— Admit it, you don’t trust baseball. You suspect baseball of doing things behind your back. You believe baseball might even be Tweeting photos of itself to young women. Baseball insists, “Baby, I would never cheat on you!” but somehow you’re not convinced. It has to do with that old “Fool me once …” notion. You found performance-enhancing drugs in the pockets of baseball’s suit, and the relationship has just never been the same since.
So how do you feel about NCAA football? Really. Be honest now.
You’re starting to have those same icky feelings, aren’t you? Not about drugs, but other indiscretions. You’re saying to yourself, “Oh no. Please. Not again. Why me?” Soon, you might just swear off sports altogether.
Scandals have rocked college football in recent months and years, and they just seem to keep increasing. There was USC and Reggie Bush; Auburn and the whole Cam Newton kerfuffle; and Jim Tressel’s coverup and Terrelle Pryor’s auto fetish at Ohio State. Also, Colt McCoy’s wife Rachel recently blurted out on national radio that Texas players may have received swag from boosters. If this keeps up, TMZ might have to open a bureau in Indianapolis near NCAA headquarters.
It’s sad, too, because it could have been so, so good.
College football is a highly enjoyable pastime. On its own, it has been climbing in popularity with each season. As television revenue increases, the celebrity level of coaches and players rises. College football had promise. It could have become the next “Jersey Shore.”
But also, there could be a prolonged work stoppage in the NFL, which would mean college football could have the stage all to itself. The stars were aligning in college football’s favor.
Yet the sport seems to be bent on self-destruction with all these recent scandals. And there is plenty of blame to go around.
The NCAA usually gets most of the abuse from media and fans, and justifiably so. That organization is in charge of enforcing the rules, and yet rule-breakers seem to be more abundant than ever. That’s a failure by the NCAA, isn’t it?
I’m sure the NCAA pats itself on the back when it puts its hounds on a scent and they come back with a full report. But it doesn’t seem to do much to snuff out wrongdoing in the first place; both the USC and Ohio State scandals erupted outside its purview. Reggie Bush stiffed a business partner; the Columbus Dispatch broke the Ohio State tattoo story.
Apparently, the NCAA does little to dissuade cheaters, either, judging by the increased frequency. Example: Pryor didn’t seem too worried that he might help to bring down a program a la Bush. The NCAA’s educational arm is about as effective as the crumbling public school system in this nation.
But let’s not beat up solely on the NCAA, as inviting as that may be.
People like Tressel have contributed to the soiling of college football’s image because he was so wrapped up in the pure winning of games that he forgot that his job carries other responsibilities as well. Prominent among those would be conveying to his charges that following the rules is important.
Tressel isn’t alone, of course. There are many in his fraternity who are complicit either by dirtying their hands or turning a blind eye. I know it’s naïve, but I wish more college football coaches had a conscience.
Agents aren’t to blame. Bottom-feeding agents are. Many of the top guys don’t need to funnel money to players. It’s the ones around the seedy periphery of that profession who cause an inordinate amount of the trouble. But as long as the NCAA, the NFL and lawmakers fail to put their heads together to come up with serious penalties for such activities, it will continue.
And then there are the players themselves. There’s no excuse whatsoever for taking money and other benefits if the rules have been made clear. The problem I have is when teammates of Bush, for example, don’t come out and blast him for ruining all of their hard work. There is also the fact that a school like USC won’t sue Bush, even though his actions cost the university great embarrassment and millions of dollars. USC is enabling Bush, even now, by not making him pay.
I believe if Reggie Bush had to do it all over again, he’d do everything the same. There is no incentive for him not to.
What all of these parties probably don’t realize is that the game they all profess to love is taking the same kind of image hit that baseball took. Baseball still hasn’t recovered. Many parks are near empty, despite reported attendance figures. Every time a player appears to be having an extraordinary season, he becomes a member of the Raised Eyebrows Club.
College football is inching into that territory as well. Whenever a dynasty appears to be forming, thoughts turn to how much money it cost to create it. How many sets of car keys had to be doled out. How many stacks of greenbacks had to be delivered. The game is turning into “The Sopranos,” only with more violence and less character.
Who knows when baseball will earn back the trust of the public? My guess is many years, if ever, because cheating will always stay one step ahead of testing. As long as there is an incentive to cheat – inflated statistics, leading to fatter contracts – there will be those lined up to do so.
But the cheating in college football is not about substances, and it can be reined in. It will require a summit meeting of all parties involved, and a collective desire to tackle the issues. The people who run college football have to recognize that these are not random acts, but rampant behavior.
There is an urgency here. Baseball waited way too long before it did anything. College football still has time to retain the trust so it doesn’t have to struggle to regain it later.
It’s never a good idea to push your luck in any relationship.