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Column: You win, big-time college athletics
Maybe it's time to wave the white flag.
Just concede that college sports will always be a cesspool of under-the-table payouts, win-at-all-cost coaches, look-the-other-way administrators, out-of-control boosters, and athletes who make a mockery of the word "student."
After another glorious week in the annals of higher education _ Oklahoma State was accused of widespread violations in its football program by Sports Illustrated, while Yahoo Sports reported that several Southeastern Conference players received illicit payments _ do any of us believe the guys running this multibillion-dollar enterprise have any intention of going legitimate?
They throw out a bone every now and then _ graduation rates that suit their purposes, for instance _ but in reality this whole business is just a step above the Sopranos.
There are plenty of good ideas out there, but most of them will never see the light of day.
It's so much more profitable to lurk in the shadows.
Coaches making millions, while some of their own players barely have enough money to live on. Athletic directors selling off their universities to the highest bidder, traditional rivalries and logical alignments be damned. College presidents lurking around the locker room after big wins like star-struck fans, doling out "Atta boys" to players who have no chance of leaving campus with a diploma.
But, really, they are not the problem.
The real problem is right there in the mirror.
Sure, we talk a good game. But do we really have any intention of giving up those fancy tailgate parties, shared on Saturdays with 100,000 of our closest friends? Would we stand for a university president lecturing us on the dangers of turning our cathedrals of learning into de facto minor-league programs, as Joab Thomas had the nerve to do at Alabama in the mid-1980s before he was quickly shown the door?
"The NCAA is a reflection of the culture of its members," Colby B. Jubenville, a professor in the Leisure, Sport and Tourism program at Middle Tennessee State, wrote in an email. "The culture is driven by the fans, boosters and alumni who are obsessed with three things: WIN, WIN BIG, WIN NOW."
He's right, of course.
Otherwise, we already would've implemented the sort of major changes that is so desperately needed.
Why not listen to someone like Eddie Comeaux, a former college and minor league baseball player who now teaches at Cal-Riverside. He's mostly concerned about the state of the athletes, who often bear the brunt of blame for scandalous behavior when, actually, they're usually the ones getting the short end of the stick.
Comeaux calls for limits on the salaries of coaches, who are by far the highest-paid employees on most campuses; an elimination of corporate advertising from facilities and uniforms; an Olympic-style model that allows athletes to take advantage of commercial opportunities without affecting their eligibility; a commitment to four-year scholarships that cover the full cost of attending college; as well as setting aside money from mammoth TV contracts in an escrow fund that athletes can tap into after their playing days are over, either when they graduate or if needed to help complete their degrees.
Beyond that, he believes schools should scale back the number of games in all sports, limiting them largely to the weekend so class time doesn't suffer _ you know, how the Ivy League does it. And while they're at it, get rid of the ridiculous late start times that are dictated by television.
He's not calling for players to receive a direct salary for their athletic prowess.
"It needs to be linked to some sort of academic incentive," Comeaux said. "You can't just pay someone. Then it takes away from the mission of the institution. If that's the case, why not just set up a minor-league system? Why not just pay them and they don't have to go to school at all?"
In a sense, that might be a more legitimate system than the one in place now, essentially a feeder program for the pros camouflaged as the legitimate pursuit of higher education. The NFL and the NBA gladly go along with this scam, since it cuts back on the cost of developing players.
A couple of weeks ago, a panel created by the University of North Carolina issued a few more well-intentioned recommendations, including a requirement that any athlete with a shaky academic background has to sit out games during their freshman season so they have can devote more attention to classroom demands.
Another sensible idea that stands little chance of being approved.
Even Robert Malenkoff, chair of the Sports Studies program at Guilford College and a member of the UNC committee, knows that any meaningful reforms would likely to run up against fierce opposition. The guys who put this thing together are getting rich. Those who attend the games have little desire to see anything changed.
"If you're a Division I college president, and you look at the dollars invested in the facilities, the dollars invested in salaries, in the whole system ... are you going to blow it up?" he asked, not even waiting for an answer. "No, you're not going to blow it up. Heck, if you blew it up, you wouldn't have a job."
Better break out that white flag.
Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963
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