- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 31, 2002

PASADENA, Calif.
Epiphanies are the phenomenon of the season now mercifully fading.
Trent Lott had several, all of them too late to save himself. Someone at the White House had one (get rid of Trent Lott), though it's still not clear whether the epiphanee was President Bush or Senator Rove. We're hoping Kim Jong-il will have one in Pyongyang. George W. can't wait to give one to Saddam Hussein.
The latest epiphany arrived early today just off North Arroyo Boulevard in Pasadena, where, in a few hours, the granddaddy of the New Year's Day bowls will be uncorked, or unwrapped, or untied, or whatever you do to get old granddaddies moving.
For the first time in a long time, the Rose Bowl will seem almost like its old self, at least to the geezers in the crowd, when Oklahoma and Washington State "tee it up." (Once a sportswriter always a sportswriter.) Geezers remember when bowl games actually meant something and the granddaddy had its pick of the best college football teams and matched up the likes of Alabama, Tennessee, Ohio State, Pitt, and Georgia Tech against the best of the West. Even fair Harvard played for the roses once (1920), and so did Brown (1916) and Columbia (1934). Tulane was here (1932) and Duke was here twice (1939 and 1942), and in 1922 little Washington & Jefferson played mighty California to a nothing-nothing tie. College football was a sport, played for the love of the game, and the coach never knew who might show up for practice when school started in September. But that, alas, was when we all lived in Kansas. Now we're stuck in Oz.
Theodore Roosevelt saved college football once, after out-of-control violence threatened to shut the game down. (The "flying wedge," effective as it was, was banished.) Now violence threatens the game again, a lot of it off-the-field violence, usually the beating of wives and girlfriends. The police blotter is an integral part of the statistics so beloved by the true fan. The prudent coach gets to know the bail bondsmen before he calls on the dean. But the violence that threatens the game is mostly the violence of greed, nurtured by the colleges and universities that have abandoned learning for entertainment. The groves of academe have morphed into the grooves of accountancy. "Big time," as Dick Cheney might say.
So here's an opportunity for George W. to make like Theodore Roosevelt, the president he is said to admire most among his predecessors. He could save college football from the sewer. If "the party of Lincoln" really wants to do something for black America, as its colonels and captains tell us (and tell us and tell us), here is something Mr. Lincoln's party could do to stop the exploitation of young black men.
A new study, conducted by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, finds that fully 10 percent of all young black men enrolled at the nation's largest universities are there on athletic scholarships. It gets worse. The universities recruit them as athletes, and once on campus athletics is all. These young men are often indeed, usually placed in snap courses, and never challenged to learn anything they can use after the universities use up their athletic skills. Says Genethia Hudley Hayes, a member of the Los Angeles school board: "We're not preparing them to be admitted or to compete [in college]."
Coaches typically dangle visions of vast professional riches before high-school prospects, if only they learn their trade at Alabama, Southern Cal, Miami, Ohio State or (fill in the blank). The odds, as calculated by the NCAA, are grim enough: Of the 1 million high-school football players in a given year, only 250 will make it to the National Football League; of the 550,000 high-school basketball players, only 50 will make it to the National Basketball Association.
Nevertheless, the colleges sell the fantasy to get the kids they need to fill up stadium and arena. In return, in theory, the kids get a college education. But only in theory. Fewer than half of the kids among blacks far, far less than half stick around to get a degree after their usefulness to the coach is used up. In the most successful football and basketball factories, barely one in 10 black athletes graduates.
But what could a president of the United States do? Well, for one thing, he could use his bully pulpit. Maybe he could even get a movement started to declare a 10-year moratorium on athletic scholarships. This would force the professionals to organize minor leagues, as in baseball, paying the players and returning the college game to the students. Such a president wouldn't be popular in the cheap seats, not at first. Neither was Teddy Roosevelt. We might not see Washington & Jefferson return to Pasadena, but who knows? Columbia, Brown and even Harvard might get another shot.


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