When I was young, I remember watching Barry Bonds break the career home run record.
Mere minutes after the ball left the stadium, I remember hearing the commentators questioning the authenticity of Bonds' accomplishment.
Allegations of steroid use had made Bonds out to be a cheater and forever crippled a decade or more of baseball accomplishments.
When’s the last time an extraordinary performance in baseball wasn’t followed up with whispers of steroid usage?
I remember thinking, “God, I hope nothing like this ever happens to college football.”
Although steroids haven’t crippled one of America’s favorite sports, something else may have.
I’m talking about the “pay to play” allegations. These are ever more rapidly occurring instances where college football players are making monetary gains for playing ball whilst still in school.
Highly coveted star athletes are receiving “gifts” from university boosters. Some players are rumored to be receiving cash from universities for playing in football games. All of this so that teams can produce illegitimate success on the football field. Nobody likes it, but there is a debate going on about how bad it actually is for college football.
The question worth asking is really, “Could these allegations ruin the game of college football?”
The simple answer is yes. Just looking at the events from 2010, I can put together a case faster than the prosecution at the Charlie Rangel ethics hearings.
Just look back to summer. The college football world was rocked by all kinds of allegations surrounding the 2004 University of Southern California football team. USC was accused of starting players that had been receiving improper benefits, such as cash, cars and clothes, provided by people representing the university.
This resulted in the NCAA deciding to strip USC of the national championship they had won that season. The Heisman Trophy, college football’s most prestigious award, was taken away from USC star tailback Reggie Bush. This served as a black eye to collegiate football, as it basically voided the success of 2004’s best team.
Let’s fast-forward to the present. Auburn University is currently the top-ranked team in the nation. Should they win the rest of their games, they will probably win the national championship. None of this would be possible without Auburn’s do-it-all quarterback Cameron Newton, who is also the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy for this season.
Unfortunately, allegations have been made that Newton, who transferred to Auburn in the spring from junior college, was possibly “sold” to the highest bidding football program by his father last year. Investigations into the accuracy of these reports and as to whether or not Newton has received improper benefits are pending. These investigations always take time.
The trend is continuing even more so in 2010 but hurts the sport in an even more profound way. While the NCAA performs its lengthy investigation, the season still marches on. It’s quite possible that Auburn could be national champs and Newton the Heisman winner before we have any verdict on these allegations.
It seems identical to 2004, but make no mistake, America—it’s not. The allegations against USC came out about six years after the fact. Reggie Bush was playing in the NFL, and USC coach Pete Carroll was in a new coaching position in Seattle.
Sure, we fans felt robbed of a 2004 national champion, and the Heisman legacy took a small hit because of USC’s actions. But the situation occurring now is much different. We’re watching 2010’s legacy become tarnished right before our eyes.
As we watch Auburn win week after week and Cameron Newton score touchdowns left and right, we all can’t help but wonder if what they’re doing out there will even count once the truth comes out. It’s as if every play Auburn makes on the gridiron is followed by a pesky asterisk, damning the simple beauty and pageantry of this great sport.
Even if Auburn isn’t cheating and these rumors all prove to be false, that won’t come out until the season is over.
Imagine being one of the panel members with a Heisman vote. Sure, you might want to vote for Cameron Newton, but if he cheated and eventually will have the Heisman taken from him anyway, why waste your vote on him? Why not vote for Oregon’s amazing halfback LaMichael James or one of the other many great athletes not currently involved in a scandal?
The point is that Auburn is playing phenomenal football right now, and as fans of the game, we can’t truly enjoy it, knowing that it could all be tainted. Unlike 2004, when we were all ignorant to the lying and cheating going on, we are now soberly reminded of it every time Auburn takes the field.
A sport loved by Americans for its pageantry, loyalty and simplicity has been robbed of its innocence, whether Cam Newton is guilty or not.
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