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College Pigskin 101 | Alameda’s first husband talks football.

As the husband of Alameda Mayor Marie Gilmore, attorney Rod Gilmore leads a somewhat anonymous life inside the Island’s city limits. That’s because most Alamedans want to talk to his wife about fixing the pothole in front of their house and other mundane matters. Gilmore also just happens to be an ESPN college football analyst. As his high-energy appearances on the network demonstrate, Gilmore has a lot to say about the college game. And he should. As a former standout defensive back at Stanford in the early ’80s, his gridiron pedigree is impressive. It even includes playing in the greatest Big Game of them all: the epic 1982 clash that saw Cal beat Stanford on a kickoff return in the final seconds.

Paul Kilduff: As somebody who participated in the biggest Big Game of all time, what do you think of this idea that was floated that the Big Game be played at the 49ers new home in Santa Clara, Levi’s Stadium?

Rod Gilmore: Well, with my Stanford hat on, I love the idea. Now, all my Cal friends are hopping mad, and I completely get it. But I think what’s underlying all this is Cal’s got a budgeting issue and any way they can pick up some extra cash to help them try and balance their budget is what they’re looking at. And from what I understand, the 49ers were offering some cash to make it happen. If I get a vote, I’m voting for that game to be played in Santa Clara.

PK: Should everybody, but especially college football players, just swear off Twitter forever?

RG: As a parent I think that’s a great idea, but there’s some things you can’t control, and you just hope that kids learn from their mistakes and grow up. One thing that’s not getting a lot of attention that coaches are really worried about is the use of synthetic marijuana.

PK: What the hell is that?

RG: Processed, created marijuana. And it used to be legal in some states. And since it was legal, not just players but college students used it on a regular basis. I’ve had a number of coaches tell me privately that the reason that synthetic marijuana is so much more popular than alcohol is because players don’t have to worry about the calories. They’re not going to drink six beers, but they will smoke.

PK: So, they’re forgetting the plays?

RG: No. Most coaches would tell you they don’t worry about players forgetting plays. They worry about them getting in trouble early in the week and after the game.

PK: How much coddling is there of these guys? I mean [accused murderer] Aaron Hernandez was just a monster, but unchecked, because he’s such a great player. How much of that’s going on in college football?

RG: I’m probably too biased about the Aaron Hernandez thing to be objective, because I’m friends with [Hernandez’ college coach] Urban Meyer. And I know what his family put into him and that there were some constraints. “Well, the guy isn’t charged with something. What do you do?” If you think a guy has had a tough background and needs a family structure around him, and you give him that and he appears to be following it—you know, Aaron Hernandez was showing up at Urban’s house and having dinner with him and reading the Bible with his wife.

PK: I grew up in Oakland and Berkeley, and I used to go to the Memorial Stadium for Cal games. Now there are big posters of the players on the outside of the stadium. It’s like this pro football atmosphere. I can’t really quite pinpoint what I disapprove of.

RG: I’ll tell you what I don’t like about it. We have these institutions, and their mission is to educate these youngsters. Now they’ve combined that with the entertainment business. And the two don’t really coexist that well. And that’s the problem. We expect Cal and Stanford and every other place to have this moral fiber and background for educating our kids and leading them in a certain way. But that doesn’t square with the entertainment business. I had a discussion with the president of ESPN several months ago about this issue and our role at ESPN and colleges and what we’re doing. I told him I think the amount of money that we’re putting into the game kind of corrupts it. And his response was we’d be happy to pay them nothing or very little. But when they say they want 22 million bucks per team per year, we have to make that money back somewhere. So, for advertising purposes and the like they have to play on certain days, they have to play at certain times and whatnot. So, when people say that it’s ESPN and that it’s CBS Sports that’s driving this, no. The colleges are saying they want this. They need this. They want this money. And our response is then we need to do X in order to pay you this.

PK: The cliché is that these kids are being duped into thinking if you play at our program and devote all this time to college football, then you’re going to be a big NFL star. That’s like saying if you get a drama degree from Yale, you’ll be the next Tom Cruise. How many college players are really drinking that Kool-Aid? The vast majority?

RG: Oh, absolutely. Let’s remove Stanford and probably Duke and maybe Northwestern out of that mix. Those kids are a little bit different, and I think they have a more balanced view of things. But there’s no question that the pitch by coaches when they go into these homes is, “You’ve got a chance to play in the NFL. We turn out more NFL players than anybody else and you’re going to graduate with your degree.” The pitch becomes even more focused with, “But the only guys who get to the NFL are the guys who want it and care about it and focus on it. And I got to tell you, I think you’re a player who can play in the league.” That gets an 18-year-old’s attention.

PK: You didn’t mention Cal as one of those schools where that maybe isn’t the case.

RG: I didn’t for a reason. Maybe Cal is on a different path now, but Cal’s graduation rate—and I think Sandy Barbour, the AD would tell you this—is unacceptable. [Ed. note: According to the NCAA’s 2012 graduation rate report, last year 44 percent of Cal’s football players graduated, dead last in the country.] And it was one of the things that Barbour cited as the major reason for firing [former Cal football head coach Jeff Tedford]. Over the years they had not graduated players at a very high rate, and it was even lower for minority players. Cal is the number one public institution out there. There is no reason that its graduation rate has to be that low. If I were a Cal alum, I’d be really frustrated that I look across the bay and I see Stanford—with tougher requirements to get in—be more successful on the football field and graduating their players.


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Photo Courtesy ESPN.


Birthplace: Berkeley, raised in Oakland.

Astrological sign: Aquarius.

Motto: Don’t have a motto. Never thought about it, but I don’t trust people who don’t like chocolate.

Book on nightstand: “There arae usually two to three books on my nightstand. Just finished Gone Girl and just started And the Mountains Echoed (big fan of Khaled Hosseini).”