Taking Laps In The College Athletics Cesspool
The cesspool of big time college athletics spilled over this past week on the campus of Penn State University. It would be too easy, and mistaken, to assign this abject abomination to Penn State alone.
No other big time program has ever been accused or associated with the systemic moral depravity and cover-up for criminal assaults against children apparently enabled for two decades at Penn State. Yet universities sponsoring major college athletic programs nearly everywhere else possess the same potential for institutional hubris, greed, and self-preservation that corrupted ethical norms while intimidating even the most intrepid at Penn State into facilitating the most heinous and unimaginable crimes perpetrated by a serial predator on young boys.
The name for such destructive institutional inertia is a variation on "too big to fail", in this case, "too big to admit scandal". It is the identical moral hazard that infected the Catholic Church hierarchy and which we now associate with the most notorious financial predators such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. "Too big to admit scandal" encourages breathtakingly risky, and even unlawful conduct having zero accountability, insulated from scrutiny, and immune to reform.
"Too big to admit scandal" has infested college athletics for some time. Penn State, flush with moral bankruptcy and cowardice, is just the most recent episode and the most brazen.
College athletics, far removed from its self-proclaimed sanctimonious identity as amateur inter-collegiate games for "student-athletes," is a multi- billion dollar entertainment enterprise too big to undertake honest scrutiny. The top ten revenue producing programs enjoy profits in excess of $500 million, largely from football. Penn State's football profits, reported to be in the $50 million territory, rank third on the list.
Auburn University, last year's college football national champion and No 9 on the net profits list ringing up $38 million, is currently under investigation for multiple NCAA rules violations, including allegations about star quarterback (now in the NFL) Cam Newton's father shopping around his son's enrollment to the highest bidder amongst several Southeast Conference schools.
The University of Southern California's football program is on NCAA probation since June 2010, having been stripped of a national title, vacating games won, loss of scholarships and banned from end of season bowl appearances for two years. "This case," said Paul Dee, the chairman of the NCAA Committee on Infractions, "strikes at the heart of the principles of amateurism." The University of Miami and University of North Carolina await similar verdicts.
University of Kentucky basketball coach, John Calipari, took his NCAA rap sheet from two previous gigs -- UMass and Memphis -- where both schools have suffered sanctions including vacating their Final Four championship tournament appearances. Calipari knows how to coach, despite his flirting with NCAA rules and mocking academic integrity. So all is forgiven as Kentucky , suffering an unusual drought in its basketball fortunes, couldn't hire Calipari fast enough as he was whisked out of Memphis in a dark blue limo at midnight.
And not to be eclipsed, the Ohio State University in the top five money-ball schools when football and basketball profits are combined, just fired its revered football coach Jim Tressel for more NCAA recruiting and enrollment violations along with lying to investigators.
And each one of these programs have harbored players charged and even found guilty of robbery, attempted robbery, assault and battery, and sexual assault among other felonies. A long standing joke in some NCAA circles is that some college football teams could only field enough players through a prison release program.
Stopping well short of the sexual exploitation of boys in the Penn State affair is the college sports overall exploitation of athletes -- especially black athletes -- for their unpaid labor. Dismal graduation rates are the norm across the college athletics landscape. The top revenue and profit making program in the nation -- the University of Texas -- has a graduation rate of only 42% for its basketball players. The University of Connecticut, last year's national champ in basketball, has the lofty graduation rate of 31%, compared to its student body as a whole of 78%.
And so many schools routinely over-recruit, overbooking promises of scholarships that are withdrawn at the last minute. Pity the athlete who suffers a career limiting or ending injury, no longer able to run a 4.4 sec 40 yard dash or bench press 500 pounds, finding his scholarship yanked, but unable to read, write, or do sums at an 8th grade level.
None of this is scandal. None of this is obscene. No, this is business as usual in big time college athletics.
Amidst this stench pervading college football, over 27 million households tuned in to watch last year's national championship game between Alabama and Auburn, where by the way Auburn graduated fewer than 50% of its black football players. And in 2012, the four BCS bowls will pay out $17 million each while the BCS national championship game will offer an $18 million payday.
And ESPN, the so-called "Worldwide Leader in Sports", has a billion dollar hammerlock on college football with even weak conferences such as the Atlantic Coast Conference, benefitting from tens of millions in broadcast rights fees.
And so, what's the answer? Well we know the Ivy League colleges downshifted their football programs in the late 1940s and early 50s, even when the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth and Princeton were national powers. They didn't seem to lose much in the aftermath. Of course the University of Chicago dumped football in 1939 to make way for the likes of Frederick Hayek and Milton Friedman.
Lester Munson , well known Chicago lawyer and sports writer for ESPN, has the temerity to suggest Penn State dump its football program, not unlike Tulane University's suspension of its basketball program in the 1980s for a point-shaving scandal.
Yet it is unthinkable for Penn State, and so many other land-grant universities across the nation -- whose modern day identities are wrapped up in athletics, whose power structure, politics, and economic footprints overshadow, indeed define, an entire state or region -- to voluntarily drain their cesspools.
There is no chance Penn State will declare itself a superfund toxic waste site and take an industrial strength disinfectant to its inner sanctum. After all, what's a few hundred million dollars in civil litigation settlements when its football program can underwrite those legal costs in fewer than five years? Even though Penn State will forever bear the ignominy of harboring and enabling the most horrific crimes against children, its football stadium ticket sales will be sold out and its season ticket waiting list will stretch from Happy Valley to Harrisburg.
And those unrepentant Penn State boosters , who will never enjoy the sweet aroma of fresh rain water, will instead be forever consigned to taking legacy laps in their sulpher-plumed lane within the cesspool that is college athletics.