When Two Worlds Collide

by azaleon

I was a pretty dumb kid growing up. Hell, I’m a pretty dumb kid now, just with more legal rights. Back then I thought McNuggets had chicken in them, ESPN and Nickelodeon were the only channels on television and college athletics was the purest form of high-level competitive sport. Far from steroids, trades, lockouts, contracts and corruption, college basketball was just basketball –and football was just football (even if my ACC heritage had me caring far less about the latter). Call it blissful naivety, but some still hold that belief.

Collegiate athletic programs are living things. They start small and have become larger and larger, while going through peaks, troughs and some growing pains along the way. It is paramount to understand that, like people, beloved college athletic departments are not perfect. And perhaps it is because imperfect people make up college athletic departments that they are, in themselves, imperfect.

We want to believe that our favorite school is pristine. In most cases, that is the college you graduated from, the athletic department you donate money to and maybe the school that represents the state you live in or are from. You fly the logo on your car, clothing, kids and plenty of other public displays of pride. And by choosing to associate yourself with an athletic department, you’re connecting yourself publicly to all of its victories and faults.

Read that last word again: Faults.

College athletics have become too big not to fail. Between the money, various party interests (apparel/shoe companies, television networks, etc.), large AD staffs and teenage athletes chasing a dream, it’s inevitable. Schools will continue to hire their own compliance officers to try and keep the circus within its allotted three rings. Many athletic departments will succeed and stay out of trouble.

But some won’t.

Call it pessimism, but I truly believe athletic departments will continue to get caught breaking the rules as long as the same system stays in place. And that’s something that college sports fans are going to have to accept. Every athletic department is susceptible to doing wrong no matter how strong the, “that could never happen to us” feeling persists.

Associating yourself with a program that had gotten in trouble with the NCAA was not so bad for a while. For a while, NCAA violations weren’t real crimes. You give a kid cash in a stuffed envelope, his mom a house and his dad a car. In turn, he’ll win a lot of games for your team, help sell merchandise, tickets, television revenue and better the school as a national brand. Seems like a fair trade and on the surface, morally correct. But put into the context of collegiate athletics, it’s against the rules and provides an unfair competitive advantage (but let’s face it, everybody else in your conference is doing it too, they’re just smart enough to not get caught).

The lines are being blurred, though.

Real issues in this country are being brought into college sports. Two circles are forming a Venn Diagram. Why? As I wrote earlier, it is because imperfect people make up college athletics that they are, in themselves, imperfect.

The last census revealed a not-so-concealed truth about how happy married couples are in the United States. In April, then-Arkansas head football coach Bobby Petrino crashed his motorcycle with then-Arkansas Athletics employee Jessica Dorrell riding along. Petrino is 51 years old with a wife, four children and what appears to be a receding hairline. Dorrell is a 25-year-old blonde and former Razorbacks volleyball player. The crash unraveled a scandal involving infidelity and improper hiring practices –spoiler: she received some favoritism.

There were 747,408 registered sex offenders in the United States as of January 2012, an increase of 7,555 offenders in seven months, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. One of them was a former football coach at Penn State.

College sports are supposed to be entertainment –an escape from the issues that plague the “real world.” But recently, it has been abundantly clear that there is no escape. Fans of college sports can no longer pretend that their favorite program exists in a bubble. And if it comes time for that program to face real life problems, will you still be proud to represent it?