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The Corruption in College Sports
Big-time college sports is a corrupt enterprise. It is marred by the perfect storm of greed, glory and the cult of personality. The amount of money being generated is so overwhelming that people who consider themselves to be moral have become corrupt. And yet the pursuit of victory and money is so normalized in our society that time and time again we see those who stand for honesty and asking for change being marginalized. We sit and watch as solumn executives talk in platitudes about student-athletes and how it's not about the money when we know better. Yet they continue to look us in the eye and pretend to be honest. Why do we buy it?
The lure of money is well-known and the college landscape is awash in cash. The effect of an opportunity to be set for life is insidious. But because our society tends to glorify wealth (at least we do for ourselves), traditions and loyalties are easily discarded and sold to the highest bidder. One example is the University of Texas. They sold the relationship they had with their own fans to ESPN for $300 million. When I say they sold the loyalty I mean in the sense that the relationship is no longer with the university; it is with the TV network as ESPN and the university launched a station called The Longhorn Network (“LHN”). This is a 24/7 network full of Longhorn programming. In other words, it’s a niche market. But because ESPN is now expecting a return on this investment they are trying to strong-arm Time-Warner into carrying it on their basic cable network instead of charging a premium for this. Time-Warner is refusing and have to weather the attempts of ESPN and The University of Texas to paint it as the bad guy. Because of this two Longhorn football games that normally would have been seen on either network television (ABC, NBC, CBS or Fox) or standard cable (ESPN) were not available for viewing except for small market cable-providers which carried the LHN. Yet the executives at The University of Texas are all smiles because they have the money. And many of the alumni of the university continue to gloat how “We’re the Jones’,” when in fact the money to pay for the eventual airing of the new network is coming from them! The University forced “value” into the distribution network by extracting money from their own alumni. Keep in mind that The University of Texas already was the number one revenue producer in the entire US in terms of sports. But it wasn’t enough. There is a saying by a man named Benjamin Disraeli: “Next to knowing when to seize an opportunity, the most important thing in life is to know when to forego an advantage.” The Big 12 conference, long dominated by The University of Texas (in matters of politics and decision making) has become highly unstable and lost several teams including Texas A&M. This rivalry with Texas has dates back over one hundred years; but money made it expendable. This was an example of knowing when to forego an advantage and the Longhorns missed it in my opinion.
Next to greed I consider the emotional state of college football fans as the second biggest driving force behind the corruption. It seems to me that the rabid alumni of universities such as Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State, Oklahoma, USC and other universities with chronic recruiting violations only care about winning and not how it is achieved. In my view it is a statement to the depths of their emotional immaturity as purported adults derive extreme levels of vicarious pleasure derived from the accomplishment of mercenaries; mercenaries that are strangers to the fans. It is well known that many stars in college football and basketball are black. Yet in a region dominated by a racist legacy you see a conference (the SEC) full of black players being supported by white fan bases that probably wouldn’t give them a second thought were they not wearing the jersey of choice. This is a very controversial statement I’m sure but I’m from the south and the legacy of the Confederacy was alive and well when I was in Florida. The problem will continue as long as the emotional needs of the fans are centered on victories and not on their own lives and character. It is incredible to read the statements of fans of certain universities enabling the indiscretions of their coaches and alumni in the pursuit of elite athletes. The “everybody does it” argument is rampant. Denials are everywhere. But we know of the schemes such as chips being left at gambling casino tables for the family members of coveted players to pick-up to cash. This is virtually untraceable. We also know of phantom jobs and “$100 dollar” handshakes. Everybody seems to laugh and consider themselves sophisticated because of these schemes yet in the end what does it say about humans?
Finally I mentioned the cult of personality. This is personified by Joe Paterno. We have just learned that he possibly mishandled allegations of child-molestation by one of his top assistant coaches. It has been reported that Paterno mentioned the allegation of the sex act to his boss and then washed his hands of it. This happened a few years ago. Now it has come out and people still support Paterno as he is seen as the face of Penn State University. Undoubtedly he has done many good things in his life; but when the act was reported to him it appears that football was prioritized. Yesterday he ran practice as usual. In other words, football remained the priority. I believe the power of who he was sheltered him long ago when he decided not to call the police or fire his assistant. And the protection is in place now as they are frantically trying to find out a way to save his legacy. And for what? Because he won the most games?
I love to watch sports and have attended numerous games in person over my years as well as having played sports. But I’m starting to think the best sports to watch are the youth flag football games that preach fun and sportsmanship. I have coached at this level and it was pure, clean fun. I still admire great athletes and will ooh and ahh at their exploits but you will never hear me brag about a win ever again. I don’t care about that. I don’t want to be like that. And they won’t get my money either. I’m out of it….