MAJOR COLLEGE FOOTBALL—IT PUTS THE CESS IN CESSPOOL

            To my way of thinking major college sports, at least football and men’s basketball, are completely corrupt. I’ve outlined this in earlier posts while explaining how  the various human entities have counterparts in the world’s oldest profession. See this: http://wp.me/pS6ry-1m

            Nothing has changed nor is anything likely to change. Certain stories that have been in the news the past couple of weeks only reinforce that view, though in most cases nothing scandalous is touched upon.

            First there are the usual coaching changes now at a peak as the regular season has ended and only the bowls remain. Two changes in particular are on my radar because they occurred at schools where the teams have been at least moderately successful in terms of wins and losses under their now deposed coaches, yet fan and alumni support have been withering if not totally withdrawn as these folks expression their dissatisfaction and/or impatience at the failure to win “big games” or the mythical national title.

           One example is The University of Pittsburgh, or Pitt,  They recently fired their head coach Dave Wannstedt after six seasons, the past three of which have resulted in a record of 26 wins and 12 losses and bowl appearances each year. His first three seasons Wannstedt’s record was 16-19. So the past three years look like a program on an upswing.

        That was not good enough for their Athletic Deirector Steve Pederson, nor apparently the school’s administrators who would have had to approve any move. Wannstedt’s reputation was as a good recruiter and a nice guy whose coaching style and expertise was often called into question. He couldn’t win the big games, it was said. The style of play he fostered was boring.

        In any event the most important factor in the decision was that many of those attending Pitt games at Heinz Field, the home of the Steelers, did so disguised as empty seats.

       In a somewhat parallel move this past week West Virginia University, WVU, my alma mater, also made a change. This move, however, has some facets that stand apart.

      Foremost is that Coach Bill Stewart has won nine games in each of his three seasons with an opportunity for a tenth in WVU’s upcoming bowl game. His winning percentage is the highest for any WVU coach since the 1920’s. He has been almost universally hailed as a nice guy. He is a West Virginia native and a former Mountaineer player, just as Wannstedt is a Pittsburgh native and played his college football at Pitt. In fact the coaches were on their respective school’s freshman squads in 1970 when one of the more memorable games in the 100 plus year rivalry termed the Backyard Brawl. (The schools are 75 miles apart)

         What is significant and most startling about the change at WVU is that Stewart was not fired. Instead,  new AD Oliver Luck determined that Stewart was not the coach who could lead WVU to a national title. Therefore he pursued the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, Dana Holgorsen, who will occupy the same position in Morgantown next year then take over as head coach in 2012. Stewart will stay on in charge in 2011 then move into an as yet undefined position in the athletic department.

          If that isn’t strange enough for you, the original story was that Luck went completely behind Stewart’s back to accomplish this and only informed Stew after it was a done deal. As the tale developed, though, it seems Stewart was informed he would be replaced on November 14, prior to the end of the regular season. In addidtion, he even traveled with Luck to meet with Holgorsen early in December.

     As part of this transaction Stewarts OC would be replaced and another assistant definitely would not be retained, and Luck asked Stew to inform those men which Stew promised to do, and then remained silent. In the interim the second assistant is rumored to have bypassed a possible head coaching job to stay at WVU, not knowing that was not an option for him. Another fine mess you’ve gotten us into Ollie.

      Okay, these moves were generally pretty routine in the college sports world. But these facts do demonstrate that coaches being moral and upstanding and, in Stewart’s case, having his players with one of the highest graduation rates in college football, counts for naught.

      Mildly disturbing along the almost totally obliterated moral line frequently untoed in college sports was the coronation of Auburn’s Cam Newton as the latest Heisman Trophy winner. Or as Gregg Easterbrook, columnist TMQ on ESPN.com proposes it be renamed ” … the Heisman Trophy for the Quarterback or Running Back Who Receives Most Publicity”

         Newton won the award despite some off the field activities calling his character into question. Originally at Florida, he left school there under a cloud in part due to his theft of a laptop computer from a dorm room. Prior to going to Auburn he was then recruited by a number of other schools including Mississippi State. Newton’s father, a preacher, solicited payments from one or more Mississippi State boosters to secure his son’s attendance there.

         After an NCA investigation, the conclusion was the father had sinned but there was insufficient evidence against Cam to punish him. Apparently there were no allegations of impropriety on the part of Auburn.  What makes this situation perhaps unsettled is that 2005 Heisman winner Reggie Bush of USC earlier this year returned his reward. While in school it seems Bush and his family received beneifts from an agent not permissible under NCAA rules. Though there were hints of scandal while Bush was still a USC player, there was no proof till long after that fact. As a result of the investigation, USC was severely punished, returned its copy of the Heisman, and public pressure finally persuaded Bush to do the same, though the award was never officially revoked. After Bush returned his award the Heisman administrators announced the award would be vacated and no replacement named.

            So now Newton may be in a similar position, suspected but with no proof. and having been rewarded for his football prowess. Will history repeat itself in a few years? That is the $64 question.

          This week also brought the tale of Mark Cuban offering to resolve the controversy over the BCS championship by establishing a playoff for college football’s title, the only NCAA sport that does have any type of championship. Cuban is a billionaire entrepreneur originally from Pittsburgh but now making his home in the Dallas metroplex. He is the owner of the Dallas Mavericks of the NBA. He has been somewhat of a gadfly sports team owner. He pours money like water into his franchise though the Mavs have yet to win an NBA championship. Cuban sits along the sidelines at home games and has incurred the wrath of the refs and the league commisioner and been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars due to his outspokenness and whining.

         Now his solution to the perceived BCS problem is to throw money at it. Sounds logical to me. You see, for those who aren’t familiar with the BCS, it is a contractual relationship among six so-called major football conferences, the Blighting Irish of Notre Dame, a TV network and five bowl venues. Utilizing  a combination of two polls of live humans, and several computer rankings systems, the football playing schools involved are ranked at the end of the regular season. The number one and number two teams in this ranking then are matched in the BCS championship game while the other BCS bowl games draw their participants from the big six conference champions and other criteria. 

           Now teams in conferences outside the in conferences outside the big six can be eligible for the championship or the other BCS bowls under some circumstances. The problem with that is usually the human polls begin even prior to the season starting and often the schools from the lesser conferences are not rated as highly. Starting off relatively low-rated is most often an impediment to moving high enough to go for the gold.

     As dissatisfying as this method is, during the 56 years prior to the BCS when national champions were “crowned” by the results of two human polls, the Number one and number two times met in a post-season bowl only five times. And there were occasions where the two polls differed and, in effect, there were two champions. Under the BCS, in its thirteen years of existence, the numbers one and two teams will have met ten times as of this season.

         Now Cuban steps in to throw money at what really may not be that big a problem, given that the polls system resulted in more inequities than has the BCS. And the main reason for the BCS is the amount of money generated from its TV partners. To establish a playoff system as Cuban proposes would require so much money simply due to the number and variety of entities who would have to be mollified with cash.

          An infusion of even more money is apt to mean only that the people involved in major college football on all levels will have more cause to get in the deep end of the cesspool rather than mere wading at the shallow end.

           There are other obstacles to developing a football playoff. Any championship is mythical without the imprimitur of the NCAA. To persuade those who govern that voluntary institution to bless any system of choosing a champion let alone establish a playoff may not be possible. The college presidents who have a large voice may finally wake up and realize that, no matter the advantages that big time sports give them, to further kowtow to the financial incentives laden with ethical traps may bring them to decide more emphasis should be placed on their academic mission, rather than less.

               I am not certain if Cuban is naive or merely a blowhard. His financial status suggests the first notion is false. His track record suggests the second conclusion is closer to the mark. Either way it proves that even billionaires may possess more dollars than sense.

              I have one more piece of evidence to submit to you. Today on Outside The Lines on ESPN there was a segment devoted to the fact that, while football programs are limited to 85 scholarships, many coaches over recruit and end up having to remove this scholarship aid and, in effect force the player to seek his education elsewhere.

             College athletic scholarships are for one year only but renewable each year for the total time the athlete-student is in school. A school can be penalized if it exceeds NCAA limits in awarding these grants in aid. However, the limit is not enforced until, for instance in football, the start of the fall semester. So if more grants have been awarded than are permitted, usually because the coach wants to protect himself in case offers are rejected, these must be pared down by the applicable date.

           Sometimes a player may be leaving the program of his own accord but too often he has no choice. What’s more, when coaches announce the separation of the player from the program, they are prone to lie and put the onus on the player or even claiming misconduct on the player’s part. Here is a link to the video of the ESPN report: http://espn.go.com/video/category?id=3286128

             To me these actions are despicable. If you watch the video you will see that young athletes dreams are shattered and they feel betrayed by the very people who wooed them and promised them the opportunity to play football and have their education paid for.

              Any of these circumstances taken on its own may not be upsetting. But given the long history of moral indifference in operating college sports, these recent developments simply solidify the notion that, in the cesspool they have created, the people who are running college sports are not swimming with the fishes, but rather trolling with the plankton.

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