Colleges don't want to get grip on football

February 20, 2004|By MIKE PRESTON

ONE DAY we learn a University of Colorado football player admits to taking a recruit to a strip club, and then about alcohol-fueled sex parties for recruits. On Tuesday, a former female kicker at the school reiterated that she was raped by a teammate four years ago.

Virginia Tech quarterback Marcus Vick gets arrested on accusations he supplied alcohol to three minors and had sex with a 15-year-old female. A top University of Miami recruit who was arrested 10 times before age 17, Willie Williams, gets arrested again on national signing day after violating his probation.

Now, if you really want to cringe, imagine the stuff that's being swept under the rug.

We could stand here all day and preach about morality, ethics, and what it was like back in the days of The Four Horsemen, but it would be a waste of time, as worthless as Colorado coach Gary Barnett's response when informed of the rape allegations by Katie Hnida.

Big-time college football is about money, at least $100 million in bowl revenue last season, which did not include money from TV or attendance from regular-season games. Divvy that up, and football programs - at least the ones that operate in the black - can pay a lot of bills. They can also buy new uniforms for the field hockey and lacrosse teams and new mats for the wrestling team, and add to the travel budget.

That's why university presidents and athletic directors don't like to take on the big breadwinners, which is why they turn their heads as easily as Barnett did when questioned about Hnida's claim of rape. Because of Colorado's troubled history over the past 15 years, that program should be shut down.

"Katie was not only a girl, she was terrible. ... There is no other way to say it," said Barnett, who later apologized and was placed on administrative leave by the university for his insensitive remarks and, according to a Boulder, Colo., police report, for trying to intimidate another woman allegedly raped by a football player from going to the authorities.

But Barnett had already painted a troubling picture. Does anyone really care? Are we more concerned about vertical leaps, 40-yard dash times and winning than about character?

Football players aren't Boy Scouts, but the NCAA could easily begin cleaning up the major college football mess with a few simple solutions such as making freshmen ineligible, reducing the number of scholarships and players on the roster, and hiring a central figure to run the sport.

The freshman year is critical for student-athletes. A lot of them walk away from college because they're homesick, or have some difficulty adjusting to college life. Instead of sitting out a year as a redshirt and working out with the team, freshmen shouldn't be allowed to practice and could use the time to get acclimated, in some cases, to a new culture as well as developing proper study habits.

Isn't that what it's supposed to be about - student first, athlete second?

But instead, freshmen are just thrown into the pool of football players, which has become way too large for coaching staffs to police. The NCAA allows for 85 scholarship players and 110 on the roster. Coaches argue that they need depth, but how much is enough?

When do we start rolling back the numbers because of lack of supervision? The NCAA used to call it institutional control. A bed check of a basketball team may involve 20 rooms. A bed check of a football team requires at least 50.

Because the sport has become so big, maybe college football needs a commissioner, just like in the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball: one central voice to govern the 117 Division I schools and strictly enforce rules and regulations.

School presidents and athletic directors should develop on the model set forth by Vanderbilt chancellor Gordon Gee in September when he eliminated the athletic department in a major shake-up designed to curb the ills of big-time college athletics.

Gee said he wanted to integrate the school's athletes into the total university experience instead of having designated dorms and cafeteria for athletes. He wanted no more special privileges, no more athletes obtaining elite status.

But virtually no one has taken that approach seriously.

Many NCAA officials hide behind the cloak that the good outweighs the bad, but the ugly and bad are coming on strong. They assemble every year or so in these hypocritical meetings to talk about the virtues of reform in intercollegiate sports, but nothing ever happens.

College football has become too big, and along with it the pressure to win. In Tallahassee, Fla., two seasons ago, boosters and fans almost ran out Bobby Bowden, the sport's all-time winningest Division I coach, because Florida State finished 9-5. Never mind that Bowden has won two national titles.

No one is spared. We live in a sports-crazed generation where adults paint their hair and faces, and walk around with jerseys with other people's names on the back. Fans go shirtless in frigid temperatures. Boosters call as many shots on campuses as ADs.

Football is such a prevailing force that the Atlantic Coast Conference, with its storied history of basketball, chose recently to expand and mess up its basketball schedule for what appears to be one big, lucrative playoff in football.

Now you know why a lot of football coaches and ADs turn their heads the other way. And why teams like Miami, Florida State and Virginia Tech constantly appear on the national police blotter.

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