The End of the Line

By Shannon J. Owens
Updated: January 11, 2011

ORLANDO — Believe it or not, more has actually gone right than wrong during the 2010-11 college football season. I’m happy to report of the 1,000-plus schools that compete under the umbrella of the NCAA, the near 300 NAIA schools and countless junior colleges across America, more of these schools have played by the rules than not. More athletes will pursue higher education than the NFL. More schools stayed with their conferences than those who have left. But despite of all the good things that happened this year, we’ll undoubtedly remember the problems. We’re talking 1987 SMU football-sized problems without the 1987-sized punishments. “I think the image has been tarnished this year,” ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit told me. And in the case of this season, the bad incidents in college football this season were like a drop of gasoline in a glass of milk. Just a little is enough to spoil everything. We got an early premonition of controversy with the circus act of schools jumping conferences. The Big 12 is really the Big Ten, the Big Ten is now the Big 12 and “little” TCU will run with the Big East, beginning in 2012. We could call the schools greedy, but they are within their rights to do so according to the NCAA. Next up, a group of football players at the University of North Carolina prompted allegations of agent and academic abuses. Some South Carolina football players also caught the attention of the NCAA for suspected financial arrangements at a local hotel. But the best scandals were saved for last. Cam Newton and his father were under investigation for a pay-to-play scheme and a group of Ohio State football players were hawking their Big Ten rings and getting free tattoos. Do you want to know the most laughable part of all of this? The NCAA swept both of these incidents under the rug. Cecil Newton was deemed guilty, yet his son who “didn’t know” about his father’s improprieties competed in the BCS National Championship game despite rules that suggested otherwise. Ohio State’s “unfabulous” five all competed in the Sugar Bowl despite a suspension for improper benefits and selling personal items. The real kicker here is how Ohio State coach Jim Tressel essentially black-mailed the players with the promise of competing in the Sugar Bowl if they pledged to return. All of the players in these examples failed on some level. But the system of weak leadership, namely, the NCAA’s leadership, failed in much bigger ways. Money is the great albatross in college sports, thus preventing a system of fair and balanced opportunities and sidetracking the focus of education. But it’s pointless to fight against the machine. Instead, it’s time to extract the gasoline from the milk. Create a league of semi-professional college football teams. Allow players to get paid a salary, attract endorsement deals, etc. and continue to allow college coaches and their schools to chase the big dollar. Or maybe more schools should follow the Notre Dame’s model. Remain independent from the conference model to maximize funds from television contracts to avoid splitting the pot with other schools. Because there are really two sets of college football players anyway; the NFL-bound bunch and everybody else. If the gasoline explodes, let it taint the other gasoline-run programs. And let the milk stay clean.