Modern college football has developed into nothing more than a glorified tryout for the NFL. College football has a long history of rich tradition and has built an impressive empire that could rival some pro sports.
The problem with building an operation of this magnitude is that the "employees," or the players, are not being compensated for the revenue they produce, and there's consistent, obvious negligence in the oversight of both coaches and players, especially those who produce wins.
Just yesterday it was reported that Auburn violated several NCAA rules on its way to a 2010 BCS National Championship, and while many suspected this was the case (including the NCAA), these types of transgressions are becoming the norm among elite programs, and there is little significant action being taken to ensure the integrity of the sport even in light of frequent, large scale scandals.
When examining the recent history of these issues, it's obvious the sport is compromised. It would seem to stem back to the landmark SMU catastrophe in the 1980s when it was discovered that the university had been paying players to play for about a decade. The school received a one of a kind "death penalty," having its entire 1987 season canceled by the NCAA.
This wasn't the first college football scandal, but to this day it remains one of, if not the most severe set of consequences ever levied on a university's football program (along with Penn State), and unfortunately, in this case, history would be destined to repeat itself.
Since the turn of the century there have been many violations of the rules, and while each individual violation negatively affects the sport, the pattern that has developed should be much more devastating than it has been.
These violations, can, for the most part, be funneled into three categories. First, cover ups and academic scandals. Second, improper benefits to members of the team, and third, recruiting violations. Most major incidents fit under at least one of these three classifications. Any team that engages in these activities has an unfair competitive advantage, and is covertly undermining the entire purpose of competition.
Considering these things do happen, it's important to know who it is that's violating these rules. The real answer is simple: We don't know, but an examination of recorded incidents can help to project exactly how much this is happening and shed some light on the corruption of the game.
Starting in 1999-2000 with prized D-line recruit Albert Means, it's easy to see that major, major problems exist in this system. In 2005, Means' high school football coach admitted to having received $150,000 from an Alabama booster to convince to the star to attend the university, Means allegedly received a portion of the money.
Furthermore, it was arranged for another student to take the ACT for Means after he failed to receive a passable score in 15 tries. This, among other alleged violations led to serious repercussions for the Alabama football program, this is a landmark recruiting disaster.
Fast forward to 2005, when Colorado-Boulder football coach Gary Barnett was retained after A. (true) allegations of using drugs, sex, and alcohol as recruiting tools for incoming players, and B. brushing off allegations from Katie Hnida, the team's female kicker, of being raped by a teammate by saying "She was awful" (presumably at kicking).
Even after these incidents, plus nine allegations of sexual assault against Colorado players, Barnett kept his job after being suspended. In fact, after a 7-2 start, Barnett began discussions with Colorado over a contract extension. Only after the team lost its last three games in historic fashion did Barnett get fired by the school.
The extent to which a "just win" mentality has taken over football is astonishing. At the point where a coach can retain his job under those circumstances and gets fired only after an unsuccessful finish to the season takes it to a new level.
In 2007, Florida State obliterated the first category with a monumental cheating scandal that ended in over 20 suspensions. A FSU tutor provided players with answers to online exams. Whether or not the university knew about this scandal is unknown.
There are a few really important questions that need to be asked as a result of this scandal. First, it's crucial to realize that this kind of problem is inherently difficult to catch. This is something that players could likely get away with for long stretches of time, perhaps their entire career.
At the point where over 20 players are involved in this large of an operation, it's completely illogical to assume that Florida State was the only place that this is happening. The magnitude of this scandal cannot be overstated. These schools are recruiting students they know will not be able to accept the academic challenges of college and the best help provided is a tutor who helps all of the team members cheat on exams. Some of these players are barely students anymore.
Then there's the Reggie Bush mess. He accepted improper benefits from an agent throughout his career at USC, it's doubtful the coaching staff could've gone about not knowing about it for four years.
Florida had one of the best programs in the country under Meyer, but it all fell apart shortly after his departure with allegations of failed drug tests turning into injuries, Percy Harvin violently attacking assistant coach Billy Gonzales with no repercussions (Gonzalez resigned), and at least 30 players being arrested in Meyer's six-year stay.
According to former Gators' safety Bryan Thomas, "Meyer lost the team's respect." Through giving preferential treatment to stars and letting just about everything slide, Meyer's program devolved into a disaster, but a disaster that won football games and made the university money—a lot of money.
Anything goes as long as you win in college football.
2011 was the worst year in college football history, when three scandals of huge proportions rocked the entire country, one of which was the Ohio State tattoo problem. Six Ohio State players, including quarterback Terrelle Pryor traded Ohio State memorabilia for tattoos at a local tattoo parlor.
When coach Jim Tressel learned of his players' wrongdoing through an email from former Ohio State player Chris Ciciero, he decided that instead of going to the AD as outlined in his contract, he would just tell the kids to avoid getting more tattoos.
Months later he signed an NCAA compliance form indicating any knowledge of wrongdoing had been reported to his superiors, and that everything was fine at Ohio State. This was a lie. Later the school was sanctioned for this, as well as evidence that many players had received improper benefits on multiple occasions.
Jim Tressel resigned.
Perhaps the must puzzling part of what happened at Ohio State was the punishment handed down to the players. Yes, they were suspended, but they were allowed to play in the team's bowl game and begin their suspensions the next season. Pryor skipped town after his junior season and never received punishment.
It's a sad day when a group of players compromises the institution of college football and gets a flexible punishment. The body laying down the punishment didn't want to see Ohio State have to play its bowl game without its stars, so it didn't. The punishment itself is cause for concern in this case.
On August 16, 2011, this report was released by Yahoo! Sports detailing a booster's illegal contributions to the Miami (FL) football team. I highly recommend reading this entire report to any sports fan. It's unbelievable.
Nevin Shapiro was a booster for "The U" for almost a decade providing huge amounts of impermissible benefits to current players as well as recruits, just read the full report.
Shapiro claims the coaches were in on Shapiro's activities and they asked him to help with recruiting illegally, and it would have been obvious he was providing illegal benefits to anyone who looked, it's just that no one bothered to uncover anything.
One of the parts I find really interesting in this story is that Shapiro helped recruit a lot of players who ended up committing elsewhere. Something about other team's offers was too much to pass up in the face of massive benefits from Shapiro. The report leaves the reader with just as many questions as answers.
Last, but definitely not least, is the Jerry Sandusky scandal, which became a national disaster. Former Penn State President Graham Spanier and former head coach Joe Paterno knew about the scandal but failed to report it to police as Sandusky continued to prey on children.
The Freeh report, a report commissioned in the wake of the disaster claimed the motive for hiding this information was "to avoid the consequences of bad publicity."
These allegations are the worst of all. Covering up the rape of young children in the name of business.
Until yesterday, Penn State was one of the worst. Finally, though, perhaps one of the biggest scandals is the report that came out just yesterday that Auburn's National Championship season back in 2010 was tainted by paying players and altering grades to ensure eligibility throughout the season.
At this point, where does it end? There's absolutely no way to tell who's cheating and who's not. There have just been so many violations it's impossible for any trust to exist.
There are quite a few major problems with the way the NCAA is currently operating, the first of which being the NCAA's refusal to commit to more extensive oversight.
The NCAA recently put forth changes that will apparently hold coaches more accountable and threaten colleges with longer postseason bans, but the reality of the situation is the NCAA thinks that individual punishments will ultimately deter rule breaking action from schools but it simply wont.
Without substantially more oversight from the NCAA itself, there's no way these programs are going to commit to being clean because they'll lose their competitive advantage.
A lot of times these things aren't being detected because these schools simply don't want to incriminate themselves. Refer back to the Shapiro case. The NCAA wasn't investigating, and Miami loved the benefits they were getting. This would still be going on today if Shapiro didn't get arrested for running a separate ponzi scheme and decide to come clean.
It's absolutely illogical to believe this isn't happening in other places. There must be 10, 20, 50, 100, maybe even more Nevin Shapiro's that we don't know about because they didn't get arrested for something else.
It's a similar story at Florida State. Are we really ready to accept that they were the only school whose players cheated? The fact that 25 of these guys were in on it makes it all that much more telling.
These can't be the only 25 guys in college football that were cheating, and the same goes for the coaches at Auburn. If they got to the top by cheating, we cannot reasonably believe they are the only ones. Especially considering the news that came out about Florida under Urban Meyer.
A lot of these students are coming out of high school with no money and no real education. They follow the money and these colleges are willing to give it to them, just look at what happened with Albert Means. The report indicates he let his coach have a big hand in his college decision and he sold him to the highest bidder.
These schools can't be competitive without cheating so they do, and when they do it, they lose sight of everything important. The players don't receive a proper education, while the schools continue to reap the benefits of these illegal actions. It's a classic example of risk-reward. The programs still feel that it's in their best interest to risk it for the competitive edge, and truth be told, they're probably right.
At this point, we have absolutely no idea who is cheating and who isn't, and that's the problem. For all we know, everyone could be cheating. Cheating is a part of sports, but this has been taken to an absolutely unprecedented level.
College football is a business, and there's no reason to drastically alter a successful business. The key is that a business model only changes course when the current model isn't profitable anymore, and for these colleges, football will always be profitable.
College football has proven time and time again it can survive any scandal with little to no financial hardship. Enough is enough. At what point are we finally going to realize that this sport cannot and should not be taken seriously until we have a way to be at least relatively sure that a majority of the teams aren't huge cheaters?
I don't know what it will take for college football to become real to me again, it might be too far gone. There's just no way anyone should be emotionally invested in a sport when we know so little about what's going on behind the scenes.
If your team wins or loses it's hard to say whether or not they won with integrity, or lost to a team ridden with transgressions. College football is one big tryout for what is probably the greatest sports league in the world, for now at least.
So, who are you really cheering for on Saturdays? Maybe in five years you'll find out.