When scandal after scandal rocked college football this summer, I was highly disappointed, but I can’t say I was surprised.
I’m from Columbus, Ohio, so when The Ohio State University lost Coach Jim Tressel and several star players in a scandal involving free tattoos and improper benefits, it hit close to home. It was shocking to some, but anyone who has ever heard Terrelle Pryor defend Michael Vick shouldn’t be surprised he led the team to both victory and scandal.
Then there’s the Miami Hurricanes, which were busted by Yahoo Sports for accepting illegal gifts from team booster Nevin Shapiro—who is now in jail for a Ponzi scheme. He reportedly gave them cash, prostitutes, yacht rides and nights of drinking and debauchery.
There was also Reggie Bush deciding to give back his Heisman after it was discovered that during his time at the University of Southern California in 2005 he accepted improper benefits, another scandal reported by Yahoo Sports. The list goes on.
So why now? College football players and their coaches have been breaking rules for decades. Now that the NCAA has been alerted to some scandals, it has a slew of others it must investigate, so it won’t appear to condone the behavior of the players and coaches.
But the issue is bigger than players accepting money and prostitutes. These scandals represent everything I hate about college football: The money-making mentality of college football programs (CNN reported that during the last two seasons of the Big Ten Network, each school received more than $6 million) combined with the ever-growing egos of the players has been instigating these scandals for years.
Has everybody forgotten that these players are in college? It is the place where one pays thousands of dollars to get an education and a degree—except football players, who often get a big coupon for suiting up.
The system sets up players to be egotistical maniacs from high school onward. Glorifying these players for their stunning athletic ability and letting them slide through classes is a common practice in high schools and one that is replicated at the college level. This tradition is rooted in money, as a winning football team usually equals high revenues for both high schools and colleges.
So players are used as money-makers instead of being nurtured as students. Schools pay players in scholarships, but the amount is nothing compared to the money the schools make. So now they are commodities, not students. They know what they’re worth, and all of a sudden you have players who think they’re invincible and entitled to the improper benefits people are offering them.
I’m not saying this is the case with every college football player. A lot of them are honest, hard-working and smart. But all too often the stars of the game aren’t, and it gives the whole world of college football a black eye.
Pryor is a classic example. He was highly sought after by big-name college football programs right out of high school after a stellar athletic record proved him to be a hot commodity. Nothing was ever mentioned about how good his grades were or how high he scored on the SAT.
He chose Ohio State and immediately became a football sensation in Buckeye Nation. No one really cared that during interviews he came off as barely literate—if you need proof, just look up his post-Navy game interview in 2009 regarding why he had Michael Vick’s name on his face—or that he had a reputation for being cocky and flashy, witness the eight cars he reportedly drove during his time at Ohio State.
That is, no one cared until the origins of his flashy lifestyle were exposed, taking the whole team down with him. As long as he was making money for the program, people were willing to look the other way.
Even then, people started blaming coaches, administrators and anyone besides Pryor himself. The truth is, he was an adult and he knew what he was doing was wrong, but he did it anyway. He isn’t sorry he did it—he’s just sorry he got caught. Now he’s playing in the NFL for the Oakland Raiders. What a terrible punishment.
The same goes for the Hurricanes’ players who were involved in the shenanigans with Shapiro. Despite their pre-prepared, press-friendly statements, none of them are sorry. They’re just sorry they got caught.
Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN analyst and former Ohio State quarterback, put it best when Terence Moore quoted him in an Aug. 9 article for CNN. “We have to figure out how to try to get college football back to people in charge who generally care about the health of the game and not just about churning kids out to get them ready for the NFL. That’s not what college football is all about,” he said.
It’s doubtful that will happen anytime soon. As long as programs keep treating their players as dollar signs instead of students and players continue to feel ego-driven entitlement, these scandals will continue to rock college football.