I love college football. A lot. Probably more than you do. And so when I look back on the 2010 season and see it filled with a year’s worth of scandal…well, it disappoints me. Perhaps that isn’t strong enough. Perhaps it’s better to say it disgusts me.
This year was pay-for-play schemes, post-dated suspensions, NCAA smackdowns, and (naturally) plenty of on-field controversy. Come on, I’ll take you on a tour around the nation. But where do I even begin?
How about in my current state of North Carolina, where Butch Davis’ Tarheels were ravaged by NCAA sanctions. UNC was without a dozen players in its season opener, and things didn’t get much better from there as a good chunk of the team was benched for receiving improper benefits. Illegal parties, freebies, and assorted other dalliances robbed North Carolina of what had been a pretty good chance of winning the ACC. Instead, the team limped to a 7-5 finish.
Some of the biggest names among the penalized players will now appear the NFL’s 2011 draft board. Names like Marvin Austin, Robert Quinn, and Greg Little. A nice 7-figure income will help alleviate the sting of their punishments.
The investigation into UNC also affected other programs, including South Carolina and Georgia, and though the probe seemed at the time to be on verge of mass sanctions, it eventually fizzled.
Crossing the state line and moving West, the Tennessee Vols’ program was sabotaged before the season began when a multitude of players got caught up in a vicious bar brawl. Somehow, new head coach Derek Dooley imposed order on a chaotic program, and despite the horrific nature of the crimes themselves, this story had a happy ending.
In a way.
Sure, a couple of guys remained on the team and ultimately saw plenty of playing time, but consequences are fleeting when you have 4 or 5-star talent.
And what of UT’s former head coach? In the very same month of June 2010, Lane Kiffin got the news that the program he inherited from Pete Carroll would be slapped with a reduction in scholarships and a 2-year bowl ban.
Thanks, Pete! Enjoy your millions of dollars in the NFL. The NCAA got this one right, but it was pretty appalling to see the man who was supposed to be overseeing the operation escape without so much as a stern talking-to.
But hey, between us?
…Kiffin kind of deserved it.
Moving northward through Pac-10 land, we come to the Oregon Ducks. Before they were the runners-up in the National Championship Game, they were just another team riddled by ill deeds. Heisman finalist LaMichael James began the year riding the pine after his coach sat him down for a game. He also got 10 days in jail and a couple of years’ worth of probation after pleading guilty to a harassment charge. Originally the charges also included assault and strangulation, but James and his attorneys managed to whittle those down.
And going back even further, erstwhile Ducks QB Jeremiah Masoli was booted off the teamfollowing a drug charge. That used up the second chance given to him by coach Chip Kelly after Masoli previously admitted his guilty in a burglary case.
But a little thing like laptop theft wasn’t enough to deter the Ole Miss Rebels from accepting Masoli as a transfer student. And the move was approved by the NCAA. It’s nice to know if you’re appropriately disciplined, the sport’s governing body will work with to avoid any and all unpleasant fallout.
Instead of not playing football, Masoli just changed uniform colors and kept on trucking.
Kudos, NCAA. Well done. You too, Houston Nutt. Why hold your players to standards? It’s easier to just blow those off en route to a pathetic 4-8 campaign.
Arkansas may be glad it parted ways with Nutt after 2007, but the Razorbacks were none too pleased at having to face a bunch of suspended Buckeyes in the Sugar Bowl. Personally, I didn’t have a problem with Terrelle Pryor and his teammates playing in the post-season, though I fully understand why so many people did. However, that doesn’t mean I approve of how this whole mess was handled.
Even as a lifelong Buckeye fan, I think these players should suspended. But people, the violations occurred 2 years ago! 2 years! It took the NCAA that long to discover, investigate, and prosecute the offenses. If you want to complain about something, complain about that. A month or so earlier, the NCAA needed only 24 hours to reinstate Auburn’s Cam Newton (I’ll get to him in a second). But it took 2 years to ferret out the OSU violations? Are you kidding me?
And if that’s not enough to get your blood boiling, it turns out that the players’ Suagr Bowl eligibility was lobbied forby the Bowl itself. In a blatant conflict of interest, Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan fought to keep the players on the field.
Paying a 5-game price next season is a sufficient punishment, given the nature of the violations. These guys, then 20 years old, sold some semi-valuable possessions that belonged to them. Had they not been awards given by the university, it all would have been legal. The reall issues in this case are:
1. Why are universities permitted to give atheltes merchandise worth thousands of dollars? Atheltes are not supposed to be compensated. And;
2. Why did the NCAA even acknowledge the interests of the Sugar Bowl when determining punishment?
Pryor and his fellow Buckeyes sold things they owned. The NCAA sold its integrity and credibility. Which is worse?
Ok, time for Newton. This was the big one, folks. the biggest, most wretched scandal of the entire season, and it breezed on past as though it was barely a problem at all. We’re talking pay-for-play, possibly the most egregious offense than any amateur athlete can commit. And yet no one, not one party involved paid any sort of price whatsoever.
On paper, Newton was ineligible for about a day. Auburn made a show of suspending him pending an NCAA ruling, but that ruling was delivered in record time. Voila! Reinstated. No fuss, no muss.
Never mind that the decision flew in the face of NCAA precedent. Nevermind that the speed and nonchalance with which the Association acted was blatantly motivated by Auburn’s undefeated status. This ruling was one of most absurd I’ve witnessed in my lifetime and should have been the lead college football news story from the moment it broke. But considering the magnitude of the allegations, it received precious little acclaim.
Anyone who buys Cam’s claim of unawareness is delusional. This is a player who characterized his father Cecil as “his rock” and a true confidant. Yet Cam mysteriously had no idea that Dear Old Dad was shopping him around for $200 grand? Please. No one is that naive.
But even those who choose the other way can’t deny that this ruling opens a massive loophole. All a player has to do to be absolved of violations is to make sure that his family, friends, or agents act…ahem, without his knowledge. The “I didn’t know” defense is perfectly impenetrable.
But not so fast, because there’s still another shoe to drop. Rest assured that the NCAA will close that loophole quickly by lowering the boom on someone. The Association just had to wait long enough for the season to end, otherwise it might have taken some kind of financial hit. After all, how much less dough would an Oregon-TCU title game have generated?
Auburn stands a good chance of having its National Championship vacated and/or facing a host of lesser sanctions. Of course, Cam won’t be punished because he’s off to the NFL. Who says cheaters never prosper?
And you thought the OSU players skirted the consequences…
And since we’re talking payoffs, why not mention another– the settlement reached between the University of South Florida and former coach Jim Leavitt. You might recall his high-profile firing back in January of 2010. He was let go amid allegations that he physically assaulted a player. The university claimed that its inquiry supported the decision to terminate, never mind that the alleged victim had more stories Dr. Seuss.
USF recently paid Leavitt off to the tune of $2.75 million in exchange for which the ex-coach agreed not to go forward with his wrongful termination lawsuit. $2 million of those funds were for salary owed; $750k was an acknowledgement of “contributions to building USF’s nationally respected football program.” To be blunt, this was USF admitting that it was full of crap. Not wanting the hassle of being publicly dragged through the courts and the mud, it chose to put the ugliness behind it with a socially-acceptable bribe.
Leavitt was mostly vindicated. His bank account may have recovered, but the stain on his reputation isn’t such an easy fix. No worries for USF though; the administration moved on to its next talented coach and all it cost them was a couple of mill. So a few local kids don’t get scholarships next year. No big deal.
Finally, lurking in the background, are the organizational and management challenges that the sport faces. Once again we have 2 undefeated teams and only 1 National Championship. Good thing the FBS ranking system is almost entirely subjective and prone to personal bias.
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive is a transparent fraud, Big Ten head man Jim Delaney is neither a “Leader” nor a “Legend”, and the Big 12′s Dan Beebe is captaining a sinking ship. BCS failures have forced the hand of numerous programs, pushing BYU to become and Independent, moving Ft. Worth-based TCU to the Big East, and turning the specter of 16-team superconferences into a very real possibility.
I love college football. But I have to say that after this 2010 season, I don’t like it very much.