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Some things never change



Published: Fri, July 19, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



I recently read something about college football from Yale president, James Rowland Angell. Seems he wasn't real happy with the sport.

"College football has become in many instances big business," he said. "Today in college football it's the crowd, the winners, the receipts that count above everything else in 70 percent of the institutions."

This is the sort of thing you expect to hear from Yale guys. They take academics seriously. They're lousy in sports.

Except Angell said it in 1935.

I mention this because complaining about the corruption of college football is a fall tradition -- like quarterback controversies and halftime shows.

In the last month, University of Miami recruit Nate Harris was charged with armed robbery, Louisiana State University had several players busted for cheating and Chris Wispelwey, a sophomore quarterback at Duke, was charged with drunk driving.

Bad apples or bad tree?

Supporters say it's just a few bad apples. Critics say it's a bad tree. Even politicians get into the act. Senator William J. Fulbright said, "It's a disgraceful situation. Intercollegiate athletics have become so perverted that it's a corrupting influence in the big universities." (By the way, he said that in 1951.)

College football is an easy target. Big budgets. Famous athletes. Rich coaches.

When Bowling Green cuts its track and field program, and a few other sports, and only saves about $300,000, detractors immediately point to the millions spent on football and wonder what the heck happened.

The answer is: nothing. It's always been like this.

Take Steve Bellisari. The former Ohio State quarterback was arrested for DUI last year. Buckeye coach Jim Tressel suspended him for a game and he got criticized by fans and the press (rightly so). But had this happened, say, under Alabama's Bear Bryant, the security guard who caught Bellisari would have lost his job. And, if Bellisari would have wrecked his car, a booster would have bought him a new one.

Then and now

The difference between then and now is that people know about it now. Former football coach Tommy Mason once said, "The thing about colleges abiding by the rules is that 90 percent of them do it, and the other 10 percent go to Bowl Games." (He said it in the 1970s.)

Football coaches at big programs let some things slide. They're dealing with college kids. Some are spoiled. Some have bad backgrounds. Some just make bad decisions -- 20-year-olds sometimes do.

Coaches are often the biggest influence in their lives. It's admirable what they do. Like writer Emmett Watson said, "Football coaches are a class of selfless sufferers who go on building character year after year, no matter how many states they have to import it from."

Predictions

So, if I may, I'd like to make a couple predictions about this season. I predict that at least one high-profile college football player will be arrested for DUI. One will be arrested for stealing. One will be accused of a sex crime. And a whole host of others will do bad things and not get caught.

I'd also like to predict that a whole bunch won't drink and drive. And a whole bunch won't steal, rape or an assortment of other bad things. They'll study and get good grades. They'll work hard. They'll do community service and sign autographs and smile at wide-eyed kids who adore them.

And I predict that the good kids will receive less publicity than the bad kids. Which is how it should be. Because newspapers report the unusual, and as long as doing good isn't considered unusual, then life will remain relatively sane.

Football coaches will have to deal with both kinds of kids. If they can't, they'll get fired. The bottom line is still winning.

Like Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne once said, "One loss is good for the soul. Too many losses are not good for the coach."

XJoe Scalzo is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write him at scalzo@vindy.com.




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