Mike White is great at his job. White did most everything an athletic director dreams of, pulling Oregon softball from mediocrity to national championship contender, all while touching the lives of players and being the charismatic face of a program. White’s accomplishments during nine years at the helm are well-documented. Three simple measures can be used to evaluate Mike White’s success: defeat Oregon State, bring home Pac-12 championships, and make noise on the national level. Mike White’s Ducks made light work of the Beavers, with a 23-4 record over his nine years. Oregon also brought home five Pac-12 titles in the last six years, an undisputed dynasty on the west coast. Oregon reached the Super Regionals — the softball equivalent of the Sweet Sixteen — in nine consecutive years, and pushed it to the College World Series five times.
The dominance of Oregon softball implied that they were destined for an eventual national championship. Last year, the Ducks entered the playoffs as the #1 overall seed. They faltered in Super Regionals before rallying two wins and pushing onward to the CWS. But after a first round rout, Oregon sputtered to an anti-climactic end of their historic season.
With Oregon poised to enter the next season as a national title contender, the #1 regular season team in the nation was abandoned by its head coach. Duck fans were left with a reopened wound. The sudden departure hearkens back to our football coach running away to Florida State. After the initial shock, players and fans alike were quick to praise White for his phenomenal work and wished him luck at Texas. We can only speculate about how sustained success coupled with postseason disappointment made the prospect of a full reset intriguing. White only offers financial security as his incentive. He will not disclose the terms of the contract, however clarified that Oregon had ample opportunity to match the Texas sized salary offered to him. His Oregon salary was reported at $230,000, with incentives bumping the income up above $300,000. It is reported the Texas salary that bought him was $450,000. When it comes to pro athletes, chasing the millions comes with an added sentiment of “how much more do you really need?” For White, there’s no sense of betrayal or arrogance, he is great at his job and earned himself a promotion.
Looking at the bigger picture, the NCAA remains steadfast in its bizarre policy of not paying players. There are various arguments made on the subject of paying college athletes, but it seems sensible that players earn at least a fraction of coaches’ salaries. Let us assume the Oregon softball coaching staff had a collective payroll of $300,000. Diverting 5% of those funds to the actual revenue creators, would leave every player with about $750. Perhaps that number is too small to justify breaking the purity of college amateurism, however the principle of a coach leaving for “financial security” while the actual players sacrifice to churn the revenue for everyone else involved, remains a sad byproduct of this scenario.
So what are the takeaways? Texas landed an excellent new softball coach and hopes to compete with Oklahoma for Big 12 titles in a few years. Oregon has already announced Melyssa Lombardi as the new head of the softball program. Lombardi was one of the nation’s finest coaches during a 21 year tenure as an assistant at Oklahoma. Oregon loses multiple high profile seniors this year, however with a roster chock full of talent the expectation is that they will valiantly defend the Pac-12 crown next spring and, more importantly, keep thrashing the Beavers as well.