College Sports Need to Start Over -
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post #1 of 5 (permalink) Old Dec 16th, 2002, 06:13 AM Thread Starter
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College Sports Need to Start Over

THE American college sports system reminds me of a movie I once saw about an English boarding school ("public school," as they say).

One boy would later grow up to be a Soviet spy, and you could almost understand why. After a normal day of bullying and being bullied, two friends were commiserating in their dormitory room after the lights went out.

"If only our parents knew what goes on here," one boy said.

"They know," his friend said. "They know."

In the United States, people know all about the corruption, the phony admissions standards, the payoffs, the boosters that permeate college sports. University administrators know. Fans know. We all go along.

After a month of collecting new examples of excesses and follies and abuses in college sports, I propose that this is a good time for the entire American system to be dismantled.

The way Americans conduct sports has certainly not made us healthy, in any sense of the word. All the evidence suggests that watching sports makes many of us surly, stupid, flabby, passive and, quite often, furthers the impulse to get drunk and gamble. What a legacy to the old ideal of sound mind, sound body.

Let's start with the national scandal involving recruits who have been greeted by a welcome wagon with a whole new twist — free sex. Apparently, it happens at many schools, but the University of Colorado had two rape claims linked with parties for visiting jocks.

Blue-chip recruits do not even have to act suave and put on after-shave to find companionship in their legal two-night visits to campus. Somebody a few steps removed from complaisant deans and don't-wanna-know coaches produces women willing to do just about anything for fun — or money.

I don't mean to sound like a prude. I understand that young people leave home and have new experiences. But the university-as-pimp seems a context clue that something has gone drastically wrong.

The favors are not just sexual, of course. The University of Michigan has been forced to give back $450,000 and pretend that its Fab Five team never competed in two national championship games a decade ago. The last I heard, Michigan does not have to give back all the money it made from selling gear because of the success of the Fab Five.

You can understand why undercompensated athletes take money from boosters like Ed Martin, who has pleaded guilty to laundering gambling money through college players. Now Chris Webber has been indicted for lying to a grand jury about his involvement.

Would the sight of an N.B.A. player doing 30 off-season days for perjury scare other athletes, boosters and college officials? Not likely. The investigators cannot catch everybody.

By the way, the high school system is also rotten: teams play a national schedule, including the televised senior season of LeBron James in Akron, Ohio. High schools must compete with independent travel teams for the loyalty of players. Teenage athletes move around like free-booting corporate executives.

But the saddest example came in a fine series in Sports Illustrated — the jock academy down in Florida, run by International Management Group. Children are sent there, usually by wealthy parents, to focus on their backhands and their jump shots with the hopes of eventually becoming family meal tickets.

These apprentices do attend class, but there is almost no chance they will ever have the opportunity to socialize with dissimilar types — the long-hairs, weirdos, greasers, nerds, punks and academic grinds they would encounter in the desirable chaos of a local high school. How achingly barren.

Only the very best high school athletes are ever funneled into the college system, which then depends on television revenue and gate revenue to finance other sports. San Jose State is begging, cajoling, beseeching — anything short of kidnapping — students into attending football games, even if they hate the sport.

If a college has an average of less than 15,000 fans at home games, it loses its status in Division I — and athletes who play other sports get tossed out of their conferences. As Christopher, the killer-junkie, wailed on "The Sopranos," how did it get this far?

Big-time college sports are also an excuse to get wasted and violent. We were reminded of this in the riot after Ohio State's victory over Michigan, and various goal post melees.

Liquor fuels the flames, according to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health, which said that college students who identified themselves as major sports fans tended to binge drink more than other students.

My sense is that there is something inherently numbing and depersonalizing about sitting in a crowd and watching other people play; it attracts a high percentage of people with antisocial tendencies.

As long as I have been in this business, administrators have been telling me that football is a great unifying element. It brings the campus together in the fall.

If recruiting scandals and skewed admissions standards and binge drinking and the occasional postgame riot are signs of unity, then colleges should operate liquor franchises and strip joints and mosh pits and gambling casinos. In effect, they already are.

Personally, I have far more tolerance for the grossness of professional sports. The pros are what they are — some good people, some bozos, with big muscles and fast feet and incredible skills. The N.F.L. in particular is dependent on college players and the aura of academia, but at least you don't have to put up with college broadcasters delivering another load of pseudoreverent "student athlete" clichιs.

All right, maybe they won't dismantle this house of cards. But in the old college tradition, they should give the system a sabbatical. Everybody take a year off and see if they can eliminate the pimping and the bribing and the violence. They couldn't do worse than what they've got.
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post #2 of 5 (permalink) Old Dec 16th, 2002, 10:44 AM Thread Starter
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post #3 of 5 (permalink) Old Dec 16th, 2002, 01:35 PM Thread Starter
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It's all a sham. Amatuerism doesn't exist anymore among the universities.
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post #4 of 5 (permalink) Old Dec 16th, 2002, 02:10 PM Thread Starter
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everyone is getting paid except the athletes, administrators, coaches, universities, sponsors, tv, etc.
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post #5 of 5 (permalink) Old Dec 16th, 2002, 07:02 PM Thread Starter
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Economics Remain No. 1 in the Business of College Sports

The marketing director from Coca-Cola, John Egan, said, "Corporate involvement means better experiences for more athletes." The president of CBS Sports, Sean McManus, said, "Commercialism is not the opposite of integrity." I thought I was back in Nascar until Jeremy Foley, the athletic director of the University of Florida, said, "You have to look at us as a piece of the pie; we are not more important than the English department."

The audience, mostly beefy, middle-aged white men, nodded at the inside joke. The English department? How many outdoor stadium seats would those pencil-necks fill, even for the cockfights of literature, a poetry slam? For two days last week at a forum called "Balancing Academic Standards, Athletics and Economic Realities," I could imagine the future underworld of higher education where a football team recruits a university to make it proud.

The sensibility of the forum, which was hosted by the indispensible weekly trade paper SportsBusiness Journal, was best summed up by Deborah Yow, the athletic director of the University of Maryland, who said that the responsible A.D. tries to "minimize danger to the brand."

How many Division I-A English departments have to protect a brand after their scholar-scholars are involved in an eligibility scandal, booster payoffs, date rape, drunken binges, a student-betting ring or just tearing down the goal posts?

I needed the pick-me-up. My Heisman Trophy hopeful, Byron Leftwich of Marshall University, hadn't even made the cut of five finalists invited to New York for last night's announcement. Leftwich only led the nation in total offense and completed 69 percent of his passes for 4,019 yards, 26 touchdowns and 9 interceptions.

He looked terrific doing it behind a line that couldn't always protect him long enough and a defense that didn't always get him the ball back quickly. After injuring his left leg a month ago, he kept playing even when teammates had to carry him to the line of scrimmage. But the sportswriters who vote on the Heisman (should they be voting on an award in a sport they cover?) went for better-known players whose major conference schools appear more often on national television. Marshall is in the lightweight GMAC Bowl Tuesday night. But Leftwich need not worry; he is expected to be an early and expensive pro draft choice.

I dwell on this to deflect the accusations of Thundering Herd fans that Leftwich's candidacy was damaged by recent columns here about Marshall's problems with the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Marshall's violations for "impermissible employment of academic nonqualifiers at rates four times the prevailing wage, academic fraud and a lack of institutional control" were punished last year primarily by the loss of a few football scholarships.

That's old news. What remains interesting is the business-as-usual climate in which the infractions took place. The rich booster who financed the payoffs, Marshall Reynolds, told me he has been hiring athletes for at least 10 years at the athletic department's behest. He paid them $100 a day and didn't dog them if they didn't show up. He was barred from associating with the athletic department for five years.

Reynolds and the compliance officer, David Ridpath, who apparently had no way of knowing about the violations unless the booster, a coach or an athlete snitched, were publicly embarrassed, and may sue. Meanwhile, the men in charge — most notably Marshall's president, Dan Angel, and the football coach, Bob Pruett — roll on.

If I had any illusions about Marshall, a lower middle-class striver in this jock-industrial complex, they were purged in the SportsBusiness Journal forum. The event was staged so the paper's publisher, Richard Weiss, and John Genzale, its editor in chief, could mingle with readers like Maryland's Yow, a believer in "reputation management," who in turn could network with the marketing guru Rick Burton, who is concerned about the "eroding brand image because of how athletes are perceived."

College football and basketball players, those "unpaid professionals," as a leading sports economist, Andrew Zimbalist, dubs them, were physically absent. But they filled the empty spaces between thoughtful and provocative discussions about Title IX, gambling, beer money, $1 million coaching salaries and the $200 million needed to bring Ohio State's facilities up to code and fat-cat comfort. If you wanted to see big men squirm, just bring up payment for the "scholar-athletes."

This is where "amateurism," the 19th-century sports sect whose outworn ideology is still used to control athletes, rubs up against the branding needs of a modern athletic department that has to pay the mortgage on a 21st-century stadium. No wonder it wants to keep its labor costs down with N.C.A.A. rules that forbid slipping the boys some pizza money.

Bill Byrne, the former athletic director at Nebraska, who moved on to the same post at Texas A&M, doesn't even like to call what he does a business. If it were truly a business, he said, he would be able to fire the kid who missed the field goal that lost the big game. Byrne, wry and righteous, was involved in one of the few touchy exchanges among men who want to do business together.

Ralph Cindrich, the former N.F.L. linebacker, was explaining how badly some athletes needed lawyer-agents like him. "Some of these guys can't read or sign a contract," he said.

Byrne of Nebraska snapped, "Speak for yourself."

Cindrich smiled as he said, "I've represented guys from Nebraska."

Now there's a brand.
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