Originally posted on No 2 Minute Warning  |  Last updated 9/12/13
This has been a crazy week as far as off-field scandals are concerned. Sports Illustrated has been releasing a five-part investigative look at Oklahoma State football, accusing the program of many violations relating to academic fraud, recruiting violations of a sexual nature, overlooking drug use and having a number of players accepting money and extra benefits through hundred dollar handshakes, fraudulent jobs and more. Last night we were introduced to a new investigative report by Yahoo! Sports accusing former SEC players of accepting money and benefits from agents with plenty of evidence to support the claims. If the NCAA were to accept some of the evidence, it would put Alabama’s past two national championship seasons in jeopardy in similar fashion to USC’s vacated BCS championship season due to the Reggie Bush story. Let’s get a few things out of the way before continuing. I have criticized, and will do so again without prompting, the NCAA for being an incompetent organization. I am more than open to the idea of providing for better compensation for players and am encouraged by any conversation that brings new ideas to the table to determine the best way to do so. I have also broken rules before, just as I am sure most of you reading this have at some point, so I know rules get broken. I am not naive enough to think that NCAA rules are not broken nearly everywhere you look and you can probably find dirt at every campus if you dig deep enough. That said, I am frustrated by the reaction to these latest revelations and the cheap shots that tend to be taken at the NCAA’s expense. There is a time and a place to point blame in the direction of the NCAA, but I am not at all convinced that this week has offered the right time. When the Sports Illustrated story began to be released there were plenty of college football minds appearing to quickly shrug aide the story. Drug use among college players? What a shock! Players accepting money? How dare they! I understand these things seem trivial and are on the same level of players selling their own property in exchange for money. There is no harm being done to anybody when you look at those alleged violations and could cause some to suggest they are in violation of rules that are silly to begin with. My problem comes in when we just automatically write these off as no big deal. In my eye, I see players breaking the rules I want to believe they are well aware of before hand. When we read these stories we see players painting a picture of not knowing what was happening and trying to convince us they did not know accepting large sums of money was wrong. C’mon. Are we really that naive? These players know what they are doing, especially in a sport that receives so much attention for just this sort of problem. If we are to believe that players are taught about these rules by the coaches and administrative staff, then it is clear the staff at these colleges is not doing their job properly. If that truly is the problem, then admit it and fix it. If we can blame teachers for low test scores, then we can blame football staff members for the shortcomings of their players on and off the field as well. I do not know how legitimate the Sports Illustrated is or is not. The report seems largely based on hearsay, so I am hesitant to evaluate the merit of the alleged infractions and am accepting of an overly dismissive reaction from the public. The Yahoo Sports story is another issue though. Yahoo‘s evidence to support the story may have been enough to connect the dots between a stressed out chemistry teacher to an crystal meth emperor faster than simple initials in a book. Time will tell just what this all means for the programs of those accused in the story — Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi State — if anything at all. Still, in spite of hard evidence, many are quick to shrug off the incidents and instead fire their aim at the NCAA for having such silly rules. Maybe I live in a different world than most, but brushing off the thought that these types of violations happen everywhere without a care in the world to find a way to stop it is absurd. We have rules, but everyone breaks them anyway so what’s the point? There is one word to describe that; anarchy. I am not trying to cast a holier than thou image here, and I certainly am as critical of the NCAA and their enforcement policies as the next person, but this is not where blaming the NCAA comes in to play, and it is not necessarily the NCAA’s position to prevent this from happening. Instead the fire should be aimed at the coaches, administrators and the players. The players are ultimately responsible for any of the actions we review, because they always have a choice to do what is right and what is wrong. If they can willingly accept a sum of money that is larger than any compensation that is deemed to be normal (for food on road trips etc.), then more power to them. To me that speaks more about the character of that individual than anyone else. But some of these kids need the money! I do feel for those who are in that sort of position, I really do, but if they have been properly instructed by their coaches and administrators about the rules and the consequences of breaking those rules, then I have absolutely no sympathy. It is not the NCAA’s fault these players make bad decisions. It is the NCAA’s fault for restricting the type of income these players may receive. The rule is not necessarily broken beyond repair, but is in need of a tune-up. As a society we allow these shenanigans to go without penalty, because we love football and an entertaining product. College football is one of the most entertaining products in this country today, perhaps second only to the NFL. The TV ratings and mega TV deals are proof of that. No matter what happens off the field, we will show up hours before kickoff to tailgate and sit inside a structure built out of concrete and metal to watch kids play football. If players get suspended, we’ll still show up. If our favorite team is accused of working the academic records, we’ll get over it. Sure, we’ll take some ribbing from those cheering on the rival school, but their time will come when the shame will be on their university. What goes around, comes around. I am in no way suggesting we abandon college football. I would never dream of it. But if there is ever going to be any sort of change we can believe in with the game’s integrity and conduct, it will be up to the masses to demand it. The NCAA will be powerless. The conference commissioners only speak on behalf of the university presidents. The university presidents will adhere to advice from the boards of trustees. And this is where the spark for change will have to occur, but won’t. Why? Because the board of trustees will be interested in what’s best for the school, and money talks. College football brings big money to the table and who would want to risk doing anything that could prevent those paychecks from coming in to keep budgets in the black? Maybe this is just me, but if there was a way to ensure the game could be properly managed and violations could truly be enforced and mean something, then perhaps in time we would be able to cut back on all of thee negative stories off the field. This is where I would point to examples who have been doing things the right way and suggest that there is hope, but I have been fooled before and I will hope not to be fooled again. These stories will continue and nobody is safe. But we’ll still show up on game day.
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