Hypocrisy: College Sports a Cesspool of Corruption
“College football today is one of the last great strongholds of genuine old-fashioned American hypocrisy … There are occasionally abortive attempts to turn football into an honest woman, but, to date, the fine old game that interests and entertains literally millions of people has managed to withstand these insidious attacks.”
How sad but true is this analysis on the opening weekend of the 2011 college football season that is seriously impaired by the stench of an ever-growing cesspool of corruption within many of our nation’s major intercollegiate athletic programs.
However, that astute observation was written 73 years ago by Paul Gallico, a leading sports journalist of the 1920s and 1930s.
Gallico wrote those words in his aptly named book, “Farewell to Sports,” which he authored in 1938 when he stepped down as sports columnist and editor at the New York Daily News. He devoted the remaining four decades of his life to writing short stories and 41 novels, including “The Snow Goose” and “The Poseidon Adventure.”
Such criticisms of the degrading practices permeating many of the nation’s big college sports machines have been uttered since well before the birth of the National Collegiate Athletic Association in 1906. For more than a century, institutions of higher learning that chose to indulge in major football and basketball programs have tried to reform intercollegiate athletics, but to no avail.
The famous Carnegie Report in 1929, titled “American College Athletics,” was a strong denunciation of the professional and commercial side of college athletics that had grown stronger and stronger since Aug. 3, 1852, when the first intercollegiate sporting event in the United States took place — Harvard vs. Yale rowing on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. That contest was sponsored by the Boston, Concord & Montreal Railroad to promote excursion trains through that region of New England.
Nothing Has Changed
The words of the lengthy Carnegie Report are as true today as they were 82 years ago. Nothing has really changed in college athletics other than the amount of money involved, which keeps growing and growing into the billions of dollars.
Almost every month we learn of another major university falling victim of its own grab for money and attention through the exploitation of teenage athletes who are placed under the guidance of dishonest coaches.
Meanwhile, college presidents turn a blind eye to what is happening on their campuses for fear the alumni might stop filling the coffers if the football team doesn’t get to a bowl or the basketball team fails to make the NCAA playoffs. College and university presidents are, after all, politicians hired as big fundraisers.
When the institutions get caught, the NCAA investigates for months and months, and the CEOs of the universities wring their hands in anguish, crying, “How can this happen here?”
Then they claim, “We will get to the bottom of this.”
As Harry Truman said, “The buck stops here.”
You want to “get to the bottom of this,” then look no farther than the university CEO’s office. It is the presidents or chancellors and the head coaches who are ultimately responsible for what happens on a given campus. Dismiss those overpaid CEOs and coaches when there is wrongdoing of any serious nature.
Height of Hypocrisy
The University of Miami, which has run a less-than-exemplary football program for decades but won five National Championships in the process, is the scene of the most shocking of the numerous recent college scandals across the nation. Yahoo Sports disclosed the Hurricanes’ latest misconduct when it stated two weeks ago that Nevin Shapiro, a longtime Miami booster, said he gave six dozen University of Miami athletes gifts of money, cars, jewelry, prostitutes and excursions on his yacht from 2002 to 2010.
Shapiro was sentenced in June to 20 years in prison for conducting a $930 million Ponzi scheme. He said he used some of his ill-gotten cash to pay potential recruits to go to the University of Miami.
Nobody affiliated with the University of Miami, including its president, Donna Shalala, has so far denied any of this, and the NCAA has been investigating the problem for months. Shalala, the Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton, has been the Miami president since 2001 and thus CEO of the institution throughout all the years of Shapiro’s corrupting influence on campus.
In the height of hypocrisy, Paul Dee, Miami’s athletic director, 1993–2008, was chairman of the NCAA Committee on Infractions during his last few years before retirement. Those were years when Shapiro was up to no good at Miami.
Last Tuesday the NCAA suspended eight current Miami football players for one to six games for accepting gifts from Shapiro. All eight, including Miami’s first-string quarterback, Jacory Harris, will miss tomorrow night’s nationally televised game against Maryland. This is undoubtedly just a beginning to the penalties that Miami can expect from the NCAA.
Miami surely tops the list of recent miscreants from the world of higher education and lower-life athletics. The rogue’s gallery of those either punished by or investigated by the NCAA lately includes North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Michigan, Southern California, Louisiana State, Tennessee, Connecticut, Auburn, Ohio State, Oregon and Central Florida.
Because of this litany of disgrace, it is insulting to the honest college athletic programs that ESPN is going to mark our national holiday tomorrow night with its telecast of the Miami-Maryland football game. The Hurricanes, never known as a little goody two shoes of sports, do not deserve to be displayed on TV other than possibly during a perp walk.
Calls for Reform
Fifty major college CEOs gathered early last month at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis for the purpose of changing their ways and cutting down on such scandals. They came away uttering their usual pompous bromides of reform, including improvements in academic standards for athletes.
Meanwhile, these CEOs keep their greedy palms wide open to the billions of dollars proffered by ESPN and other television networks willing to pay big bucks to show football and basketball played by those colleges that abide by the rules and those that do not. The networks don’t care one way or the other.
Major college conferences and even individual institutions such as the University of Texas have established their own sports TV networks that generate huge incomes. The University of Florida and some other major intercollegiate programs have annual athletic budgets exceeding $100 million each.
In order to feed this greedy Frankenstein monster that grows more and more avaricious each year, institutions add more seats to their stadiums and build luxury boxes to entice rich alumni willing to keep giving. The colleges admit athletes of questionable academic abilities who can win games and pay coaches millions of dollars a year without any oversight of their conduct.
Numerous individuals, politicians and organizations join in the exhortations for reform of intercollegiate sports. The standing Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, formed in 1989, has a specific goal “to recommend a reform agenda that emphasized academic values in an arena where commercialization of college sports often overshadowed the underlying goals of higher education.”
Calls for reform have echoed across every campus in the nation for more than a century while this huge business known as intercollegiate athletics simply refuses to straighten up and fly right.
Robert Maynard Hutchins, the famous philosopher, lawyer and educator, was president of the University of Chicago when he disbanded that institution’s varsity football team in 1939, just four years after Jay Berwanger, a University of Chicago back, won the first Heisman Trophy. Hutchins, who despised intercollegiate athletics, explained why he eliminated Chicago’s football program by saying, “To be successful, one must cheat. Everyone is cheating, and I refuse to cheat.”
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is email@example.com.
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