There is always a lot going on in the world sports. Stories that are a big deal in the media and to a lot of sports fans stay off my radar because they didn’t break when I had time to read up on them. Sometimes a story breaks and I have time to get dialed in. This Yahoo Sports story by Charles Robinson about the University of Miami Football program is one of those. I had time to read it. I had time to read some reaction. It’s about something that I follow closely; College Football.
You can read the sordid details in the story for yourself.
Before I get into actual discussion about this story’s impact on College Football let me start off by saying that we now know who the actual reporters are in sports journalism. Since the internet arrived in every home there has been some debate about who should report the news. The established news agencies have long looked down on internet only providers, bloggers, and anything else associated with electronic media. Some cases the stereotype is correct. However, Charles Robinson hit this out of the park, and in my mind Yahoo Sports is now as much a legitimate information source as ESPN, FOX, Sporting News, and anyone else. On a recent trip I picked up a Yahoo Sports Radio affiliate. I’ll be looking for more of them in the future. Not only were they first, they were accurate, and created a story everyone else is talking about. Some of the big boys have been having trouble with that. I’m talking about you World Wide Leader?
For the most part I will try and keep my moral and political stances out of this blog, but the reason this story is a lightning rod is because of the moral and political implications. College Football is my second favorite sport. In the past I have held football season tickets at Kansas State. I love the pageantry, the bands, the rivalries, the border skirmishes, and smack talk between fan bases that often goes into socio-economic lifestyles long before it ever gets to actual competition. However, as I become more cognizant of what I am watching, College Football has lost some of its appeal.
I’m not normally a cynic but this story re-enforces what I thought was happening at big time programs. My affinity for College Football chose to ignore or diminish the impact of the unsavory aspects of something I enjoy. This story has caused me to re-evaluate what I am watching. It’s not so much of a revaluation, but an admission to what I’ve known, deep down, but did not want to admit.
One of my favorite books is Centennial by James A Michener . It’s about the part of Colorado no one writes songs about. In the last chapter Nebraska is playing in Boulder the Saturday after Thanksgiving. (which will never happen again, thanks conference re-alignment) While flying over the stadium the protagonist launches into this rant about College Football. Keep in mind this novel was written in 1974:
It’s the craziest pattern ever devised. Here you have the citizens of two great states growing apoplectic about a football game played not by their own people but by hired thugs imported at great expense from all over the United States. A large percentage of the players are blacks who would not be welcomed if they wanted to stay in the state after their playing days were over. They’re coddled and paid and pampered, and then thrown out on their ass. And for one Saturday afternoon in November the prestige of two states depends upon their performance. And the whole damn thing is done in the name of education!
What I am watching is not what it used to be, or what it appears to be. College Football is no longer the lads from Manhattan taking on the lads from Lawrence, Lincoln, or Stillwater. It’s no longer a friendly rivalry between two states in the same region over a football game. It’s mercenaries from other parts of the country coming to those towns to play on a big time stage, creating big time money. I am no longer watching what I thought it was watching as a child. I could go into how I’m outraged and that I will never watch another College Football game. But we all know I would be lying. I’ll watch plenty this fall. It’s still as much a social and community event as an athletic competition. On the surface it’s cleaner entertainment than the other stuff on television. Just know that I’m well aware of what I’m watching. This is why we should try and fix it College Football, or create something similar to replace it.
To solve the problem of improper benefits and rampant cheating in college sports something drastic should be done. There are lots of people advocating that college football players be paid for their services. They say the university is making millions off a player’s likeness and athletic skills. Those college football players should be compensated beyond their college scholarships. I think they have a point. Let’s do something drastic. Let’s let the free market take care of it. Let’s pay the players. Let’s also have our higher education system divest itself of revenue producing athletic departments and quit making a mockery of the term “student athlete”.
The players will be paid, as part of a minor league system for the NFL. This would create a situation where players that don’t want to mess with college can go play football. The players who would be academically ineligible can have their chance to earn a living. The kids that want an education can go to school, and if they want to represent their school playing football. This type of system will create a lot of other logistical and legal issues that will have to be solved. I’m not an attorney and I don’t have enough time to spell them out. Use your imagination, and leave your ideas in the comments section. We’ll have fun with it.
It’s either that or we eliminate recruiting and we go back to what College Football used be, and what most* of High School Football is: A group of kids from a student body who are enrolled in that institution for academic study playing football against a similar group of kids from a similar institution. In other words, they’re actually “student athletes.”
Of course that might be my childhood naiveté coming out. After all, if there are people willing to drop millions of dollars in order to be involved in the lives of 18-22 year olds who play a game 12 Saturdays out of the year, perhaps there is no answer. Perhaps the problems of College Football are a reflection of our society’s misplaced priorities, and there is no quick solution for that.
*= I’m not naive enough to think that recruiting doesn’t go on in High School Football. But for most High Schools the players on the team come from the student body, who come from the schools attendance area.