The story goes that the seeds of the NCAA began in 1905 when a Harvard football player named Ted Roosevelt broke his nose and told his father, who happened to be the U.S. president. What followed was the formation of an association to “protect young people from the dangerous and exploitive athletics practices of the time.”
At the time, “dangerous and exploitive” practices referred to annoyances like gang tackling. Nobody had yet considered the concept of coaches covering up rules violations (and their own backsides); bowl officials violating election laws and skimming from the till; university presidents approving expanded football seasons and selling their souls to television executives while paying lip service to academics; recruits being romanced by bags of money or a line of coeds (or if they’re really good, both).
Danger and exploitation now define the landscape.
The NCAA has been in denial about the problems in college sports for too long. Its lethal combination of ignorance, avoidance and greed has led to perhaps the ugliest time ever for college athletics.
All of the volcanoes on the island are erupting at once.
♦ John Junker is the new face of BCS bowl corruption. He was fired as Fiesta Bowl CEO for allegations of violating campaign finance laws (pressuring employees to make political contributions, then reimbursing them out of the bowl’s bottomless checking account). He submitted reimbursable expenses for everything from an associate’s wedding ($13,086) to a birthday party for himself at Pebble Beach ($33,188). And you thought writing in an extra $7 on the blank “Thank you” receipt was bad.
Junker also financed an annual boondoggle called the “Fiesta Frolic,” a golf retreat for coaches, athletic directors and conference officials at a cost of $1.325 million from 2005 to 2008. Question: While BCS bowl officials are mimicking Bacchus, how is it schools actually lose money on bowl trips?
♦ Ohio State coach Jim Tressel is the new face of the lying, weasel coach. He covered up evidence of his players selling memorabilia before last season, long before the NCAA found out. That’s far worse than the crime. Tressel is an authority figure making $3.5 million per year. The players (while wrong) are young and looking for spending money. OSU president Gordon Gee, the same I’m-more-principled-than-you guy who dismantled the Vanderbilt athletic department, slapped Tressel on the wrist with only a two-game suspension, while joking, “I hope he doesn’t dismiss me.” Tressel now is scrambling to douse public criticism, increasing his suspension to five games. That won’t do it.
♦ Auburn, the defending national champion, is not the new face of anything — just a familiar one. Four former players told HBO’s Real Sports they received cash and sexual inducements when recruited and/or played for the Tigers. One player said he also received payments from Ohio State, LSU and Michigan State during recruiting. Auburn coach Gene Chizik, who is coming off a year of battling allegations related to the recruiting of Cam Newton, called these claims “pathetic and pure garbage.” Chizik has become an expert at denial soundbites.
A BCS bowl.
A high-profile, championship coach.
The reigning national champions.
Can it get worse?
The NCAA never has shown a great concern for its problems. It only shows a concern for looking bad. If it really cared, it would have taken all of those millions of dollars generated by bowls and championships and television contracts and invested more money, resources and time into enforcement of rules and possible ways to fix the problems.
The idea of pay-for-play has been broached in college athletics. My personal view: That likely would only lessen the rule-breaking, not eliminate it. But given the dollars now being generated, it’s something that needs to be looked at.
The biggest problem is that the NCAA is a reactive, not proactive, body. Forever, it has waited for media outlets to investigate and breaks stories on infractions. Dallas newspapers exposed the slimy underground at Texas schools that led to several going on probation and the eventual dissolution of the Southwest Conference. Junker’s dealings originally were reported by the Arizona Republic in 2009. Past issues involving SEC schools mostly were exposed by newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Now major internet sites like ESPN and Yahoo! and aggressive bloggers like SportsbyBrooks are mining stories.
Only after the dam breaks does the NCAA move in.
College athletics have become like professional boxing, run by independent contractors who care only about their wallets. There is no real organization with real structure or real enforcement. Instead of Don King or Bob Arum, we have hypocritical college presidents and self-serving conference heads running things.
The concept of purity in college athletics is long gone. But the NCAA needs to recognize its mission isn’t about limited to broken noses anymore.
This would be a good time wake up from its nap and act like it cares.
By Jeff Schultz