For Starters Ramonce will not return in the fall. Put yourself in Mack Brown's shoes for a moment here. RT was already walking a thin rope. In December, he made news by his involvement in a 6th Street altercation. Mack probably gave him, and the team, a stern talking to about putting yourself in bad situations, surrounding yourself with the wrong company, and so on. Then, come spring, Ramonce is found to be failing his classes. Mack dismisses Ramonce from the team, with a stern warning that he must get his life in order if he wants to return to the team. That's a conditional folks. If, then.

Well, the next news we get from RT? He's on a pecan farm, involved in a 100 person fight, where somebody has a five pound backpack of dope, and someone else is wielding a firearm. Maybe the dope belongs to RT, maybe it wound up in his car but belonged to someone else. Regardless, that's not meeting the "if" clause of his conditional.

The Real Story The crux of it is that the outcome of this has more to do with things far beyond Ramonce Taylor than with RT himself. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if RT is cleared of felony possession charges. Timing matters, and this is really, really bad timing for RT. Texas is on top of the football world right now. Five months ago, you may recall, USC was sitting comfortably on top of the very same mountain, seemingly invincible. A loss to Texas and four scandals later, and the situation in Troy is perilous. Whatever the outcome of investigations at USC, the reverberations from all the news are national. The college football climate is such that Mack Brown must be terribly anxious to avoid any such embarrassments. Enter: fall guy. Enter: Ramonce Taylor.

Even if RT beats these charges, Mack has only one play here: Make an example of Ramonce Taylor. "This is what happens if you..."

It's not a particularly tough call, either, save the fact that Mack has a personal relationship with Ramonce. The Horns are ridiculously deep at running back and wide receiver, so his services aren't vital to the team's success. The opportunity to teach a lesson to the team is, however unfortunate for RT, ideal. And, frankly, in the world of big business, image counts. Which leads us to the other big story.

Public Relations You'd be hard pressed to find a better SID office than the one at the Forty Acres. Everything goes through that office. You can call it spinning, image management, or anything you like, but that's the reality. Equally important, the Texas athletic department is meticulous about clearing -everything- that could possibly wind up an NCAA violation. Combine the UT SID office with the UT Compliance Office with a "character counts" coach like Mack Brown, and you can pretty much get to work on the proverbial nails in Ramonce Taylor's coffin. Here's a hammer, RT. Sorry.

Frankly, I'm pretty damn glad that UT runs it that way. The spinning aspect of the AD is to be properly understood, and most of us get that. But the compliance part is what's really important. When you get a program with an embarrassment of riches (in every sense) like Texas, or USC, the opportunity for abuse is overly ripe. And that's the mistake that Pete Carroll made. While his loosey goosey cheerleading and player coddling worked well performance-wise, it may prove to have been disastrous culture-wise.

Pete Carroll's philosophy: "Yayyyy!!!!"

(Obligatory Bill Simmons parenthetical: I'm actually going to praise Bill Simmons here. Yes, Simmons is hit or miss, but one of his biggest "hits" is his constant suggestions that premium channels like HBO and Showtime snatch up certain shows that don't quite make it on the regular networks. Crank Yankers, a wildly underrated show, ought to be one of those shows. Just a terrific show, but if you took off the reins and allowed it to reach its full potential on HBO or Showtime, you'd have even more good stuff. Showtime, in particular, since it has no chance of catching HBO on quality TV shows, ought to make these kinds of shows its bag. "Back to the column.")

Anyway, cynics will decry the political aspect of all this, but that's the reality we're facing here, and it's not going to change. College football is big, big business. And with so much at stake, there's simply no other option but hyper-control of every aspect of the business. And the important lesson here for USC, and every elite program, should be obvious. No, you can't avoid recruiting some guys who are going to screw up - sometimes badly. That's an unreasonable standard that very few demand. These are, after all, 18-22 year old males.

It's how you deal with situations as they arise that defines you. Do you foster a culture of accountability, or are you willy nilly about enforcement of rules? Do you brush everything under the rug in irrational hubris, or do you do your best to not only win championships, but develop solid young men? And for heaven's sake, even if that last standard seems unattainable, do you at least work your tail off to -appear- to be taking these things seriously? In USC's case, the answer has been `no.' But at Texas, they run a much tighter business.

We're not going to wear orange-tinted glasses and say that everything's perfect at Texas. But we sure as hell do a good job of doing our best to appear like they are. And in big business, that's good business. One more feather in Mack Brown's cap.