By Michael Felder
So last night I got a chance to listen to the latest podcast over at Blatant Homerism, which I highly recommend, and the show with Frank Cullen got me thinking about cheating in college football.
A little background for those who have not got a chance to listen; Cullen is a professor at Cincinnati who was part of a study in 1996 that delved into the "culture of cheating" in the world of college athletics. Basically, behind the veil of confidentiality the study surveyed athletes about the frequency of violations, the type of violations as well as the role culture and geography play in the aforementioned areas.
Funny thing about the findings; this shouldn't be a shock to anyone but it likely will be, there weren't any "clean" programs folks just degrees of cheating. Save your "we do it the right way" speech and the whole "SEC is dirty but we're not" posturing because not only did they find simple violations across the board but they also discovered no geographical ties to the violations. Sure it is 1996 but the fact is we've got a pretty clear and consistent proof to the always trumpeted "everybody cheats" refrain a lot of folks have begun to accept.
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Who cares right? I don't really, I'm pretty solid on the idea that the NCAA catches what they can and if you escape their under-staffed and largely inept eye then you're home free. If they catch you then you take your medicine and move on. Doesn't make you a bad person in my eyes, just fact is you got caught and you need to do a better job with compliance and teaching your kids to do the right thing.
However, as Allen Kenney mentions in his podcast the shroud of amateurism in collegiate athletics is something that so many folks absolutely love. It is the reason so many people are against paying players and for many fans it is what makes the sport pure. The romanticism of it all is an ideal that starts with the NCAA calling players student athletes and penetrates to the core of the "playing for the love of the game" ideal.
With that in mind there are people who actually believe that the sports world can be "cleaned up." That there can be a perfect program, conference or sport where $100 handshakes, comped meals and papers being written for players doesn't happen. This is the ideal that folks have, a Utopian sort of wonderland where kids say no to the perks offered to them.
How do we get there?
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Not with tougher penalties currently or more sifting through schools' athletic departments with a fine toothed comb. The issue here isn't that no one knows about cheating, the issue as schools feel the pressure they duck underground. Money gets laundered better. I's get dotted and T's get crossed. Worst case scenario the heat gets too hot and they chill for a minute before things cool down and they get back at it.
After reading the study and listening to the podcast I had an odd history class flashback to the Simpson-Mazzoli Act also known as the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. The whole amnesty part that is folks; we're not getting into your thoughts on Reagan and illegal immigrants here, sorry that's not what I do.
There's a reason there is a disconnect between what people think goes on and what goes on. There's a reason the NCAA does not always know what they're looking for. There's a reason people do not understand what to look for in investigations. Two of the biggest NCAA compliance issues we're dealing with right now; Ohio State and North Carolina are a few tweets and an FBI away from never happening.
The sports governing body didn't "find anything" they got tipped off. They had no clue they even needed to look at either program until someone else happened across some information and they got up out of their chairs and said "hey, yeah, I'll check this out."
Enter amnesty. The idea that teams can come clean, programs can speak honestly and freely. Players and coaches can get engaged in a dialogue about what really goes on. The NCAA can actually have their damned eyes opened as to how it all works instead of just getting tidbits when they happen across some information.
Fact is if folks are set on getting this thing cleaned up then they can't go about it the way that they're attempting to now. The officials in charge don't know enough about how it works, they don't have a staff strong enough in numbers or knowledge to police the system. If you want it clean then re-vamp this whole set up; starting with finding out how to better police things through understanding what is actually going on.
People have got to feel comfortable to talk and amnesty is the only way to initiate a dialogue. Otherwise the car racket that gets ran all over the country will never get exposed. The steps taken to maintain plausible deniability will be shrouded in mystery to the masses. The free meals and places you can go to get the hook up will continue to cater to college athletes in exchange for access.
Open up the floor, start a dialogue, because until the NCAA and common folks understand "how it all works" they're not going to be effective in doing anything but responding to tipster hotlines.
Get more great college football analysis over at In The Bleachers.