The Penn State campus was roiled with riots and recriminations last week after a longtime assistant football coach was arrested on child molestation charges -- and revered head coach Joe Paterno was fired in the aftermath. College football is enormously popular, but it is ever-scandal-prone -- with programs at Miami, Ohio State, and North Carolina currently under suspicion for recruiting violations.
What's the worth of college football? Is it inherently corrupt? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.
College football is a blot upon the landscape.
The sport distorts the educational mission of participating schools, draws disproportionately from their financial resources and institutional energy, and badly exploits the young men who play the game.
All this, so we fans can have our Saturday tailgates.
The scandal at Penn State isn't uncommon. As a young reporter in the early 2000s, I wrote about how Terry Allen, then-football coach at the University of Kansas, was presented with accusations that two of his players sexually assaulted a woman. He didn't go to police; Allen punished the players by making them run extra laps after practice.
After the story broke, he stuck around another year before losing his job over a poor record. Anybody who has spent time around a top-level college program can probably tell you a similar story -- usually off-the-record.
KU's current coach, Turner Gill, is by all accounts a decent man -- devoted to molding decent men. But he has a lousy record, and so at the end of this season will probably be given $6 million to walk away. That's $6 million at an institution that, like other public universities, is fighting for an ever-diminishing pool of resources to educate students and pursue vital research.
The Atlantic's October cover story, "The Shame of College Sports," demonstrates further inequities. The players are young men who often sacrifice their health and well-being in hope of earning an unlikely berth in the NFL -- and who receive little compensation for their efforts, even while universities reap billions of dollars from the sport.
Burn down the system. Let alumni pay to field their own football clubs, if they want, but let's get colleges out of the game. Penn State is one example of the corrupting effects of college football; it is far from the only one.
Ordinarily, in cases of corruption or other alleged felonies, we respond with investigations, prosecutions if necessary, and prison sentences, often followed by reforms to discourage wrongdoing in the future. We sort out the fictions, separate the innocent from the guilty, and strive -- perhaps in vain, perhaps placing vain hope over sober experience -- to sin no more.
Rarely if ever do we "burn down the system."
Consider the University of Southern California's football team, which is currently serving out the second season of a two-year ban from post-season play because of extensive violations of NCAA rules. The school also lost scholarships and, more humbling still, was stripped of its 2004 BCS championship title.
Why such a harsh penalty? USC star running back Reggie Bush in 2004 accepted more than $290,000 in illegal gifts. But the truth is, USC had a reputation as a school that flouted the rules long before that.
The Trojans had to be humbled, and Penn State's Nittany Lions may be humbled yet.
If Penn State officials helped cover up Jerry Sandusky's alleged rapes, then it won't be just Sandusky who goes to prison. But if justice requires that the punishment fit the crime, it hardly follows that all of collegiate sports suffer for the abuse and mendacity of a few.
College football is a big, billion-dollar business. With so much money sloshing around college athletic departments, it's hardly a surprise that schools admit players who are less than stellar scholars, that coaches receive six- and seven-figure salaries, and that people succumb to greed, envy and other vices. But that money also helps support scholarships and other athletic programs that might not otherwise exist.
As with big government, the problem with big business -- whether it's banking, or energy, or collegiate sports -- is the adjective, not the noun. College football probably needs to be taken down a peg or two.
Sport cannot trump education. But would it be too much to ask to tamp down a bit of the hype and hysteria, and let justice take its course?
(Ben Boychuk (email@example.com) is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal. Joel Mathis (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a writer and blogger in Philadelphia.)
(Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis blog daily at www.infinitemonkeysblog.com and joelmathis.blogspot.com.)
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