If you graduated from a an American college or university that had a football program, then you know the feeling of football Saturday. On that day, the campus seems to double in population. The crisp, cool fall air offers a respite from the stuffiness of the class room. The sites and sounds of excited football fans take over the campus.
I remember looking at old yearbooks from the early days of college football and wondering at how innocent of a time it appeared to be. Football games in the 1920s and 30s were about school spirit and college comraderie. Gamedays were a chance for students to get out and do something fun. Football was about and for the students, the faculty, and alumni.
Unfortunately, college football is no longer about the students. Ticket prices at some of the major university football games have become outrageously expensive and sell-out before students have a chance to purhase them. You are more likely to see 40 and 50 year olds tailgating outside of a college football stadium than students . College football has lost any of the innocence and tradition that it once held in the old days.
The loss of innocence has been especially clear in recent years, as college football has beeen marred by scandal after scandal. This year has been an especially bad year as colleges and university football programs are constantly in the news for breaking rules and breaking laws. It has been seasn that is less about the football and more about the problems. Why is college football suddenly such a magnet for controversy?
It started in late 2010 with “tattoo-gate” when it was reported by the media that the Ohio State University had 5 players, including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who had exchanged championship rings and autographed merchandise for tattoos. It was a scandal that rocked the Buckeyes, resulting in the resignation of iconic coach Jim Tressel. But that scandal looks quaint in hindsight compared to the controversies that would haunt college fooball in 2011.
The scandal that dwarfed the Ohio State tattoo-for-memorabilia controversy came out of the University of Miami. The improprieties reported involved payoffs to players and coaches, benefits for recruits, and even allegations of boosters obataining prostitutes for players.
But wait, there’s more:
Recently, Pennsylvania State University, one of college football’s gleaming examples of high moral standards, was involved in nothing less than a child molestation scandal. Coach Joe Paterno, the winningest coach in NCAA football history, was subsequently fired. And we are only at the beginning of the story for the Penn State scandal, and this story will linger long after the end of the 2011 season.
And these scandals aren’t the end: Michigan, West Virginia, USC, Central Florida, and on, and on, have all been found violating NCAA rules and/or allowing boosters to impact the football program in recent years. It is becoming a problem of epidemic proportions. The next scandal is not a matter of if, but a matter of when. We just need to wait until the allegations hit the media.
Of course the reason that these football programs are having such problems boils down to one thing: money. NCAA football is bringing in more money than ever with obscene TV contracts, video games, and merchandise licensing. This doesn’t include $100+ gameday tickets and other revenue streams. All told, NCAA football is now a billion dollar industry, and they don’t even have to pay the players.
With this amount of money at stake, coaches, players, administrators, and boosters are bound to cheat, or at least cut corners, when they are under such pressure to win. When you’re a coach making 1-3 million dollars a year, not counting incentives, you could stand to lose a substantial paycheck if your team suddenly hits a slump. And when they do hit that slump, college administrators nowadays feel no pressure to keep even a legendary head coach in his position. The head coaching position at most major college and university programs is becoming a revolving door that seems to have a 10 year schedule. Of course if the new coach doesn’t win, then they could be out within 3 years.
Players are the ones who lose out the most. While adiministrators, television networks, and coaches weigh down their pockets with their loot, college players hope to someday make money playing the NFL. “But they get a free education!” you might be saying. Yes, you are correct. Even so the amount of money that education is worth pales in comparison to the influx of cash into major university programs.
Along with money, the BCS system of college football has helped to further fan the flames of scandal in college football. In the bowl system, colleges merely had to win their respective conference to get a respectable football game. But under the BCS, there is only one winner a year in college football. With around 120 division 1 football programs, the competition is rediculously fierce. At some universities, it is now the expectation that your team win every game of the season or the coaches are on the hot seat. With this unrealistic goal, it only helps to encourage even more cheating and corner cutting.
Unfortunately, there is no good way to curb the money that is flowing into the pockets of football administrators and university coffers. It would take a mass protest across the country to see any actual change in the current system. Fans would have to turn off their TVs, not go to the games, and not buy their favorite team’s latest jersey.
Another option is to start a movement from within the student bodies of some of the big universities. Imagine Michigan students refusing to go to the game and sitting outside of the stadium on football Saturday. Or imagine students buying tickets to a USC game and then not showing up during a major TV broadcast. This would have a huge impact. Much like occupy wall street, it would bring a lot of media attention to the massive corrupting influence that the billions of dollars have brought into our colleges and universities.
Unfortunately, the halcyon days of college football are long gone, never to return. But that doesn’t mean they need to be replaced with a complete moral and ethical breakdown in the college programs. We may never be able to turn the tide on what has become an industry in its own right. College football is a juggernaught of cash, and no one at the NCAA seems to be losing too much sleep over the obvious problems in today’s college football.