One autumn day in ’69 – 1869 – young men from Rutgers and Princeton engaged in what they called a football game. That surely was the last time real students were called upon for such competition.
College sport these days is played by people chosen for the task – “student athletes,” as the NCAA describes them – and while they may go to class and even pass with flying honors (as compared to passing the football), they were brought in to win games. Or matches.
It is an inescapable fact: the better the athlete, the better the team. Which is why we have this little contretemps at Memphis, wherein the best high school basketball player in the nation a couple of years back, Derrick Rose, was readily enrolled, even though he may have cheated on his entrance exam.
And why the University of Southern California finds its reputation in danger on charges Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush broke rules by accepting cash, a car and free housing, and charges basketball star O.J. Mayo received improper payments from the school’s coach, Tim Floyd.
The Sorbonne doesn’t have a home-and-home series with Cambridge. Or anyone. There is no such thing in Europe as intercollegiate sports. Or high school sports. Kids go to school to study and learn. If they play games, it is for a club.
But this is the good old U.S. of A., where the idea is to fill stadiums and arenas, leading to hours of television coverage, all of which is accomplished by bringing in the Reggie Bushs and Derrick Roses. They purported themselves well, too, the Trojans and Tigers both reaching a national championship game with Reggie and Derrick in the lineup.
Here, we stick decals of our school on the back window and slogans – “How ‘bout them dogs” – on the back bumper. In Britain, rear-window decals identify the dealer where the car was purchased. How ‘bout them cylinders?
It’s all a matter of talent. There’s a kid, runs the 40 in 4.4 and scored 30 touchdowns as a prep. Or maybe he’s 6-9 and averaged 25 points and 12 rebounds. Intellectually, he’s not Albert Einstein. But your rival is chasing him. And as the sports sociologist Harry Edwards points out, “If you don’t get him, they’ll get him and use him against you.”
So Kelvin Sampson becomes a little too aggressive after coming to Indiana.
So a long while ago, SMU gets the so-called Death Penalty for a zillion violations, but with Eric Dickerson and Craig James, the Mustangs did beat Texas, meaning it was worth it to the alums.
So even Harvard – Harvard! – is accused of a number of questionable practices to work around NCAA rules by hiring an assistant basketball coach who had been traveling and playing pickup games with potential athletes.
It’s not going to change. Ever. Penn State has expanded its stadium to more than 100,000. Michigan, Tennessee, Ohio State all are in six figures. You think those schools, you think any school in big time sports, might be scouring PE classes for a quarterback? Or a point guard?
“Football,” said a man named Elbert Hubbard, “is a sport that bears the same relationship to education that bullfighting does to agriculture.”
Ole! And back at you.
“A school without football,” said Vince Lombardi, “is in danger of deteriorating into a medieval study hall.” As if Vince, who went from Fordham to coach in the NFL, knew anything about medieval study halls. Now, blocking and tackling, that was different.
What will happen to USC or to Memphis is probably nothing. USC has been under a cloud for months – Bush has been on the New Orleans Saints since 2006 – and already Memphis is in full denial, insisting it found no proof Rose cheated on the exam. Derrick, of course, joined the NBA as soon as possible.
The people who buy the season tickets are remarkably unmoved by any and all accusations. They don’t care how you win, they just want you to win. And to hell with anyone looking for trouble.
It was in 1976 when, Frank Boggs of the Oklahoma City Times acknowledged to be the best sportswriter in the state, wrote a story that another NCAA investigation of the University of Oklahoma’s football program was under way.
Boggs, merely the messenger, not the cause, was harassed, threatened and had to have police protection. A caller said he would burn down Boggs’ home. Eventually, Boggs moved to Colorado.
Jack Taylor, who shared the byline with Boggs, had done pieces on the Mafia and corruption in government, but said public reaction to the football story was “much more controversial” than anything he ever had written
People don’t want the truth. They want championships.