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UConn basketball coach Dan Hurley was the subject of intense wooing by the Los Angeles Lakers over the weekend. Before Hurley decided his own fate, his impending departure was seen in certain circles as a scathing indictment of what college sports has become as an institution.

Geno Auriemma, who coached the other half of the UConn basketball program, had already decided what it would be about after Hurley left. “The state of college basketball is a mess,” Auriemma said, and the NCAA no longer even pretends to care about the welfare of student-athletes. “It doesn’t matter anymore, and I never want to hear anyone say those words in the context of college basketball again,” Auriemma told radio host Dan Patrick. “They’re professional athletes, they’re just not called that, so you might as well coach professional athletes where it’s serious.”

Charles Barkley said he understood why Hurley would leave: because college sports had become too chaotic. “I would call it the Wild, Wild West, but that would be disrespectful to the Wild, Wild West,” Barkley said. “I have no idea; how have we ruined college sports? And I understand why Dan says, ‘I might as well go to the NBA and make a lot of money. I wouldn’t have the hassle of NIL and the transfer portal,’ because I have no idea where college sports are going. But they’re going in a bad direction.”

Unfortunately, Hurley is still UConn’s coach. He’ll get a nice raise for this very public flirtation, which may have been the only reason it was public in the first place. But it remains true that he turned down a deal that would have made him LeBron James’ coach and paid him $70 million over six years, more than any college basketball coach could make right now. If Hurley’s departure from UConn had been such a decidedly negative commentary on the state of college sports, then Hurley’s staying have to say the opposite. Those are the rules. It turns out that being a college basketball or football coach is still a good job. Who would have thought?

Auriemma and Barkley were just two famous people making a version of an extremely popular argument that college sports have lost their way. The argument fits into a long tradition. Players changing schools every season and payments to athletes are the latest things to raise concerns about the demise of college sports. A non-exhaustive list of other things supposedly destroying the enterprise includes integration, gambling, Title IX, “overemphasis” on sports at the expense of class, the military draft, and too many intraconference games. No ecosystem loves a manufactured existential crisis like college sports, and the current moment lends itself to it. First, athletes were given the right to freely transfer schools. Then they were allowed to accept endorsement money from third parties, and then they were basically paid to play for their school, through collectives of team supporters. Soon, schools themselves will be paying players. One might describe this in a nefarious-sounding way, like Barkley, who called it the “Wild, Wild West.” Another favorite is the term “pay for play” for payments for services.

This time of upheaval – and it Is a time of upheaval—fits well with Hurley’s thinking about taking the Lakers job. An ESPN producer put Hurley in line with Jim Harbaugh, the football coach at Michigan State University and later the Los Angeles Chargers, saying that the defending champions’ two coaches “leaving for the pros within months of each other is a sad commentary on the state of college sports.” If even the most successful coaches of the two biggest college sports want new jobs, what could those sports offer in their current “state”? But that question is shortsighted, as it ignores much about Harbaugh and Hurley’s situations. Harbaugh was a successful NFL coach before becoming Michigan’s coach and had longed for another Super Bowl chance for several years (at least). Plus, he was potentially facing serious NCAA penalties tied to Michigan’s stealing of game tokens. Hurley had an offer to coach not some perpetually third-rate organization like the Charlotte Hornets, but the holy damn Los Angeles Lakers, who have LeBron James on their roster. (As we know, no coach ever had the chance to coach LeBron James in college.) Hurley taking that opportunity would say less about the “state” of college sports than about college sports’ permanent state of “not having LeBron James.”

Not that everything is great for college coaches right now. The job has undeniably gotten tougher. Players used to be recruited once, right out of high school. Now they have to be re-recruited every year, sometimes multiple times a year. Now they have financial requirements that another school might meet if the current one doesn’t. A grueling job just got even grueling. A well-known SEC head coach turned assistant left the sport a few years ago (but has since returned). The best college football coach of all time also retired this January. Several other high-profile head coaches have taken demotions to take professional jobs where they don’t have as many problems. (Though it’s often the case that those coaches would have been fired in the next year or two anyway.) A little order would do everyone involved good.

But the difficulty of the job is only one side of the deal. Coaches in the top conferences in football and men’s basketball still get incredible conditions. Most of them are not good enough for the pros, who have a higher level as coaches and as players. And yet many are paid like coaches in professional leagues, or even better, for two reasons specific to college sports. First, schools don’t pay the labor, and the money has to go somewhere, so it’s gradually trickled down to the guys with the clipboards, and those are almost exclusively guys. (Schools will pay players money soon, but it will be a long time before college athletes get the same revenue share as pros.) Second, coaches get paid a premium specifically for handling all the drama that comes with college sports. A coach who isn’t as good at coaching offensive linemen as his NFL counterparts can make close to a million dollars on a college campus, significantly more than the guy doing the same job in the NFL. That’s because he also has to recruit players.

Hurley isn’t a replaceable assistant, of course. He’s a living legend, the best college coach currently, having won two national titles in a row. Plus, he’s now a god at UConn, more or less unfireable for at least a decade, and on track to become the highest-paid college basketball coach, according to the governor of Connecticut. That will likely be less than Hurley would have made with the Lakers, but he’ll still be able to build generational wealth and run UConn the way he wants.

And in college sports, that latitude is well deserved. Hurley is a true wizard of modern college coaching, the guy who seems to have cracked the code better than anyone else. He plays the transfer game, but doesn’t rely on it so much that it hinders the development of his existing talent. He’s an expert in a wide variety of disciplines. And his job isn’t even particularly easy: UConn is the most successful program of the century, but on the men’s side, it’s not the kind of prestige brand that can automatically attract outstanding recruiting classes.

Hurley has to work hard for all of this, all while getting rich and looking like a guy who still enjoys life to some extent. He went to a Billy Joel concert with his wife when the Lakers were just being shut down. He yells at the referees during games, but he prays and meditates and writes in his journal and works out in the mornings after UConn’s rare losses. Hurley doesn’t moan about how hard his job has become. Instead, he sees the transfer portal and player payments as ways to gain an advantage over his competitors. The college coaches who can’t half imitate Hurley don’t have to worry about getting a call from the Lakers.

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