Thursday, September 15, 2011

The old college try

The calendar year of 2011 hasn't been too good for college football so far.

The scandals and problems have been quite bad this year. Miami of Florida probably is the poster boy for the year, or more specifically, Nevin Shapiro is the poster boy. If you haven't been paying attention, Shapiro threw tons of money at Miami's players just so that they would hang out with him. Then when Shapiro was thrown in jail for gathering that money in illegal ways, the players never went to see him in jail. Shapiro was rather offended by this lack of loyalty, so he started to do his canary impression to Yahoo! Sports.

I wrote a joke for Five Spot in the paper about it. Basically, he paid people like Willis McGahee -- OK, not my favorite athlete -- to pretend to like him.

I never can understand the thought processes of boosters. Every so often you hear about someone who thinks he has the Constitutional right to throw money or other benefits at college players. Yikes, give it to the university scholarship fund. Maybe they'll give it to a kid who needs it to get an education; he or she is sure to grow up smarter than you are.

At least Ohio State's woes made a little more sense. Some of its players sold memorabilia for money or in exchange for tattoos. While that was good for proverbial slap on the wrist, coach Jim Tressel allegedly knew about some of these actions and then lied about it. That fact eventually led him out the door.

And recently, it was alleged that Fresno State's football players -- up to 24 of them -- had filed for false benefits from the government's social services program. Football players on food stamps? Jeesh. I wasn't crazy about dining hall food either in college, but I never went that far.

It's been obvious for decades that universities have an odd relationship with athletics. We've come a long way of the days where the students who happen to enroll at my school play the students from your school. There are millions and millions of dollars up for grabs, mostly in the form of television revenues. The players at the biggest schools see that money and wonder why they aren't getting a bigger share.

The schools throw scholarship money at people who aren't particularly interested in higher education; for reference, see the "one and done" guys in the first round of the NBA draft. Throw in the conference realignment that does things like put Texas Christian University in the Big East, and it's a rather headshaking arrangement.

Some times I wonder if the Europeans have a better idea. They have clubs for college age players. Some of them can play in their own age-group in sports, while others move up to the highest levels when ready. They earn their pay. The universities, I assume, stick to the education business.

And yet ...

When the games are played, college athletics are great entertainment. I attended a game at Syracuse a couple of weeks ago, a thrilling comeback capped by an overtime win by the home team. There was a good amount of school spirit on display, even though Syracuse isn't exactly Alabama or Notre Dame in that department. When I watch the SU football or basketball team, I'm brought back to the time when I went to school there, and to the friends I made and still have from that era.

It all leaves me a little torn. I love the excitement and emotion on display at collegiate sporting events, but I feel a little guilty about it if I give a second thought to what else is going on off the field.

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