6-13-11: My Contentious Relationship With College Football: We've Got Issues

Hello again everybody...

Okay, okay, I know... I said I'd have the NL-half of my All-Star ballot out today, and honestly, that was my intention!

But I got rolling with an idea on Friday and couldn't help but crank it out first.

Rest assured, the NL-ballot column is written and will be published on Wednesday. I promise. Honest. Really. I mean it this time.

Okay, I don't blame you for not believing me. But you'll see!

Instead, I've got a college football column for you. What?! How can I be talking college football in June with all this baseball wonder surrounding us?!

Well, it's only nominally about college football. At it's core, it's about being a fan of sports, what that really means, and what responsibilities we have to be honest with ourselves about what it is we really want from sports.

Sound deep?

Maybe it is. I don't know. As I write this preamble, I've only begun fleshing the idea out.

We'll see where I end up!

That ending gets its beginning...

Right after the quote!

“He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever.”
- Chinese Proverb

I've got a question... and I'm not sure I've got the answer. But if I go ahead and ask it now, I think I can handle being a fool for five minutes!

[Insert your own punchline here.]

My Contentious Relationship With College Football: We've Got Issues

What's wrong with me?

There. I asked it.

What? You need more detail than that? You're probably right.

I love college football. Not as much as I love baseball, but you can see it from there.

I enjoy everything about it. The pomp, the pageantry, the atmosphere of a college campus on a crisp, fall Saturday afternoon. The passion and loyalty of the fans. The variety of styles of play all striving to achieve the same goal.

It's a unique thing in the world of sports and for all the above reasons and more, I adore it.

There's just one problem. Intellectually, I can't stand it.

How does that work, you ask? I'll tell you.

While I love college football for all of the previously stated reasons, I can't help but know that it's fundamentally flawed and corrupt.

Over the last few weeks we've had several problematic stories surrounding college football. There was the major scandal at Ohio State that cost the coach his job and prompted the star quarterback to bolt for the NFL.

There was the stripping of the 2004 BCS National Championship from USC owing to their own gross violations of NCAA rules. In that case, the coach skipped town before the hammer dropped, the star quarterback flamed out in the NFL and is now desperately clinging to his career, and the star running back - who was at the center of said violations - nearly tweeted his way out of New Orleans until his agent reminded him that other teams weren't exactly banging down his door to sign him to a new contract.

And there was the athletic director at Tennessee who was fired because of the violations surrounding his football AND basketball programs. Ironically enough, the coach who committed those football violations jumped ship to take over the USC program which was abandoned by the aforementioned coach who's now trying to ruin the Seattle Seahawks.

Follow all that? I hope so.

So when all of these stories swirl around in a vortex of sporting suck, I have to ask myself if they're endemic to those particular schools, or products of a flawed system. And I fear it's the latter.

The more I think about it, the more I worry that college football tacitly encourages cheating.

I mean, what's the down side?

Jim Tressel finds out his players are trading game-used merchandise for tattoos and cash - a blatant and obvious NCAA rules violation - and instead of reporting it to his superiors, he hides it, denies any knowledge of it when the story leaks out, and is eventually busted by Sports Illustrated. It doesn't get a whole lot more problematic than that.

So what's going to happen to him? Okay, he lost his job. So what? He'll end up working at ESPN or CBS as an analyst and keep right on earning serious dough for a few years. He'll write a book. He'll give speeches to groups of rich people across the country, and eventually, if he wants, he'll get another coaching job. Jim Tressel's going to be just fine.

Terrelle Pryor is not only one of the players trading merch for tattoos and cash, but also is under investigation for getting sweetheart deals on cars during his stay at Ohio State. How does he respond to those allegations? By driving to an informational meeting on what's going to happen to the program in a brand new, high-end Nissan with dealer plates! Honestly, you can't make this stuff up!

So what's going to happen to him? He gets to enter the NFL supplemental draft and basically write his own ticket. Oh, the horror! [I beg of you to insert copious amounts of sarcasm here.]

Pete Carroll ran a program that was so dirty, his star running back Reggie Bush got his family a freaking house! Unless I missed the NCAA football episode of “Extreme Home Makeover” I'm pretty sure you're not allowed to get a house for virtually nothing just for playing at USC.

What happened to Pete? He saw the writing on the wall and bailed to take over the Seattle Seahawks. That's right, he broke the rules, skedaddled before he could get punished and got a job that paid him more money! What a country!!!

In the wake of his exit and desperate for a coach to bring credibility back to their program, USC hired one of Pete's proteges, Lane Kiffin. Because, you know, if your program is bordering on the verge of that dreaded phrase “lack of institutional control”, you really want to go out and hire a coach that was previously part of the staff that got you into this mess in the first place!

And, oh by the way, the school Kiffin left to take the USC job? Tennessee, which just happened to be under investigation for recruiting violations committed while Kiffin held the head job there!

So what's happening to Kiffin? Well he gets a long-term contract at a school where expectations are low because of the severe scholarship penalties they have to deal with thanks to the previous coach. So no matter how lousy of a job he does, he has a built-in excuse! Millions of dollars? Auto-excuse for failure? Where do I sign up?!

And all of those guys are mere amateurs! If you want to see how real cheating is done in college football, get your hands on the ESPN 30-for-30 documentary on how the SMU football program was given the “death penalty” for its rules violations. Those guys raised cheating-while bald-facedly-lying-about-it to an art form! Wow!

These are just some of the examples of cheating that we know about. If the history of college football shows us anything, it's that these stories are merely the tip of the iceberg.

Take a look at last year's BCS National Champions, the Auburn Tigers. There were rumors of recruiting violations all throughout the year about their star quarterback Cam Newton. Nothing's been proven... yet. But if solid evidence does come to light? What's going to happen?

Nothing of consequence. Sure they might be stripped of their title, but they'll still have cashed all the checks that they earned from it. Head coach Gene Chizik might lose his job, but he'll either land a job in the NFL or go the analyst route, just like Tressel's about to. Cam Newton? He's already gone number-one overall in the NFL draft, and while he hasn't signed a contract yet (thank you, NFL lockout), it's not like his deal will be worth any less in the end.

And therein lies the problem. When the only real consequences are for the mediocre players that get left behind, are they really consequences at all? I don't think so.

And if there aren't any real consequences, isn't the NCAA just saying: “We don't mind if you cheat, we'd just really prefer that you don't get caught doing it”? Sadly, I think the answer is yes.

This annoys me. This irritates me. This makes me downright irate when I think about it.

But the real problem? Deep down in my heart of hearts, I'm not sure I care.

I say that because no matter how much I rant and rave and pound my fist in an indignant fashion, I know that come this fall, I'll be geeking out over the start of the season just like I always do.

I'll be breaking down the Badgers' new quarterback, and wondering if the coaching staff will have figured out a way to make up for the lost defensive production of J.J. Watt.

I'll be spending 4-to-12 hours each and every Saturday watching nothing but college football and loving every minute of it.

And since that's the case, then doesn't all of my annoyance, my irritation, my ranting and raving ultimately ring hollow?

If I can't work up the gumption to tell the NCAA where to go stick it until it figures out a way to police itself in a real and meaningful way, then aren't I a bloody hypocrite for criticizing those who break the rules?

In short, I have to ask... what's wrong with me?!

How can such a blind passion for a sport exist when every ethical and moral fiber of my being screams that said passion is wholly misplaced?

Do I just accept the fact that I possess two seemingly diametrically-opposed attitudes towards the sport? Do I just chalk it up to my own inherent complexity as a sometimes-irrational human being?

Or is there a way I can dance the artful jig of loving the sport while detesting the system that surrounds it?

Are those two things even separable? Or are they so hopelessly entwined that any attempt by me to justify one while abhorring the other is futile?

I don't currently have answers to any of these questions. Fortunately, kick-off is still almost three months away, so I've got time to ponder!

That's going to wrap things up for today. As I said, my NL All-Star ballot heads your way on Wednesday, so make sure to check back for that!

Until then, thanks for reading!


  1. And I'm not alone!

    Check out this story from ESPN's Ivan Maisel:

  2. I'm with you. The biggest problem is that the NCAA isnults it's fans with the constant barrage of investigations and sanctions. Stop treating college athletes like they have any real academic respnsiblity at all and treat them like what they are. Financial assests. If they want an education they can have one, just take the tuition out of their paycheck, tax free. If not cut them a check and let them get real world experience in the business of free market endorsements. Of course then the NCAA wouldn't be able to earn free money off of (yes I said it) indentured servitude. It's a system rife with hypocricy and the NCAA further insults it's fans like acting like they aren't the biggest active participant in the whole thing. But I, like you, will not stop watching.

    BTW, maybe a plug for the sweet tickets you have available for Wednesday's exciting matchup between the Twins and thier hated rivals?

  3. I think the NCAA should reconsider the 'death penalty'. But they're too afraid of how devastating it will be to the BCS Big 6. But since they don't, there is an implicit plea of 'please stop getting caught'.

    And when it comes to fall, as long as there is at least one day of football on the weekends, I'll be happy.

  4. You make a fair point, Jeff.

    I don't think we'll ever see the "death penalty" again, because all it does is cost the NCAA money.

    It's not in their interest to do that again, even if it would sober programs up a bit.