That rhythmic beep beep beep from the monitor is about to be a single tone. College athletics is flatlining. Here we are again. . . another scandal. It’s like clockwork. As if the academic fraud at North Carolina, the hookers at Louisville, the institutional coverups at Baylor, on and on ad nauseam weren’t enough, Tuesday saw a fresh batch of turds get flung into the fan.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 48 hours or so, you are well aware of the FBI investigation for bribery and fraud that has expanded to pay-for-play and has landed four people in jail, Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino and AD Tom Jurich effectively fired, and a vast majority of college basketball fans of any significant program sitting on the edge of their chair wondering when (not if) the next shoe will drop and whether their program will be the one on the receiving end of the thud when it does.
I’m as big a sports fan as they come. It’s my biggest if not my only hobby. It was a passion and a significant part of my life long before I started writing about it. So I say this with a heavy heart but a clear conscience. . . college sports are over. They died on Tuesday. Cause of death: greed, graft, corruption, and people like me who put them above any and everything else.
When was the last time a trustee left an angry Facebook post about a chemistry teacher? Happened to the Texas A&M football coach a few weeks back. When was the last time thousands of people came together to celebrate any sort of academic accomplishment? Happens every Saturday across the country for guys wearing pads and helmets. Everyone knows who their football coach is. How many people know who their University’s president is. How about the provost? How many people even know what a provost does? He’s the chief academic officer. Makes the curriculum. Leads the faculty. You know, that pesky academic stuff that colleges and universities basically exist for.
How did we get here? Shoe companies paying $100,000 to steer teenagers and families to certain programs and boosters giving millions not for any academic initiatives at colleges or universities but small fortunes for stadiums, training rooms, or office suites. It’s an arms race under the guise of “institutional profile” or “reputation”. But that’s missing the point. Colleges and universities don’t exist for sports.
People have asked for decades, “When does it end?!?” Well, it just did.
I have a unique perspective on the whole What-Should-We-Do-About-College-Sports argument. I spend my workday on a college campus. Surprisingly enough, writing about sports isn’t the lucrative cashkakke you may have thought. My career allows me a front row seat and the Inside Baseball view of how higher education makes the donuts. And let me tell you, for almost every campus around, those donuts are getting harder and harder to make. State support, tax decreases, budget woes, pension issues, and perhaps greatest of all, the feeling that colleges and universities are a waste of time and money for most students is not a model that can be sustained much longer.
Counter that with my love of sports. They are in and of themselves the most visible meritocracy on the planet. Save for some peaceful protests and political chest thumping, the fastest, best, most advantageous player gets the nod. Color, creed, religion be damned, you have to work as a team. It’s the best of us. . . most days.
Finally, I put all that’s happened through my lens as a Louisville native. When I was younger, the University of Louisville was a joke. A small-time commuter campus that was the safety school for most who didn’t want to leave their hometown. Save for the occasional Denny Crum-led Cardinals basketball team that had success, for the most part U of L was your run of the mill mid-major with the facilities, fanbase, and fervor to match. For me, it is no small coincidence that when the University began to invest in the campus (with the most visible deposits being in the areas of athletics) the institution took off. It is now a vibrant campus with industry leading programs, services, and amenities that are competitive with major national universities. Was it worth it? I guess that’s the million dollar question, or was it $100,000?
University of Louisville interim President Greg Postel said yesterday he was more angry than disappointed. Good. Anger is the first step to actually making change. Just like the alcoholic who has to want to get help before help ever sticks. The truth will set you free but first it’s gotta piss you off.
If that anger spreads like this investigation seems to have, then maybe change is possible. Perhaps we can finally get past this sham of amateurism and “win one for old State U!” that hasn’t been anyone’s reality for decades. Maybe we can get our priorities in line. Maybe we can finally figure out a sensible option that can resuscitate the entire enterprise. Admittedly, I’m doubtful.
Sometimes no amount of emergency surgery or code blues saves the patient. You’re left to just soldier on with a missing part of your life and speak fondly of the memories you shared. That’s where we are at. That’s where we have to be. We did this. We should be ashamed.