Barnum, Barry and A Three-Ring Circus

Ball Four

So you want to rush off to Wall Street after graduation? You think investment banking is a field with good potential?

Some people make poor decisions and get canned in that world. Let me introduce you to a better world--a world where all decisions are acceptable, even if they end in disaster, and you can waffle around like Marv Albert picking toupees and never be held accountable.

Forget consulting, Class of '99, enter the exciting, zero-pressure world of NFL front-office management.

Consider, for instance, the Detroit Lions. Here, in the home of the automobile, you can be wowed each week by the truly unforgettable performances of possibly the most spectacular player ever to take the field, Barry Sanders.

And in return? You have to choose and pay a quarterback, among other things, but this apparently is not so important.

Last week the boys upstairs liked Scott Mitchell, as they did last year when Mitchell was granted a $22 million contract over four years.

Now they like rookie Charlie Batch, and somehow Mitchell barely makes the depth chart behind Frank Reich, who could be earning more collecting his social security benefits.

Even if Mitchell did not have the physical skills to star at this level, there must have been a fire inside him that impressed those upstairs enough to merit his contract, right? Actually, Mitchell wants to be back at the helm so much that he excused himself from practice yesterday.

So now the Lions have the NFL's highest-paid clipboard-boy.

Given the franchise's recent history, however, that doesn't seem to be a concern.

Since I can remember, the Lions have spent big money on such sure-fire quarterback prospects as Chuck Long, Andre Ware and Rodney Peete. They were fine in college, and are currently living comfortably on fat contracts doled out by Detroit, the NFL's version of public assistance for quarterbacks without marketable job skills.

Eric Kramer threw well for them several years back, but someone decided he was paid far too little per completion, so rather than give him a raise, they brought in Mitchell to toss a few more in the cheap seats.

I'm fully aware that quarterback may be the toughest position in sports to fill. However, how does a team go from electing to spend $22 million on a player to placing him third on the depth chart a half-dozen games later?

Mitchell did not fundamentally change as a quarterback in that time, and the Lions had ample time to ascertain his value in the two years prior that he spent with the organization.

Mitchell is neither a $22 million man nor a third stringer, but the way his yoyo career has gone, it is almost impossible to get a bead on what exactly he is.

With Sanders and Herman Moore on the field, the Lions don't need Johnny Unitas under center to be effective, just someone who is effective, and won't single-handedly snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, as Mitchell has done with alarming frequency.

Please, Mr. G.M., just find someone who can provide enough of a decoy to let Barry do his stuff and make this team enjoyable again.

That way, I can go back to tonight's faculty club schmooze-fest knowing that it does require some intelligence and experience to run a professional football team.