That noted sports sociologist Dick Vitale took to the Twitter soapbox the other day with his trusty razor to dissect what currently ails us:
“Fans once again thrown to the curb with these LOCKOUTS,” he typed. “GREED GREED & MORE GREED!”
You don’t usually find a message this nuanced in the medium’s 140-character limit, especially when the author misplaces his quiver of exclamation points. But if you cut through the many theoretical switchbacks in his treatise, you can hear a soft yearning for the purity and innocence of college athletics, which remains blissfully unencumbered by the notion of, you know, paying its attractions market value, or even allowing them free movement from job to job.
He has a point. If the NFL players and owners don’t decide how to divvy up their billions in the next week, preseason games may be in jeopardy. Sure, skipping training camp never seemed to affect Walter Jones, but the rest of us being deprived of watching NFL starters mill around on the sidelines for three quarters of an exhibition game – is that really a world you want to live in? Didn’t think so.
As for the NBA lockout, knowing his league’s business model was irretrievably broken didn’t stop commissioner David Stern from hijacking Seattle’s franchise to Dustbowlhoma, so why the sudden urgency?
Let’s play ball. Enough of the NFL and NBA labor kerfluffles.
What we need is an NCAA lockout.
Just what are the plutocrats of professional football and basketball hoping to achieve by chaining the gates? Their own version of a market correction, of course. For the “health of the game” – that is to say, their wealth, not the interests of anyone else connected to it – they want to rewrite collective bargaining agreements that they once signed, and not at gunpoint.
Well, can you think of a sporting endeavor in more need of a market correction than college athletics?
Not necessarily in a fiscal sense, although that, too. But let’s just take a stroll through the headlines and check out what’s been happening on campus lately:
• Just this past week, the University of Oregon’s nouveau smug football program found itself awash in big-time embarrassment for slipping between the sheets with small-time sleaze Willie Lyles, who painted himself as a paid representative of the school’s interests for steering some Texas talent to Eugene. Nike ponders new Air Lyles shoe line.
• The school that beat Oregon for the national championship in January, Auburn, was quarterbacked to glory by Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, whose father had tried to peddle him to another school for a six-figure payment. But no harm – the kid didn’t know anything about it. Scout’s honor.
• Jim Calhoun steers UConn to the national basketball championship, less than two months after being slapped by the NCAA for failure to create an atmosphere of rules compliance. Vindication!
• Jim Tressel’s sweater vest unravels at Ohio State after trying to cover up his knowledge of his quarterback selling game jerseys.
• The probation hammer finally drops on USC. Pete Carroll skedaddles to the pros. Lane Kiffin bails on Tennessee after a year to replace him – and leaves a pile of NCAA violations in his wake. The Vols gas basketball coach Bruce Pearl for lying to the NCAA. Athletic director Mike Hamilton is fired for being such a schlemiel and hiring them both.
• Things were pretty quiet in our neighborhood. Oh, it was the Year of the Doob for Washington State basketball, and over at Washington the budding businessman Venoy Overton became the latest hoopster to, ah, jump from high school to the pros.
Meanwhile, the highest-paid employees in more than half the states are football and basketball coaches, and TV networks throw billions at schools where students are getting hit with a 20 percent tuition bump.
College presidents love to justify the incongruity of their multimillion dollar entertainment enterprises in academic settings by calling athletics the “front porch” to the university.
Uh-uh. And The News of the World is the front porch to journalism.
So why not lock it down for a year? The NCAA can retool its Byzantine rulebook, presidents can try to impose some sort of ethical and fiscal sanity and coaches can relearn that they’re in the business of education and not just in the business of, well, business. Maybe everyone can do a little job shadow at the Division III level, where the scholarships and programs are need based and perspective is paramount.
Oh, wait – this just in. At Kean University, a D-III school in New Jersey, the athletic director has been fired after bringing charges of grade fixing and academic fraud against a history professor and the women’s basketball coach. That’s right. D-III women’s basketball.
Forget the front porch. The foundation is caving in.