Horn's departure underscores sports' market-driven nature

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By John Herndon

As I write this, Darrin Horn is officially still red. Western Kentucky red.

By the time you read it, he will still be red, but it will be South Carolina red.

Monday, it was reported that the University of South Carolina had called a meeting of the Board of Trustees, scheduled for Tuesday, concerning the men's basketball coaching situation at the school. Later, reports out of Bowling Green were that Horn had left his alma mater for the Southeastern Conference.

In a lot of ways, that's a shame.

Not for Horn, per se, since he will exponentially increase the $150 grand he reportedly makes at Western. We're talking in the neighborhood of 7-figures going into Horn's pocketbook, and it would take a whole bunch of good fringe benefits for someone to not at least look into that kind of situation.

South Carolina will be getting someone who plays an entertaining style, graduates his kids and makes sure their headlines are on the sports page instead of the police report.

At least that's what he did in Bowling Green.

It's consistent with that first class nature that we first saw when he led Tates Creek to the state high school championship game. He was that player that could score or pass out of a simple guard-around-the-high-post play. But the basketball world saw even more of Horn when, even after the Commodores lost to Fairdale back in 1991, he led the team to one end of the Rupp Arena floor to give the Tates Creek fans a round of applause from the team.

To have three of the top young coaching names in America being Kentucky products - Travis Ford, John Pelphrey and Darrin Horn all graduated from high school within four years of each other - certainly is something for which our state can boast.

But what Horn and his in-state contemporaries all show is that the college game has changed dramatically. A one-time national power with a tradition second to none, Western caught many people off guard with its NCAA run this year.

That seems strange, given that Western is one of the top 10 in all-time winning percentage.

What isn't strange is that Horn is leaving.

It is a scenario repeated time and time again in major college athletics: Young coach wins big. Young coach takes "mid-major" relatively deep into the tournament. Young coach has a new employer within two weeks after the run is over.

It happened at Eastern Kentucky with Travis Ford now at UMass. It happened at Murray State with Mark Gottfried, now at Alabama.

Of course, the difference that Hilltopper fans were hanging on to was the fact that Horn graduated from Western Kentucky University.

But more than anything, the circumstances leading up to Horn's move emphasize what a problematic beast major college athletics have become.

Really now, should any college coach be paid more than the president of a university? Unfortunately, it is what the marketplace has created.

Let's face it. The Average Joe could not name five university presidents - I am probably being kind in that assessment - but could rattle off nearly every basketball or football coach in the "power conferences."

Horn took advantage, like most people would.

And to be fair, Horn was reportedly on an undeserved hot-seat before the season started even though he had averaged better than 22 wins a season with players shunned by the big boys. Western could have acted accordingly by coming out in support of its outstanding coach and even offering some sort of enhancements to his contract.

Publicly, at least, the school did neither, and it is reaping what it did not sow.

But still, the system has created a climate where it is unlikely to see long-tenured coaches such as Western's E.A. Diddle or Eastern's Paul McBrayer. It is a system where the Kentuckys and Louisvilles of the world are glad to pay schools like Western or Eastern to visit and get beat, but don't ask them to make a return trip to Bowling Green or Richmond.

It's a system where the formula used to set the field of the NCAA tournament will reward an 18-13 Kentucky team but a Dayton gets left out, just as Western Kentucky had been in years past.

Isn't there something wrong with such a picture?

As I watched the Kansas-Davidson game Saturday, like many, I was pulling whole-heartedly for the the underdog Wildcats, like Western, a one-time national power. It is a program that graduates over 90 percent of its players and has a coach, Bob McKillop, that has reportedly turned down many offers to move on to bigger - but not necessarily better, in his mind - jobs.

It's a scenario that has become increasingly rare these days. The marketplace says so.

And that's a shame.