Thursday, November 10, 2011

Why I Love and Hate College Football


Growing up in Oklahoma, I had no choice. College football was the sport. You followed the Sooners. You cheered for the Sooners. You lived and died with the Sooners. OU football was (and still is) the number one religion in the state, and if you weren't a follower, you were excommunicated. I didn't mind, because I truly loved it. There was nothing better than a football Saturday in the fall. Billy Sims and the Selmon brothers were gods to us. Even now, my favorite day of the year is in October when OU plays Texas. The color and energy of that day and that game can't be topped.

College football is a wonderful sport. The stadiums, the tailgating, the uniforms, the cheerleaders, the rivalries, the Heisman, the bowl games, the cheating, the drugs, the child rape scandals. Wait, somehow we just got way off course...

Unfortunately, there is a dichotomy at work here. While the greatness of college football can't be denied, it also can't be denied that big-time college football is the dirtiest, seediest sport in this country. Bar none. The Penn State scandal brings to light just how far a program will go to the dark side in order to preserve its image and its income. We’ve always known that it’s par for the course for programs to cover up paying for players and doctoring grades, but covering up a child rape scandal? Even the biggest college football sceptic couldn’t have thought this was possible.

I don’t ever want to hear “they do it the right way at such-and-such school” again. Nobody does it the right way in college football, where the only way to survive is to do it the wrong way. Dave Bliss was a card-carrying Christian Soldier, but turned out to be the dirtiest coach in the history of college basketball. I was always told that Joe Paterno “did it the right way” at Penn State. We now know how laughable that really was.

Where there is big money at stake, and high-paying jobs at stake, and school pride at stake, there will always be those willing to cheat the system in order to win games. Always.

We’ve heard for years that college football is “cleaner now than it was in the 70’s and 80’s.” That’s just not true. College football is dirtier than ever before, because the stakes are higher than ever before. The NCAA released a study last year: 53 of the 120 FBS schools had been found guilty of major violations from 2000-2010. Almost 50% of programs were dirty in just the last ten years! Common sense tells you that the percentage of guilty programs is probably much higher--those 53 schools were the ones caught cheating, but how many more got away with it? Over the last 75 years, 90% of FBS schools have been found guilty of major violations. In other words, everyone cheats, and most get caught. And yet, the cheating continues.

I call it the mentally-ill world of big-time college football. There is something about a college football program that warps a person's perspective. There are also reprehensible things going on in religion (the many, many sex scandals, most notably in the Catholic Church) and politics (sex scandals, cheating, lying, crime) and big business (corporate greed, cheating, lying, crime). None of it is right. But in the cases of religion (not the football kind) and politics and even some some businesses, we are talking about things that run the world, things that wars are fought over, things that people die for. But college football? It’s a game, or so we are led to believe.

I've known of friendships ended because of college football. We've read stories of beatings and vandalism and even murders over college football. For a frighteningly large number of people, their favorite college football program is more important to them than their family, friends and career--and sadly, they have no idea. They can't see the forest for the trees, unless the trees are killed by a crazy Alabama fan.

I can insult a religion or a political party or a business on our radio show, and I’ll get some feedback. But if I insult the Longhorns, Aggies, or any college football program, I’ll get death threats. I can’t explain what makes people lose their marbles when it comes to their favorite college football team. For some reason, college football bragging rights mean more than doing the right thing. In the case of Penn State, bragging rights meant more than protecting young boys from a serial rapist. How does anyone explain that?


Jerry Sandusky is a monster. We see now that Penn State was willing to go to great lengths to cover up the actions of this monster. Why? Because they didn’t want to soil the great reputation of Joe Paterno and Nittany Lion football. Because they didn’t want to toss a wrench into the money-making machine that is Penn State football. The only way a monster like Sandusky survives for that long is to work within another monster--in this case, the other monster is a big-time college football program.

There are few things I love more than college football. But it’s getting more difficult by the day to keep that love affair alive. Conference realignment, the BCS, drugs, cheating, and the win-at-all-costs mentality make the sport difficult for me to fully embrace. In a professional sport, we almost expect cheating and drugs and scandal. But college football, we are told, is about competition and education and apple pie. Then, we learn about Joe Paterno covering up a child rape scandal. Joe Paterno, who does things the right way.

There is no right way. Not anymore. Not in college football. Not as long as they’re keeping score.