In a profile published this weekend about Geddy Lee, SCTV alum Rick Moranis had a good line about living in America’s cultural shadow:
“Growing up in Toronto, you were just sort of made to feel like a dollar’s worth 74 cents.”
That’s it exactly. We do, like and ignore all the same things as America, but less so in every instance. Canada doesn’t have its own culture. It has a culture in reaction to America’s.
Every once in a while this Spike-and-Chester relationship – we follow them around, they fail to notice – stumbles across a point of non-intersection. In some of those instances, Canada comes out looking better, mainly by avoiding a problem America walked into face first. College and college sports is one of them.
If you have ever met a successful American, you cannot fail to have noticed that she managed to slip in her alma mater into the first 10 minutes of conversation. It’s there on her Twitter or Instagram bio. She has a four-season wardrobe of logo’d shirts and cannot be reached on Saturday afternoons.
A few years ago, my old school sent me a letter offering to mail a copy of my diploma, which I’d never bothered to collect.
There are two types of people in the world – those who feel they must advertise their scholastic achievements by hanging their diplomas, and the ones I care to know. I told my old school to save the tree.
I could not name the postsecondary school one single colleague went to, and don’t care. For all I know, they’re all grade-school dropouts. Were that the case, I would only respect them more.
Any muppet, no matter how doltish, can get an arts degree at a Canadian university. I am the proof.
But in America, university isn’t a place you drink for four years. It’s a personality. You aren’t just an accountant. You’re an accountant who went to Carnegie Mellon.
It is in this light that Canadians might consider the case of Jim Harbaugh and the University of Michigan.
Along with college, one of the many ways in which America makes no sense is the adulation, verging on veneration, it bestows on college sports coaches.
The guys who got Apollo to the moon? Borrrring.
The guy at Alabama who perfected the wishbone? Let us learn from you, wise master.
Harbaugh is a real example of the type. Cary Grant jaw; baseball cap welded to his head; eyeing you like an alligator who’s just broken the waterline.
This is a man who left a successful career in professional football (with the San Francisco 49ers) to make even more money in amateur football. Why? I don’t know. Better baseball caps maybe.
The 10 highest-paid public employees in the United States are college coaches. Harbaugh, the head coach of Michigan, is down near the bottom of that list – US$7-million a year in salary. They say he’s about to get a significant raise. To oversee teenagers doing jumping jacks at a non-profit institution.
For Americans, this is normal. For Canadians, we’re already in cloud-cuckoo land.
If it came out that someone at a Canadian university were making anywhere near that much money, the first thing we’d all do is whip out our phones to figure out where the university in question is. Lakehead is in Thunder Bay? Really? I never knew that. Wild.
The second thing would be to go absolutely frothing mad. Nothing gets a Canadian more worked up that a civil servant making an upper-middle-class wage. We read the Sunshine List the way East Germans read their Stasi files.
You pay a guy a hundred grand and give him a company car, then he’s a company man. You give him $7-million and make him a rock star, then he’s a wild-eyed mercenary. He’ll do anything to maintain his status.
What did Harbaugh and Michigan do? The same thing everyone else does – get right up to the cheating line and dance along it.
For weeks, the American sports complex has been roiled by suggestions that Michigan had a designated sign stealer. This wasn’t le Carré-level stuff. Apparently, the guy would buy tickets under his own name to opponents’ games, use his phone to film signs come in from the sideline, watch the plays that resulted and then Rosetta Stone the two things together.
Is this cheating? Put it this way – if a hundred thousand other attendees could conceivably be doing the same thing, whatever it is, it’s not very ambitious. At best, it’s a crime against sportsmanship.
Were I coaching a high-school team on a gym teacher’s wage, I would not do this in any case. Not because it’s wrong, but because it involves unpaid overtime.
You give me $7-million a year and I will learn how to fly a helicopter and spend my evenings hovering over the Central Tech practice field doing aerial reconnaissance. I will build a network of 14-year-old spies and blanket the Central Tech campus with roster disinformation.
Michigan’s defence? That everyone does this, including other schools to it. The implication being that if you aren’t thinking about cheating, then you just aren’t concentrating.
Of course a college football program cheats (or whatever you’d prefer to call it). America turned college sports from a scholastic pursuit into a Fortune 500 company. You want to solve cheating in amateur sports? Come to Canada. No one up here cares enough to bother.
In keeping the delusional thinking that makes this ‘scandal’ possible, officials decided to come down on Harbaugh while an investigation is continuing. He’s been banned from the sideline during Michigan games for the remainder of the regular season.
Everyone’s still getting paid. The team is still operating as usual. Harbaugh can still coach the other 165 hours in a week, but just not where you can see him. We’re all going to pretend cellular technology doesn’t exist.
See? Fixed it.
Michigan won on Saturday. According to the players, Harbaugh was in the locker room pregame delivering a speech.
“He had a great message for us last night – ‘Whatever happens, go out there and do you guys,’ ” said Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy.
Wonderful sentiment. Harbaugh has certainly done him, college football executives have done them and America will always do it.
Very little of it may make any sense to us, but it is nice to be reminded that we don’t mimic America in every single instance. On some stuff, we aren’t ambitious enough to bother.