College Football and Covenants

Thomas Hobbes addresses the idea of covenants in his book called “Leviathan.” Covenants are promises or oaths that are made between two parties for the benefit of all. They arise when two or more people, groups, or nations have a common goal and can attain that goal by working together, e.g. world peace, fighting a war, getting a good grade on a group project.

Covenants have also had a major impact on collegiate athletics. The whole concept of a scholarship is a covenant. When Michigan agrees to give a scholarship to a football player the University is promising four years of education for free (+ some other perks that just come with playing for the Wolverines). When a player accepts that scholarship, or covenant, he is agreeing to play football for the University of Michigan, and is refusing to play for anyone else.

Contracts with coaches are also covenants. Coaches are promising to perform at a high level and the University is promising to pay the coaches millions of dollars. 


Signing Day

What happens when we break those covenants? Are we actually acting like the fool?

I’d like to think that the answer is yes. Thomas Hobbes is far smarter than I am, and if he thinks that when football teams oversign or fire their head coaches that they are breaking their covenants then I am going to take his word for it.

But at the same time, look at the most successful teams in the country right now. Let’s choose Mississippi State (the number one team in the country) and Alabama (the team with the most national championships in the last 5 years).

Mississippi State has been pretty good for four or five years now. Unfortunately for them, a lot of SEC teams are good so they haven’t been in the spotlight until this year. A lot of the success can be attributed to Dan Mullen, the head coach. But, what about the coach before Dan Mullen?

SylvesterCroom was the head coach of the Bulldogs from 2004-2008. Sylvester Croom was the first Black head coach in the SEC and at Mississippi State. He was a fairly good coach, nothing spectacular. He won the Coach of the Year, and Coach of the SEC in 2007, but after a poor 2008 campaign he was forced to resign. Didn’t Mississippi State break their contract and promise to Sylvester Croom when they forced him out the door? Does that make them foolish. 

Today’s Alabama Crimson Tide have been the equivalent of the early 1900’s Wolverines. They have won 3 of the last 5 BCS championships and they have been at the top of the Top 25 Standings at the end of all of the past 5 years. How have they been able to do this?


Slimy Nick Saban with a goofy smile

Well first off, Nick Saban is a fantastic coach. I could write for pages about how great Saban is, but that’s not the point of this blog. Saban also does some slimy things, however. He oversigns. Most SEC and college football coache do it. Oversigning is the process of promising scholarships to too many player and when the high school players commit you realize that you can’t take all of them so you have to let some players go.

Right now there isn’t a very strict rule against oversigning, it’s just frowned upon. But, it is clearly a good way towin. Mostly because you take talent away from competing schools and also you get to pick the players you take. It’s cruel but effective and lots of schools do it. Is oversigning foolish?

Well I would argue that oversigning and firing coaches after only a coupe seasons could be unethical as well is unethical, I do not think it is foolish. Thomas Hobbes said that the fool would ultimately lose in the grand scheme of things, but these “fools” are doing quite well for themselves.

Jim_Harbaugh_at_2010_Stanford_football_open_house_2Breaking covenants is just part of the game nowadays, and there isn’t anything we can really do about it. Now all we have to do is hope that Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers organization break some covenants of their own so that he can come help turn Michigan’s football team around.


P.S. Urban Meyer oversigns


One comment

  1. shenwick · November 4, 2014

    I find your post very interesting and love how you compared Hobbes and college coaches breaking their “covenants” with players. However, I believe that Hobbes would disagree with you regarding these coaches breaking their covenants with players after they have accepted their offer because he states that the covenant is only valid if both parties have “a fear of some coercive power”. In this example, College programs almost all of the power in their hands and the power to do as they please. They also don’t have a fear of some power over them. On the other hand, players do have that fear of the college because the colleges are the ones with all of the resources and power. Therefore, I believe that Hobbes would say that this covenant would be void.


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