When asked what it is they like most about collegiate sports, most folks say it is the purity, the competition and the tradition.
So few say the crime, the money and the blatant breaking of rules, but recently that is exactly what dominates the headlines.
For several generations, the world of intercollegiate athletics was seemingly this wondrous place of charm and epic battles. For a kid, it was like watching The Lord of the Rings with no death, cheerleaders and a scoreboard.
That spell was broken one night in 1986 when Maryland’s Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose. Since then, college sports has consistently spiraled into darker and darker places year after year.
For example, here are the headlines last Saturday morning from Yahoo! Sports’ college football home page:
- Missouri's Pinkel gets 2-year extension
- Shot NIU player's condition improves
- Orange Bowl CEO got $150K raise in 2009
- 2nd UConn stabber gets 2 1/2 years
- Ex-QB Schlichter has bond set at $1M
- Gamecocks suspend QB Garcia indefinitely
- ND seeks meeting over student death fine
Mind you, it’s the offseason for college football, when only the most fanatic fans find spring practice and the spring football game particularly entertaining, so the news is bound to include many non-football stories. That said, every SINGLE one is about money, crime, money, crime, crime, bad behavior (probable crime) and death. And that’s just a random April Saturday morning...
When we aren’t distracted by the games—wonderful games conducted by dedicated and talented kids played in many spectacular settings surrounded by tradition and unbridled zeal—we are constantly inundated with the dark, ugly side of college sports.
Of course, college sports is big business—REALLY big business—and every big business has an ugly underbelly, but for all the NCAA’s piousness and sanctity, things appear to be rapidly spinning out of control.
Starting out locally and recently, we have Yow v. Williams, a feud between an athletic director and a national championship-winning coach that now spans two states and two different schools over what was (allegedly) said or not said to various unknown parties. Absurd at best.
Then there is the North Carolina football scandal that to date Butch Davis has survived remarkably well. The Heels’ defensive team? Not so much.
School and NCAA suspensions caused more than a dozen UNC players to miss games last season. The severity of the infractions and what the coach did or didn’t know seems to be in direct proportion to one’s rooting interests. Give North Carolina credit on this one—it did manage to get (allegedly) out of the conversation.
On a national level, both football and basketball national champions—Auburn and Connecticut—have been scandal-plagued in the past season. Recently it was revealed that a former Auburn player is claiming he was (allegedly) given money and sex while he was being recruited.
This doesn’t generate huge howls of protest from Auburn’s rivals (yes, Alabama, LSU, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, etc., we mean you) for the primary reason that they are terrified that one of their young student-athletes can make similar and just as believable claims.
Add that to the Cam Newton scandal, which alleges that Newton’s father was looking to (allegedly) sell the future Heisman Trophy winner to the highest bidder...evidently $180,000 is the current price tag. The Suits In Indianapolis believed that Cam was unaware of this so he could conveniently participate in the BCS National Championship Game. Shocking, we know.
Then you have the UConn basketball team and Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun. While his Huskies were winning 1 straight games and his third NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship, Calhoun was fending off questions about an (alleged) recruiting scandal.
Thankfully, it didn’t involve any of the current players, or the Suits In Indianapolis may have had to suspend somebody for a game or two next season against the Sisters of the Poor and the Sisters of the Poor State.
Speaking of basketball and violations, how about Bruce Pearl? He lied to the NCAA about having some players and recruits to his house for a BBQ. Who can blame him? Kids gotta eat.
Apparently, Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton blamed him, and he promptly torpedoed his coach’s and his team’s chances in the NCAA tournament with some poorly timed remarks about Pearl’s future (or lack thereof). Tennessee fired Pearl, and quite frankly, the AD’s car should have been the next one out of the parking lot...
Let’s go north. Ohio State’s bespectacled, vest-wearing Jim Tressel looks like a nice enough fellow. Some of his knuckleheads decided to break some NCAA rules by (allegedly) selling and exchanging memorabilia for...drum roll, please...tattoos. Not a misprint: TATTOOS! It’s so ridiculous, yet it makes so much sense when framed in modern sports culture.
(If you are a parent and you have ever had a young child complain about the fact that he or she can't vote, this is a good one to remember: “Kids, you can't elect the leader of the free world until you are old enough to know that exchanging a signed football jersey for a tattoo is firmly entrenched in the pantheon of bad ideas...especially when you are literally on scholarship.”)
Tressel knew this and kept this embarrassing fact to himself—except for the emails he sent about it, which eventually got him busted. You’ve heard of “sneaky smart”; well, that was “sneaky dumb.”
Speaking of things Tressel’s Buckeyes can’t win—a BCS bowl—enter one former Fiesta Bowl president John Junker.
A recent investigation revealed that Junker may have misused some of the bowl’s funds, submitting as much as $1.2 million a year in reimbursable expenses. Junker (allegedly) spent $65,000 to fly legislators (Alarm! Alarm! Alarm!) to Boston for a Boston College v. Virginia Tech football game. Sixty-five thousand to watch the Hokies and the Eagles? Really?
In addition, he (allegedly) spent $33,000 throwing himself a birthday party at Pebble Beach and thousands more on “security meetings” in a place of business we won't mention here (strip club).
We won’t bore you with Junker’s excuses, but Phil Taylor of Sports Illustrated recently described them as “comical and wildly unbelievable.” We would have been disappointed (and surprised) had his excuses been anything but that...
Now with all of this as preface, we remain somewhat surprised that Southern University recently fired its athletic director, former NFL tight end Greg LaFleur, after his arrest for (allegedly) soliciting a prostitute while in Houston for the Final Four.
LaFleur allegedly offered $50 in exchange for sex from a female cop posing as a hooker (Dude, you need to hang out with Junker; he spends other people’s dough like a $5,000 hooker kind of guy.) LaFleur had been Southern's athletic director for the last six years. The university's chancellor said dismissing LaFleur was in the school's best interest, and he recommended the women's basketball coach become the interim AD.
If she’s smart, she will turn down the job.
Hey, we hear Bruce Pearl is looking.
All of this swirling about, and still we continue to watch the games...