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Thursday, June 21, 2018

I’m Beginning to Lose all Faith in the Sanctity of College Sports

It’s becoming harder and harder to find a saving grace in college sports. Personally, I’d like to believe that the arena of college athletics is still the bastion of fine, upstanding amateur student-athletes and coaches who not only lead their teams on to the field of play but help to become mentors to sports’ next generation of leaders. (Then, again, I’d also like to believe that Erik Estrada is actually trying to sell me a valuable parcel of land in Utah that is in high demand.) However, that reality is slowly becoming tougher to believe in than the tooth fairy (even though someone in England just paid more than $31,000 for John Lennon’s molar, so apparently the tooth racket is alive and well). (Leave it to the English.)

Records show that “Eagles” is the most common nickname in Division I sports, though “Jurisprudence” might not be too far behind. There is an old joke in college football about having a school the football team can be proud of, a yarn that satirizes the fact that major college football is such a boon to many college campuses in terms of branding and revenue that academics often takes a backseat in the gridiron’s proverbial stretch limosine. This case could very well have been made at Penn State prior to the Jerry Sandusky abuse scandal which has turned the institution in State College into Sordid Valley.

Penn State was a school that had largely remained untarnished by the other scandals and incidents plaguing other schools. However, the revelations of the past week or so have caused the grandeur to be eradicated by a grand jury: a 46-year Hall of Fame coaching career blemished by a firing that abruptly took place amidst the issuing of a 40-count indictment against Paterno’s former assistant.

This latest episode certainly is the most egregious disgrace to hit college sports since 2003, when Baylor’s head basketball coach, Dave Bliss, urged players and coaches to paint Patrick Dennehy, a murder victim, as a drug dealer to soften the blow for killer/teammate Carlton Dotson. Bliss and his career still have yet to recover from the episode, even as he has attempted to coach again at the high school level.

Certainly, this is not intended to draw parallels or put these instances of ne’er-do-wellism on a scale of bad to worse, but it is becoming harder and harder to hold out hope for the sanctity of college sports. Forget about the glass being half-empty, one might as well move on to paper cups because the china has been smashed repeatedly. Take the last 20 years of college athletics, since I have no interest in revisiting the CCNY scandal of the 1950s, which would just lead to a series of obtuse Leave it to Beaver references, and the SMU galloping Datsuns of the 1980s (which would undoubtedly lead me to give more free print space to Larry Hagman jokes).

There has been an array of high-profile, rule-breaking machinations in the ranks of college sports. Point-shaving at Arizona State and Northwestern in 1994. Todd Bozeman’s shenanigans at Cal. Lack of institutional control at Miami in the mid-1990s and Colorado in the early 2000s (with Gary Barnett starring as Caligula). Ed Martin and the Vacated Five at Michigan. O.J. Mayo and Reggie Bush cashing in and cashing out at USC. Ohio State getting tattooed in more ways than one first with Maurice Clarett then Terelle Pryor and others, with head coach Jim Tressel taking a black eye for the Buckeyes. Point-shaving in the Toledo football program. Bruce Pearl and Kelvin Sampson, with a side of Jim Harrick (true and false were both acceptable on those basketball strategy exams by the way). Florida State involved in an academic cheating scandal. More Miami mischief, when a booster by the name of Nevin Shapiro allegedly gave away gifts to players. Throw in the Penn State saga and unfortunately this still is, by no means, an encompassing list.

Joe Paterno was hired by Penn State in 1950, a time when rock and roll was still considered a misdemeanor. There he stayed until last week, when he was unceremoniously fired for essentially not doing enough upon hearing the allegations of abuse made against Sandusky. According to the stories that have circulated since the news broke, he may have followed the spirit of the rules by informing the higher-ups but didn’t do the morally correct thing by pursuing the matter further. Should he have been fired? Well, that depends on who or what you believe. Regardless, what it all represents is just another kick in the pants for collegiate athletics.

Coaches, athletic directors, and university presidents certainly bear a great responsibility to set the bar as an example to the athletes for whom they claim to be looking out. These are the same people who cause a big fuss whenever playoffs college football are mentioned, imploring the public that these are student-athletes and such a schedule will be taking them out of the classrooms for extended periods of time and would place an undue burden on them. Then, in the next breath, the same voices are announcing that their school will be making road trips every other week halfway across the country to improve its chances of getting notoriety and BCS placement (and, in the process, dispelling any wisdom dispensed by your average third-grade geography teacher), while also expanding the basketball tournament in consideration of the almighty dollar. The twisted logic is enough to cause a yogi to go on a rampage.

The madness has gotten to a point where, if a school has not been caught for doing something illicit yet, skeptics simply chalk it up to being a matter of time before something befalls said program. Some say much of the tomfoolery generated in the amateur domain can be rectified by paying the athletes. (I have used this same logic with the proprietor of this website but, alas, I’m still waiting for that shiny gold coin I was promised by Larry Brown.)

Granted there are still many positives in college sports — the Carrier Classic played on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier on Veteran’s Day as a good example of the sanguinity college sports can provide — but it’s slowly getting closer to the point where the negatives can leave their starters in to make a game of it. It is becoming so disenchanting to watch greatness unfold, only later to find out it was tarnished because of scandal, that the people we lionize for their many great accomplishments have been undone in bouts of indignity and disgrace, or that all these great achievements were a byproduct of bending the rules. Sure, the kids are alright. The adults, on the other hand …

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