- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2011



Barack Obama is taking flak for hiding out in the White House, assessing the chances of his favorite teams in the national college basketball tournament while the rest of the world is exploding, melting or sinking. His critics should give him a break. Even presidents are entitled to succumb to March Madness.

Besides, the prez is said to be pretty good at shooting hoops, with sharp elbows under the boards. (He might in his spare time apply a sharp elbow to Moammar Gadhafi.)

But if Mr. Obama wants to show the love to his favorite sport, he should emulate Teddy Roosevelt, who saved college football a century ago by encouraging the roughnecks to brawl somewhere else. Big-time college sports have become a joke. Everybody knows it; some people even regret it; but the colleges are making too much money in the entertainment business to do anything about it. Entertaining is easier done than educating. “I never bet on anything that can read or write,” Henny Youngman once said, “and that’s why I stick to horse racing and college football.”

Dexter Manley, an endearing young man who was a front-rank player in the pros (for the Washington Redskins) a few years ago, once remarked, with considerable rue, that he went through four years at Oklahoma State, a national power in most years, and nobody ever bothered to teach him to read and write.

This makes perfect sense, observes columnist Robert Ringer. “After all, since Western Civilization has devolved into an anything-goes society through the magic of gradualism, who’s to say that college athletes have to be serious students? Some kids go to college to learn, others go to play ball; and still others go to play ball and commit crimes. Who’s to judge what’s right and what’s wrong? After all, aren’t values relative?”

Jason Peters looked at the majors selected by players on the 68 teams in this month’s NCAA tournament. “Lots of schools have their own ‘athlete majors,’” he writes in Slate. This makes majoring in “sports management” easy. At Purdue, nine players are studying something called “meeting management” and “leading with integrity.” An alumnus of Texas A&M once told an interviewer that “we’re all in poultry science for a reason, and we’re not really trying to learn about chickens.”

But it’s not the updated courses in basket-weaving and the psychology of the slam dunk that threaten the existence of big-time sports. Sports Illustrated and CBS News performed background checks on 2,837 players on the rosters of the magazine’s pre-season Top 25 college football teams, going through police blotters, court records, police and district attorney databases, and found that 204 players for those big-time powers, both black and white, were well-known to police blotters. Their offenses included “nuisance crimes” such as disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and criminal mischief, but also 105 incidents of drug and alcohol abuse and, worse, 41 of burglary, grand theft and shoplifting and, worst of all, 56 incidents of domestic violence, sex crimes and assault and battery. Beating up women appears to be a favorite sport on some campuses. These statistics don’t include juvenile crimes — 318 incidents from Florida alone and 300 from other states.

Sports Illustrated naturally compiled another Top 25, this one measuring teams by the number of players with police records. The Top 10 were Pittsburgh, Iowa, Arkansas, Boise State, Penn State, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Florida State and Miami — national powers all, all from the major conferences.

This is similar to the crisis of the campus that confronted Teddy Roosevelt, a college football fan, in 1905. Ten of the Rough Riders who rode up San Juan Hill with Roosevelt in 1898 had listed their occupations as “football player” on their enlistment papers. The early college game was brutal; 18 young men died of football injuries in 1905 alone, from just a fraction of the number of players who will suit up this fall. Determined to save the game from extinction at the hands of the disgusted public, Roosevelt called in representatives of the three major college powers, (do not laugh) Harvard, Yale and Princeton, and laid down the law. The rules promptly were changed. The forward pass was introduced, first-down-and-five became first-and-10, and the flying wedge and gang tackling were banned.

President Obama need only get rid of the thugs. The integrity of the game would be restored; he could get back to making peace in the Middle East; and who knows? He might make the College Football Hall of Fame.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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