What I’ve Learned In Forty Years and how it relates to college football.
I turned forty today. Forty. Hard to believe I am forty. Just 10 minutes ago, I was an eleven year-old kid cheering wildly for Gordon Johncock to hold off Rick Mears. Oh by the way, wasn’t that a wild Indy 500 over the weekend? I feel for J.R. Hildebrand, but there are 800 corners that you have to negotiate to win at Indianapolis. J.R. got 799 of them right, and one horribly wrong.
Just a wild Sunday of the best of racing. The Grand Prix of Monaco comes down to a Formula 1-style green-white-checker finish. Dan Wheldon gets a miracle at Indy at Hildebrand’s expense, and Dale Earnhardt Jr, checkers in sight at the Coca-Cola 600, only to be a drop of fuel short.
In forty years of this sporting life I’ve learned you can’t give up, its not over into it’s over and sometimes you can plan for victory but sports and life sometimes just ain’t no darn fair.
And today, as I cross into fortysomething. I saw an example of the cynicism you learn as you grow old. The cynicism that grows when you once again see how much of a lie the noble bromides of sports seem.
Jim Tressel did it corporate-style. As the heat was the coming into THE Ohio State University, he got out of the kitchen. He tendered his resignation, and so began the vultures of the fourth estate, and opposing fans (mostly Michiganders) to pick away at the carcass.
But why are so many picking at the carcass? Why the spasms again? Why all the outcry about tattoos, “improper benefits” and “street agents”?
To quote Marcus Buckeyeus Maximus, “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!!!!! DID I NOT VANQUISH MICHIGAN EVERY YEAR? DID I NOT WIN YOU A NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS AND BCS BOWL GAMES??? DID I NOT SEND PLAYERS TO THE NFL? DID I NOT SPREAD GLORY TO THE OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY UNSEEN SINCE WOODY HAYES??? ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED???!!!!”
Tressel lied to the NCAA about tattoos. Had he not lied? No problem. However, it would be naive to think this was just about tattoos, they same way that we were naive that the Pentagon paid $600 for a toilet seat. There is too much smoke for this not to have a fire. There was some cash and free cars involved. But so what?
Once again, we are going to have “crusade against corruption” for about two weeks and then the next super team steps in line, and then there will be more questions…Just like there were about Auburn and now Oregon, and their ties to a “street agent”.
The same NCAA who wants so hard to be Elliott Ness and be a defender of scholarship is the same NCAA with a membership you never see discussing educational reform in this country or educational issues. When it comes to myriad educational issues, you never see the head of the NCAA or it’s voting representatives to their conventions published in educational journals, testifying to congress on educational issues, or even involved in matters in areas such as expanding college opportunities, dealing with the disparities in educational opportunities in our country, or improving curriculum. When it comes to forgetting about the “student” in “student-athlete” nobody does it quite like the NCAA. Interesting given that the NCAA is first and foremost a body of educators.
Maybe with age, I have grown cynical. I’ve grown cynical with a sporting press that wants to moralize, but at the same time they’ll demonize if you don’t win enough. Lets be real, you can have “student-athletes” or “blue-chip,five-star prospects”. I’m long past the belief that you can put together players who are combinations of both in the numbers needed to win a national championship, and take home all that bowl/television money. The same fans and pundits who will call Jim Tressel a cheater were the same people who called John Cooper a loser, even though he won 75 percent of his games. No championships and annual losses to Michigan defined the man. It was the same way that Rich Rodriguez was ran out of town, because the guy “cheated”…and still didn’t win. It is the same reason that many a coach is harried in papers, blogs and on sports radio. You didn’t win or you didn’t win enough. American philosopher Bill Parcells said it best, “You are what the scoreboard says you are.”
The very press who now denigrate and investigate are the same press who are on the back of any coach who doesn’t win enough, or any student-athlete or pro athlete who just didn’t perform up to snuff. The kids know it, and they see it. They see that their jersey can be sold in a bookstore for $70 a pop and they see none of it. They see millions of dollars going to the school. They see big money alums pulling out the checkbooks and applications going up through the roof because of what television cameras show on Saturday afternoons. They see the coach getting millions along with the right to come and go as he pleases with guaranteed money. The gladiator sees his name being cheered yet he, and slowly but surely she, cannot profit from it unless they can show enough to go pro…in sports. If they can’t?Hopefully, they were college-ready before they got there and/or they came from an area where education is valued. Such value is a shrinking commodity in 21st Century America.
The gladiator class can’t win enough, and can’t win at all especially in today’s Twitter-charged, 24-hour, bang-bang media. I am a member of that very media, so am I guilty as anybody else.
Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. I put down the rock long ago.
If big-time college athletics is to survive it either has to cease to be “big-time” or those of us looking at the spectacle must see it for what it is.
Think John Houseman in “Rollerball”
“Do you know what the chattering classes and the NCAA professors dream about when they are at their desks? They dream that they are great revenue producing-athletes. They have muscles. They bash in faces.”