Yet another high-profile college athletics program is under the NCAA microscope for infractions, this time Ohio State football. This is a “big fish” for the NCAA, as Ohio State runs one of the most profitable athletic departments in the country, and until recently, under Jim Tressel, was believed to be one of the most virtuous. The NCAA’s announcement of allegations against the Buckeyes front man has predictably awakened the voices of rival fans, coaches, and the media who have converged in a chorus of tongue clucking, head shaking, and finger-pointing with the mighty Buckeyes now in the stocks on the public square.
Of course all of this judgment pouring out against the Buckeyes is myopic and misguided when the entire landscape of big time college athletics is examined. Ohio State is no rogue program, some rebel scofflaw among a land of the pious. No Ohio State is merely the latest big time college program to get publicly spattered with the muck that is the foundation of college sports. Rival fans claiming the moral high ground in this instance might as well be claiming to be the most virtuous whore at the Chicken Ranch.
With billions of dollars of revenue at stake, is it any wonder college sports has devolved into the cesspool of greed it now is? This space has devoted much time to the BCS and its avaricious influence on college football, but let’s take a closer look at how the pursuit of this revenue has affected the universities that sponsor these teams and the games themselves.
In the last five years alone, a virtual who’s who of college football’s elite has seen the NCAA hammer dropped on their programs. Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, Southern California, and now Ohio State have all been on the hot seat for major ethics violations. Other successful schools, like Florida, have escaped the NCAA, but have seen their own players struggle with obeying local ordinances. Some of these programs could open branch campuses at the local jail. To paraphrase the King James (the Bible, not the basketball player) “there is none righteous, no not one.”
College basketball is no better, possibly a bit worse. Kentucky is usually mentioned in connection to corruption because of their inglorious past, yet the Wildcats have gone 23 years now without a run-in with the NCAA. Meanwhile, Kansas and UCLA have each been cited for major violations. This year’s national champion, UConn, is in the midst of having NCAA penalties imposed. Even down on Tobacco Road, perceived paragon of virtue Duke isn’t immune to the corruption. Go ask a Duke fan about Myron Piggie and Corey Maggette and watch them lower their head and walk away slowly. Ask Coach K about his own relationship with infamous “street agent” William “World Wide Wes” Wesley.
If it’s not coaches, boosters, or school representatives on the take, it’s the aforementioned street agents, shoe company representatives, “scouting” services, and sports factories that have sprung up over the past 10-15 years that are poisoning the college game. These individuals, operating outside the watch of high schools and the NCAA, have gotten their hands into the billion dollar pie. They are essentially athletic pimps, showing off their “wares” at 5-star camps and AAU tournaments in front of ogling coaches and talent evaluators. In exchange for some sort of quid pro quo (future positions, tickets, or just a relationship with a high-profile coach) these “brokers” deliver players to certain programs. No program of any stature over this period has avoided contact with this. Now, “schools” are popping up like this one in North Carolina, offering a sham of an education in order to cash in on the backs of these young prospects.
Unless you’re a supporter of Vanderbilt, who (ironically under now OSU president Gordon Gee)slashed their athletic budget by $1.5 million and folded the athletic department into the general university’s oversight, there’s not much room for a “holier than thou” position. There isn’t anyone out there doing it the “right way.” In a system as rife with cash and with an enforcement body (the NCAA) more akin to Barney Fife than Eliot Ness, there are only varying shades of gray in this corrupt world. Fans and media members would be wise to remember that before crowing too loudly over the demise of a rival. Crow seems to be the “dish d’jour’ in the NCAA.