By Mark Coomes
The University of Oregon, for example, seems determined to make the mighty Ducks of Eugene a bigger sports franchise than the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
University of Oregon alumnus and Nike Chairman Phil Knight just spent $68 million on a new football facility. Creature comforts include special TV screens that allow coaches to watch game film (or Red Tube) while lolling in their private steam room.
The formerly irrelevant Oregon football program has become a national force in recent years. Perhaps not coincidentally, it has also become the focus of an NCAA investigation.
Oregon paid $25,000 to a “talent scout” who allegedly provided superfluous videotape of “prospects” as cover for a signing bonus for two recruits.
Maybe the Ducks are as innocent as hatchlings. But there’s still the matter of that football ops center. The economy is down; tuition is up. Is this really the time to blow $68-extra-large on a jock palace?
Of course it is.
Revenue from college football’s new four-team playoff will swell the pot to Fort Knox proportions. Is it any wonder that schools are going all-in?
Of course it’s not. Our institutions of higher learning have sold their ivory-towered souls to the Al Davis School of Philosophy.
Just win, baby.
Burdened by the weight of sacred cash cows, principles bend and laws break. You already know what happened at Penn State.
Did you hear about North Carolina?
The football program was just put on NCAA probation for a variety of malfeasance. Oh well. These things happen. What’s remarkable – especially at a school of Carolina’s caliber – is the discovery of widespread academic fraud.
Players passed classes they never attended – largely because the classes were rarely, if ever, held. Behold a new low in the checkered history of student-athlete edification: Bunny courses taught by Harvey the rabbit.
While Carolina deserves credit for offering a new major in Academic Minimalism, it certainly hasn’t cornered the market on creating courses that are easier to pass than gas. Such courses exist from sea to shining sea. And for one reason: to keep athletes eligible.
In other words, to renew the work permits for College Sports Inc.
A steady supply of cheap labor is required to keep the profit centers humming. So football and men’s basketball players – many of whom are indifferent to, or incapable of, college work – are steered into soft courses and tutored through hard ones.
They don’t always write their own papers. Sometimes they get advance copies of important tests.
Everybody knows it. Nobody cares.
They don’t seem to anyway. Fellow students either knowingly chuckle or silently stew. Professors are clueless, impervious or accessories to the crime. Or maybe they are just scared. Like the janitors at Penn State.
The fans? Please. They only care about winning.
They might pay lip service to academics, but they won’t pay for tickets if Coach X’s winning percentage sinks below his graduation rate.
Some people do care about academics, of course, and that includes more than a few coaches and athletics directors. Problem is, they don’t care enough. They can’t afford to.
They aren’t paid to produce scholars. They are paid to win bowl games and make Final Fours. They are paid, above all, to make sure their school gets paid. And by “school” I mean “athletic department,” the quasi-professional entertainment company that exists as a tax-sheltered subsidiary of a large education corporation.
Tar Heels Inc., d/b/a University of North Carolina Athletics.
All of which begs a question: Which activity is extracurricular, the books or the balls?
Feel free to substitute the name of whatever d/b/a adorns your cap or car flag. They are pretty much all the same when it comes to the real sport, moneyball.
Europeans have always known that higher learning and advanced athletics are inherently incompatible. And they are probably right. The hybrid species America has engineered is certifiably insane.
The Big Ten has 12 members; the Big 12 has 10.
Boise, Idaho has a team in the Big East. Pittsburgh, Pa., has one in the Atlantic Coast.
Basketball coaches who wear Johnston & Murphy pocket millions to make players wear Nike and adidas.
Players get excommunicated for accepting a $100 tattoo.
The sprawling, galling mess can best be summarized by paraphrasing the work of another Louisville boy, Ned Beatty.
In “Network,” Beatty played the chairman of an international conglomerate whose holdings include a TV network. The network’s biggest star is a bipolar anchorman.
The anchorman is in dutch with the boss for outing a shady business deal.
Pretend for a minute that Beatty is Bill Hancock, executive director of the BCS. Pretend you are the anchorman. You pine for college sports to return to a perfect past that never existed but seems greatly preferable to the money-drunk, geographically addled present.
Prepare to be bawled out by He Who Sees The Truth.
You are an old man who thinks in terms of regions and conferences and teams. There are no conferences. There are no teams.
There are no Wildcats, no Cardinals, no Big Ten, no Pac-10, no CBS, TBS or ESPN. There is only one holistic system of systems: one vast, interwoven, interactive, multivariate, multi-state dominion of dollars.
That is the natural order of college sports today. That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today.
Now make yourself useful. Go to DuckStore.com and buy an official University of Oregon replica football jersey.
The coaches need a new massage table.
(Author’s note: If you haven’t seen “Network,” do so. Now. It’s wicked smart, savagely funny and uncannily clairvoyant regarding the TV industry. And it ranks 64th on AFI’s list of the 100 greatest American films.)