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Commentary: What Do We Know?

Every time I turned on any radio station yesterday -- other than this one -- almost all I heard was discussion and speculation as to whether University of Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez had been fired, should be fired or deserved to be fired.

Michigan television stations were just as bad. They seem to have descended on Ann Arbor en masse, leaving me to wonder what real stories they were missing across the rest of our state.

However, I tend to wonder about that every day as it is. Lacking any real information, reporters opted for the famous man-or-woman-on the street interview approach. To their credit, those I saw being interviewed said mostly well-informed and nuanced things.

This may, of course, mean that those who were not experts in the fine points of Rodriguezology may have ducked into bookstores when the reporters showed up.

I wasn’t around for the fun myself, but if I had been, I would have liked to interview the same people after the Rodriguez reporters got done with them. I would have asked questions like these:

You seem to know a great deal about the University of Michigan’s football program. Did you know that the football coach makes about three times as much as President Mary Sue Coleman?

Do you think that’s appropriate?

To me, the answers to those questions might have been more interesting than the endless speculation about who the next coach might be. But if I had felt really masochistic, I would have asked these questions as well: Do you know who your state senator is?

How about your state representative? Did you know the state has an approaching  budget deficit that is about seven hundred times bigger than the football coach‘s salary? Did you know we have to eliminate that deficit by the end of September?

 I’ll bet I would have gotten some blank horrified stares. Then I might have asked, do you think we should raise tuition and fees at all our universities to plug some of that gap?

Do you think we should jack up the income tax instead? Or extend the sales tax to services, paying taxes on changing the brakes on your car, for example.

Don’t like that idea? Okay, how about closing the prisons and letting everybody out. That would just about eliminate the deficit. Sound crazy? Well, yes. But the law says they have to plug that deficit somehow. We could save some money if we really shortchange the public schools.

But how would that enable Michigan to compete for the high-tech jobs of the twenty-first century? These are hard and difficult questions. They aren’t as fun as speculating whether this new coach or that new coach might turn University of Michigan football around.

To me, however, trying to save our state is more interesting, and certainly much more important. I’m not putting down sports, or our need for occasional escape. But we in the media have to do a better job of making the truly significant interesting.

Otherwise, someday, there may not even be enough money left to pay the next football coach.

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