I don’t take any specific joy in the troubles that have befallen the Ohio State football team and its now former coach Jim Tressel. There are those who believe that the Buckeye players were entirely within their rights to sell gifts that had been given to them and that Tressel was trying to protect his players when he allegedly lied to NCAA investigators about their conduct.
Do with that what you will. I will say this: If the clouds that will surely rain down on Columbus and Tressel help bring about needed changes in college football, then this won’t be such a bad thing.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but college football is a cesspool run by men (and a couple of women) who apparently wouldn’t know ethical conduct and standards if they bit them on the fanny pad.
How do I hate college football? Let me count the ways:
- Just as the National League stubbornly refuses to join the rest of organized baseball and adopt the designated hitter, big time Division I-A football remains the only organized football organization that does not decide its championship in a logical manner, i.e. a playoff. And spare me the nonsense about how a playoff would diminish the regular season or would keep the gladiators out of class or make them miss exams. Players in Division I-AA, II and III, where the idea of a student-athlete isn’t a joke, manage to study AND play without hurting the game or their GPAs.
- Though there are more than 120 schools in Division I-A, the big money from what passes for a national title is controlled by four bowls as well as the schools of six conferences and one independent. And they refuse to share it, even though a playoff would bring badly needed revenue for athletic departments that are hemorrhaging cash to provide opportunities for men and women.
- Coaches and athletic departments routinely over sign recruits, making more scholarship offers to kids than they have available slots. And, on the other side, if kids change their minds about a school or if a coach leaves a recruit for greener pastures, the schools often refuse to let the kids transfer or make the terms so onerous as to effectively make it impossible for them to leave.
- Related to that, almost all big-time programs use 85 scholarships for football and dress more than that for home games. Keep in mind that NFL teams are only allowed to keep 53 players on a roster and to dress 45 for a game. The 85 scholarship barriers makes it impossible for many schools to provide equal athletic opportunities for women, because there is no sport for women that allots that many scholarships. Yet, when schools are forced to close programs of lesser interest to bring their athletic programs into Title IX compliance, football coaches have done a masterful job of pinning the blame on women’s programs, as in, ‘The reason they have to cut wrestling is because they have to have a women’s rowing program,’ not, ‘We could save wrestling by only keeping 75 scholarship players on a football roster.’
- Despite the heavy numbers of black college football players, you have an easier time finding a man of color on the ice during a hockey game than you do running a big time college program. As I wrote nearly a year and a half ago, the numbers of black college football coaches are getting better, but then, they were so abysmal before that they had to improve. And they still aren’t close to good enough.
There are others, but you get the idea. And understand that I have nothing per se with the game of college football. It’s the off-field garbage that surrounds it that makes it so darned untenable to me.
No doubt, there are a few folks reading this and wondering of what significance is all of this and why should I care. Here’s why this matters: Most schools receive federal education dollars or handle federal dollars through grants. A good chunk of that money makes its way to athletic departments in a variety of manners, which is why the Justice Department is justifiably interested in how those aforementioned big schools and those four bowls (Fiesta, Rose, Sugar and Orange) have kept smaller schools out the money for so long.
And this may just be the beginning of government involvement in college athletics. If Barack Obama wins a second term and the Democrats re-take control of the House next year, it’s not hard to envision a scenario by which congressmen like Henry Waxman and Elijah Cummings, meddlers of the first magnitude, issue demands that the Department of Education take a more active role in intercollegiate and interscholastic athletics. With a few more scandals like the one at Ohio State, it might be hard to argue against it.
UPDATE: Since the bulk of this post was written, the Bowl Championship Series has moved to strip Southern California of the title the Trojans won at the end of the 2004 season. The move, which included vacating USC’s appearance in the BCS title game the following season because of Reggie Bush’s acceptance of illegal gifts, curiously does not include USC giving back any of the money it received for either game.