OK, so we love college football. But WHY do we still love it?

Caleb King no longer plays for Georgia. Tech is no longer the 2009 ACC champ. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Caleb King: No longer a Bulldog. Tech: No longer the '09 ACC champ. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

The SEC’s annual Media Days — the biggest football conference needs three calendar days just to accommodate all the blather — convene Wednesday in Hoover, Ala. The ACC stages its (two-day) convocation this weekend in Pinehurst, N.C. This means we’re not that far from actually getting to watch the One True Sport, the game we Southerners know and love.

One question, though. Should we love it?

For college football, 2011 has already been an annus horribilis, which is Latin for “lousy year.” And yes, it’s only July. We’ve still got the 2011 season to go. Maybe things will get better. They could scarcely get worse. In calendar 2011 we’ve seen:

• The 2004 BCS titlist (Southern Cal) stripped of its crown, largely because of an investigation into the financial arrangements of Reggie Bush, the 2005 Heisman winner.

• The 2002 BCS titlist (Ohio State) stripped of iconic head coach Jim Tressel, who resigned after it was revealed he hadn’t reported allegations of players trading memorabilia for tattoos and had been less than forthcoming in statements to the NCAA.

• The 1998 BCS titlist (Tennessee) stripped of athletic director Mike Hamilton, who quit ahead of an NCAA hearing into basketball and baseball, yes, but also football. Which can happen when you hire Lane Kiffin.

• The 2009 ACC champion (Georgia Tech) stripped of its title because it used an ineligible player and stripped of $100,000 because its administration ticked off the NCAA.

• One of the three 2010 Big East co-champions (West Virginia) placed on two years’ NCAA probation because of a failure to monitor its coaches.

• The 2010 Music City Bowl champion (North Carolina) informed that the NCAA has levied nine violations, ranging from impermissible benefits to academic misconduct, against it.

• Both teams that played for the 2010 BCS title fall under scrutiny: Auburn because of the presence of Cam Newton, the 2010 Heisman winner whose recruitment is still apparently the center of an ongoing NCAA investigation, and Oregon because it paid a Texas man named Willie Lyles $25,000 for what it contends were “scouting services” but what Lyles says were something else.

• The Fiesta Bowl, one of the BCS flagships, lose its president and nearly lose its exalted status after it was revealed staffers had been (illegally) reimbursed for contributions to political campaigns.

• One of the 2010 Big East co-champions (West Virginia again) accepting the resignation of head coach Bill Stewart, who had become implicated in the attempt to smear Dana Holgorsen, whom the Mountaineers had just hired as Stewart’s successor-in-waiting. Quick succession, huh?

The NFL and the NBA are locked out because of money. After such a run of regrettable news, we who follow college football should be asking if this sport mightn’t be better served locking its doors and disbanding its programs. Even those among us who have long known of the seamier side to the Color & Pageantry are wondering if color and pageantry are worth all this.

College football has long been a dirty business, but it’s bigger and dirtier than ever. The strange spectacle of recruiting has become a sport unto itself. (Esteemed colleague Michael Carvell offers the best description I’ve heard: “A lot of fans would rather see their team get a big commitment than score a touchdown on Saturday.”) Assistant coaches now make more than Hall of Fame head coaches did a quarter-century ago. At least one father — an ordained minister, of all things — has been accused of trying to sell his son’s services.

And yet: For all the grime, college football is the one game for which our passion is never diminished. Look around the SEC. Notice many empty seats in those massive stadiums? Even college basketball has seen its regular season diluted because nobody can remember who’s playing from year to year, but never college football. There’s big money to be made. (Except if you’re a player and you’re looking to sell your Independence Bowl jersey. That’ll cost you four games.)

Back to the SEC. It’s the biggest, and its five consecutive BCS titles brand it as the best. It’s also, as Brett McMurphy of CBS Sports noted, the slimiest. Since 1987, no conference can match the SEC’s 13 major NCAA violations. Every SEC football program save two — LSU, which saw its last major violation in 1986, and Vanderbilt, which has never been hit with one — has been docked over that span. The (im)moral of our story: To be the best, cheat the hardest.

And yet: We know all this stuff and we love it anyway. And, cognitively dissonant though we are, we’re about to get excited all over again. Heaven help us all.

By Mark Bradley

245 comments Add your comment

J.J.M.

July 18th, 2011
1:33 pm

brandon

July 18th, 2011
1:34 pm

I hadn’t realized just how rough a year it had been…

Mark Bradley

July 18th, 2011
1:35 pm

Kudos, J.J.M.

RTR

July 18th, 2011
1:36 pm

RTR

July 18th, 2011
1:37 pm

well make it 3 and 4th

Beast from the East

July 18th, 2011
1:37 pm

Mark,
Do you honestly think it’s worse than in the 80’s? I don’t. Just think everything is more visible these days with all of the technology.

NCAAJOKE

July 18th, 2011
1:38 pm

Mark,

Do you think there is any chance Tech can appeal any part of the sanctions (like the stripping of the title)? I’ve heard it’s near impossible for any school to do so these days but was just curious. With all of the other sanctions the title being removed just seems totally out of line.

Mark Bradley

July 18th, 2011
1:40 pm

I think it’s pretty darn bad, Beast.

Mark Bradley

July 18th, 2011
1:42 pm

The title was stripped, NCAAJOKE, because Demaryius Thomas, who was ruled to have been ineligible, played that night and Tech won. He also played against Georgia and Iowa, but Tech lost those games. The one game Tech won while using an ineligible player just happened to have been the ACC title game.

BuzzOff

July 18th, 2011
1:43 pm

“The (im)moral of our story: To be the best, cheat the hardest.”

Or in Tech’s case…cheat and still suck.

Beast from the East

July 18th, 2011
1:43 pm

Fair enough, Mark. Just glad that UF has managed to steer clear of these troubles. I think Foley runs a pretty tight ship. Hope he stays in Gainesville FOREVER!

NCAAJOKE

July 18th, 2011
1:44 pm

Mark you didn’t answer the question about the appeals process…and yes that’s all clear, but over $300 stripping the title is ridiculous (I think most people not just the tech folks would agree)

George Stein

July 18th, 2011
1:47 pm

If the question is should we love it, I’m not certain there’s a right answer.

But, if the question is why we love it, I’m pretty sure this Tech fan and all the UGA fans are going to need more space.

Realistic fan

July 18th, 2011
1:52 pm

Mark, the penalty for Tech was well deserved and just points out the problem with Tech fans in Spades. The arrogance is unmatched. They cheated, they lied, they tried to cover it up and now they say they don’t agree with the penalty although they admitted they probably should not have take the advice of their own attorney and played Burnett and Thomas. And now they want to go crying before the NCAA and appeal. They always think they are right and smarter than everyone else when they aren’t . This is exhibit A.

Bob

July 18th, 2011
1:52 pm

Because we’re narrow-minded, provincial, and scared of anything related to big cities or other parts if the world/country/county.

Herschel Talker

July 18th, 2011
1:54 pm

MB:

Well written. This does put a perspective on things. Mark Richt is a good man (but still a terrible coach), and I am sorry for continually calling for his head (but again, let’s not kid ourselves, he’s a trainwreck).

HT

juice sourcer

July 18th, 2011
1:55 pm

And it will continue to get worse until serious changes are made…just like our government and the economy. Nothing but lip service.

GTinNashville

July 18th, 2011
1:56 pm

Mark, according to the info that Tech released, they consulted with Jennifer Henderson at the NCAA, she stated she saw no reason to declare Thomas ineligible. Is what is being done now not simply “revisionist history?”

PMC

July 18th, 2011
1:56 pm

How are all these problems at the top of the NCAA’s elite programs all that different than the rest of our society at the moment.

Indeed, if you aren’t cheating, you aren’t trying.

Stud

July 18th, 2011
1:56 pm

B/C we can start ponzi schemes after we get fired and make millions ripping people off

BankerDawg

July 18th, 2011
1:59 pm

Actually, DT was never ruled ineligible at any point by anyone?

This is why Tech will get the title back, Mark. Nowhere in the document does it read that either DT or MB were ineligible, so the game was played above board.

Pretty big distinction, I think.

And yes, College Football is still the greatest sport in the world. Fall Saturdays in Athens…nothing like it anywhere else.

GOOOOOOOOOOOOO DAWGS! SIC ‘EM!

juvenal

July 18th, 2011
2:00 pm

so why did they do nothing to osu for playing dez? where did nordin go to school?………..if we ever get caught cheating instead of just being stupid, i’m done(o’leary may have come close)…guess i’ve been stupid lots of times, my wife puts up with, but cheating?

Larry

July 18th, 2011
2:00 pm

Beast from the East

July 18th, 2011
1:43 pm
Fair enough, Mark. Just glad that UF has managed to steer clear of these troubles. I think Foley runs a pretty tight ship. Hope he stays in Gainesville FOREVER!

You mean a ship loaded with more criminal arrests (31 in four years under Meyer) of their football players than any other university?

LOL!

DawginLex

July 18th, 2011
2:00 pm

I love college football but I despise what the NCAA has done to the sport.(and to college basketball too)

Ohio State being allowed to play those 5 players in the Sugar Bowl.
Auburn being allowed to play Cam Newton when anyone with a brain realizes he will be ruled ineligible sooner or later.
GT, while they did handle things wrong, is being made somewhat of a scapegoat for other’s misfortunes.
North Carolina and OSU-God help you.
Mark Emmert, former President of UW, now President of NCAA, not allowing Enes Kanter to play at Kentucky even though his former school recruited him and Terrence Jones. Only after Emmert got mad for Jones and Kanter switching to Kentucky did the Kanter eligibility issue become non-negotiable. Mark my words, he would have played for UW.

NCAA-Selective Enforcement and A Big Joke

Somewhere over the Dwayne Bowe

July 18th, 2011
2:01 pm

That’s because we are smarter, realistic (sic) fan.

Bring Back Knowshon

July 18th, 2011
2:02 pm

Any time we don’t have 10 arrests in the preseason, I chalk it up to a win. IMO, we’re 1-0 on the season already. Boise St. is going to make win #2!

Dickie

July 18th, 2011
2:03 pm

Something is wrong with a system when a player can steal money or clothing & no NCAA action against the school but if it the same is given to a player all hell breaks loose!!

DawginLex

July 18th, 2011
2:03 pm

GT in Nashville

Go talk to Memphis and Coach Calipari about a kid being declared eligible and then taking away an entire season including a Final Four.

The University of Memphis went through the NCAA Clearinghouse and were given news that Derrick Rose was eligible to play.

The NCAA is the only organization in the world that can tell you that you followed the rules and then later change their mind and destroy your program.

stan

July 18th, 2011
2:05 pm

the rules are dumb. get clothes is a benefit? return clothes with tags never worn benefited how?
ncaa is a joke. ohio st was 100 x worse than tech but they will get the same smackdown. just let the kids get what someone is willing to give them. that’s what capitalism is all about. punishing players who didn’t do anything wrong is bs like bedford wrote. fine the school fine. but taking away a champ because someone got some clothes they didnt wear and are sitting in a box is insane. and does anyone really think jacoby ford cj spiller or kyle parker didn’t get anything that year? lol yeah right.

cantondawg

July 18th, 2011
2:06 pm

There’s cheating everywhere. I played at a Division 1-AA school and i saw cheating there in the 80’s. If the NCAA looks hard enough they will find it at every school. Fellow bulldogs…Be careful before you start talking smack about Tech on probation. We could very well end up in the same situation.

Paddy

July 18th, 2011
2:10 pm

Mark…..will Tech appeal these NCAA penalties?

Les W. Moore

July 18th, 2011
2:12 pm

With all it’s warts, college football is still better than all other sports.

UGA_2001

July 18th, 2011
2:14 pm

How has LSU not been caught? I realize Louisiana is corrupt as hell, but you’d think the NCAA would find something on them. You can’t compete with Aub and Alabama unless you cheat like hell.

GT-97

July 18th, 2011
2:19 pm

Dirty rotten NCAA.

Georgia Tech is among the finest academic programs in the country.

GT78

July 18th, 2011
2:20 pm

Mark, We love the game of College Football but hate the business of College Football. The mesage I get from the NCAA is if you question at all their methods or motives you will be put in your place and made an example of.

Even as a Tech fan I came to that conclusion last year with the AJ Green episode. He and UGA were penalized two extra games for stealing the NCAA’s thunder. Tech is far worse guilty of feeling las though they should be concerned and protective of the rights and best interests of their students. Remember they came looking for one thing and wound up digging up something else to justify the travel expense report. When you read the details of the story, Tech was punished for questioning their tactics. I know of nowhere else in the U.S. where an individual is disallowed the benefit of prior notice or advice and council. Should you ever be questioned, the AJC would be right there to prepare you for any investigation or you would have the benefit of prior notice so you could obtain your own. Not so for 20 year old football players.

The General Feeling

July 18th, 2011
2:20 pm

The overwhelming majority of college student athletes get it right. Therefore, the NCAA gets it right most of the time.

btgt69

July 18th, 2011
2:20 pm

SEC = Scandal Everywhere Conference

George Stein

July 18th, 2011
2:21 pm

Agreed, Les.

Mark Bradley

July 18th, 2011
2:21 pm

Tech hasn’t decided if it will appeal. Apparently you can’t just appeal because you want to appeal. There has to be something open to interpretation.

Dr Richard Handler

July 18th, 2011
2:22 pm

Some of your best work, I always remember SMU legend Ron Meyer’s (in)famous quote: ” If you ain’t cheatin’…….. You ain’t tryin’.

ACC Champs: my T-shirt doesn't lie!

July 18th, 2011
2:22 pm

MBradly…surely Tech will appeal (and probably win…something…perhaps some face) because the nzaa did not deem the clothes gift were agent related. So, $312 should not command a “give back” of a championship…ya think?

Lowcountry Bulldawg

July 18th, 2011
2:23 pm

I wish I knew the answer on that one. I think I will just blame my Dad,lol. Heck its so bad now that if my wife makes plans for me in the fall she checks the UGA schedule to make sure I will be open to going. Perfect example is a Dirty Dancing Festival I am going to at Lake Lure. She made sure it was just the Coastal Carolina game I would miss. Yeah I know I have to turn in my man card for that weekend, but I gotta build up points for a latter time to cash in,lol.

Anyway loving UGA has not been easy every year but it sure has been damn fun. The memories of my youth with my family traveling to Athens on the backroads will forever be with me. This is why I will always support UGA.

headley lamar

July 18th, 2011
2:25 pm

but over $300 stripping the title is ridiculous (I think most people not just the tech folks would agree)

They didn’t strip the title over $300. They stripped the title because Tech lied about it after the fact.

Funny how the NCAA is sooo evil now that they have busted Tech (twice)

I wouldn’t lie to the NCAA again if I were you Tech. You think this one hurt.

Cuga

July 18th, 2011
2:27 pm

Mark…. You can focus on the few stories of those breaking the rules, (I think we know more now because of technology), or focus on the great stories about those student-athletes who over come great odds to be successful. There are far more stories of courage and accomplishment than of the bad stories so often written about. Whether you look for the bad or good you’ll find it everytime. I’ll look for the good and continue to pull for those who lay it on the line and overcome personal, athletic, and academic hardships to be successful.

uga_b

July 18th, 2011
2:28 pm

Mark, do you think that means that ESPN may brand one weekend Salacious Saturday? Maybe the OSU v. Michigan weekend or Oregon v. USC?

headley lamar

July 18th, 2011
2:28 pm

So, $312 should not command a “give back” of a championship…ya think?

It wasnt the $312 dollars. It was the lying about it after the fact and trying to coach the players on what to say.

George Stein

July 18th, 2011
2:30 pm

Actually, I don’t recall anywhere in the report that said Tech lied, Headley.

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Beast from the East

July 18th, 2011
2:36 pm

“You mean a ship loaded with more criminal arrests (31 in four years under Meyer) of their football players than any other university?”

Larry,
Yes. Foley has nothing to do with that. We’re talking NCAA violations. Try and keep up.

ACC Champs: my T-shirt doesn't lie!

July 18th, 2011
2:36 pm

failure to cooperate and playing a highly talented receiver Tech thought was eligible is not lying…