Our Abusive Love Affair with Football

Posted: May 18, 2011 in BCS, College teams, NCAA, sports
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

America loves football.

And it appears to be unconditional love.

I’m guessing most people are as befuddled by the NFL mess as I am. Owners are getting richer; players are making more money than they ever imagined. So why exactly is there an owner-imposed lockout of the players that is threatening to cancel part, if not all, of the 2011 season? Few of us doubt the fans will come rushing back to the stadiums and their 3-D, HD, 70-inch wide television sets when the owners and players finally kiss and make up.

But it isn’t just the NFL that’s testing our love affair with the sport. Much of America also loves college football even those who play, coach and administer the game seem to be doing their very best to chase us away.

I’m not even talking about the fact college football at many schools has made a mockery of the term student-athlete by ignoring academic standards. That’s been going on for years. The fact that elite programs are closer to NFL Lite than amateurism isn’t exactly a breaking story either. And we’ve become accustomed to shaking our heads and saying something like “boys will be boys” when we read and hear daily reports about players getting arrested for DUIs, spousal abuse, illegal drug possession and thief. Schools such as Florida, Tennessee and Georgia are among the leaders in “players arrested” yet they have some of the largest, most passionate and money-giving fan bases in the country.

Is there another sport that’s so loved yet gives us so many reasons not to love it?

The reasons not to love college football start with the fact most college football fans are outraged by how it determines its national champion. The BCS is seen as an abomination. The system is thought by many fans as corrupt. The sport’s governing body, the NCAA, is considered greedy and inept. NCAA president Mark Emmert recently said the organization’s investigative branch was being enhanced and the NCAA was determined to act faster and make punishment more severe to discourage wrongdoing. He said the NCAA was determined to make “the cost of violating the rules cost more than violating them.” Does anyone really believe him?

Add to those reasons the lack of parity in the sport. The gap between the “haves” and have-nots” is huge. Scores such as 55-10 are commonplace. The NCAA lists 120 schools as being major. The truth is there are maybe 40 schools who try to be elite.

There’s more.

Last season’s BCS national championship could be taken away from Auburn. The last month of the season was dominated by stories of Auburn’s quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner, Cam Newton, being “sold in recruiting” to the highest bidder. The investigation continues, and again, the Auburn Tigers may lose their BCS Championship.

But for the fans, no love lost.

One of the nation’s top programs, Ohio State, has been rocked by an ongoing scandal. Five players, who were allowed to play in their BCS bowl game, have been suspended for the first five games of the upcoming season. The Buckeyes coach, Jim Tressel, has been exposed as a liar and cheater for not revealing information he knew about those players months before the NCAA learned of the wrongdoing. Tressel will sit out the first five games if he’s still the school’s head coach. Many expect Ohio State to fire Tressel before the season starts even though the school has continued to support him, publicly at least.

No love lost.

One of college football’s marquee programs, Southern Cal, is still recovering from having its 2004 BCS national championship taken away and its star player, Reggie Bush, returning his Heisman Trophy. That investigation took more than three years.

No love lost.

It was recently revealed the head of the Fiesta Bowl, one of the four BCS bowls, was spending tax-exempt money as if it was his own. Topless bars, extravagant cruises, politician donations were all paid for from the Fiesta Bowl checking account. The Fiesta Bowl remains a BCS bowl.

North Carolina had more than a dozen players, including several future NFL draft choices, suspended last season for sousing with agents on South Beach in Miami. College football’s Cinderella team, Boise State, recently admitted it had broken a few rules.

Innocence lost but no love. Tar Heel fans are excited about Coach Butch Davis turning UNC into a potential football power. Demand for tickets has never been higher at Boise State, which has become a big draw on TV.

Before last season, two of the sport’s most prominent coaches, Alabama’s Nick Saban and Florida’s Urban Meyer, publicly railed about how player agents are damaging the sport. They made it clear that the business side of college football – the practices of those horrible agents – was doing irreparable harm to the game and to it’s athletes.  What they DIDN’T mention was how overzealous and rules-breaking recruiters are doing damage as well.

The love poured out for Saban and Meyer.

Yes, the overwhelming amount of NCAA rules is a BIG problem. “Too many nitpicky rules,” whine the critics. Seldom is it pointed out there wouldn’t be so many rules if coaches didn’t continue to bend and break them.

In the wake of these problems coaches’ salaries continue to go up, up, up. The average major college coach makes more than $1 million a year. Saban makes about $5 million a season. TV numbers are soaring. Talk of a potential playoff bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars has never been greater.

Meanwhile, the top programs are distancing themselves farther and farther from their adoring fans. Spring and fall practices are closed. Coaches are making fewer appearances on their spring booster junkets. Schools are allowing less and less access to local media, preferring to control news through their websites and other social media outlets.

So what are we going to do about it? Start making plans for tailgating parties and road trips this fall, that’s what.

Like I said: no love lost.

  1. Wyman Stewart says:

    The right scandal has not come along yet. When it does, everyone will be blown out of the water. I almost wish it would hurry up and get here, then maybe we could get back to something like sports should be. (I know, you are shaking your head, maybe even laughing. What kind of scandal could do that, given all we’ve seen already? David, I don’t know. But just as the tech bubble burst and the mortgage market crashed, so too will sports, especially football.) Hopefully, this will come before we die.

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