By Dylan Davis
On January 5, 2006, the college football world seemed to be in a perfect place. The Texas Longhorns and USC Trojans had just played one of the greatest games in the history of the sport, capped off by Vince Young’s 467-yard, 3 touchdown virtuoso evisceration of the Trojan defense. Young scored a touchdown on fourth down with less than 30 seconds left to lead the Longhorns to victory. The 41-38 Texas triumph ended USC’s chance at a three-peat, while extending the Longhorns winning streak to 20 consecutive games. The game featured tne players chosen in the 2006 NFL draft including four of the top ten selections. The game was an instant classic that seemed as if it would never be bettered.
Fast-forward just 361 days to the 2007 Fiesta Bowl between Boise State and Oklahoma. While this game wasn’t a national title bout, the ramifications of the outcome were enormous for the Broncos. With a win, they would further the outcry over non-BCS schools exclusion from the title game. With 4:30 left in the third quarter, it looked as if Boise had the game in hand with a 28-10 lead, but the Sooners stormed back and used a pick-six with just over a minute to play to go up 35-28. What transpired from that point on will forever go down in college football lore as Boise used a hook-and-ladder, wide receiver pass and Statue of Liberty play to score two touchdowns and a two point conversion to take down the favored Sooners in overtime. To top it all off, star running back Ian Johnson proposed to his cheerleader girlfriend on national TV directly following the game. All that was missing was some Michael Bay explosions or someone spontaneously crashing a Chicago parade to make it a perfect Hollywood ending.
With two of the sports greatest moments happening less than a year apart, it seemed as if college football was set to rocket into the stratosphere as far as ratings and fan enjoyment were concerned. The multitude of scandals from the 1980s and 90s were fading into the distant past and teams like SMU and Miami were no longer being recognized by their previous transgressions. It seemed as if all was right with the college football universe. That was about to change.
Shortly before Reggie Bush was set to be drafted into the NFL, reports started to surface that Bush might have received some improper benefits during his time as member of the USC football team. If truth was found in these reports, it could have lead to major sanctions against the Trojans, as well as Bush losing possession of the Heisman trophy he won following his junior year. Bush was alleged to have received over $290,000 in gifts and benefits from an agent named Lloyd Lake as well as potential benefits to Bush’s family members. While merely having contact with an agent while participating in college athletics is a transgression in and of itself, Bush obliterated the rulebook by receiving these gifts in addition to a limousine ride to the 2006 Heisman ceremony provided by the agent. Bush eventually was asked to give back the illustrious trophy, the University received the brunt of the punishment as USC was put on probation which includes 30 lost scholarships over three seasons, forfeited wins for the 2004 and 2005 season, and loss of bowl game eligibility for two years.
As the USC saga was fresh in the minds of coaches, players and compliance officers across the country, the good folks down in Chapel Hill, North Carolina decided to test their luck with bending the NCAA’s compliance guidelines. UNC was poised to have a monster 2010 season, with almost half of its starting defense slated to be top 50 picks in the 2011 NFL draft. Apparently, the riches and party lifestyle couldn’t come soon enough for a few Tarheels players. Marvin Austin, Robert Quinn and Greg Little were the most well known players caught up in the scandal and their transgressions ranged from taking jewelry and money to being flown to parties around the country. While the Tarheels lost almost half of their starting defense, as well as their top two receivers and running backs, due to suspension for the year, the UNC program has not yet been prosecuted or placed under probation by the NCAA. Coach Butch Davis was fired in light of these issues, as well as supposed academic fraud, and the Tarheels are still awaiting results of the NCAA’s probes.
While North Carolina players and coaches seemed to have picked up their cheating ways somewhat recently, one of the most prestigious football schools in the country had been failing to walk the line between rewarding their star players with appropriate adoration and respect and blatantly giving them impermissible benefits for almost a decade. Late last year when reports started to trickle out about Terrelle Pryor and other Ohio State stars trading merchandise and memorabilia for tattoos and money, it seemed inconceivable that a Jim Tressel-coached team could have such accusations levied against it. As we stand now, it seems much more surprising that none of these types of problems has found the media or NCAA before.
Dating all the way back to their national title winning 2002 season, almost 30 Buckeyes players have traded their memorabilia for cash, tattoos, and even drugs. Since the report first broke, it has come to light that Tressel knew all about the players misdeeds, but when he was confronted with the evidence, he state he “didn’t know who to go to” with this information. Giving that Ohio State has a full time compliance officer on paid staff just for this sort of issue, Tressel looks like a bald-faced liar and all his years of preaching honesty and becoming a better person now seems like a load of bull. While the NCAA has not yet levied any probation of any kind against the school yet, Pryor, leading rusher Dan Herron, second receiver DeVier Posey, starting tackle Mike Adams and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas were suspended for the first five games of this upcoming season. Pryor decided he didn’t want to abide by those rules, so he jumped ship to the NFL supplemental draft where Karma bitch-slapped him by shipping him off to Oakland to join the Raiders and retaining his five game suspension. Tressel has since resigned, and the Buckeyes will probably lose at least a few scholarships. While the Reggie Bush situation had to do with being paid by an agent and coaches were potentially involved, since Tressel wasn’t directly dealing with the misdeeds, Ohio State will more than likely get off with a lighter punishment than USC did.
About the same time Ohio State was beginning their foray into the underworld of collegiate indiscretion, the Miami Hurricanes were gearing up for their second (at least) go-round with stepping outside of the bounds of NCAA law. A Miami booster named Nevin Shapiro was in the midst of raking in millions of dollars as part of a $930 million Ponzi scheme. Shapiro had been a Miami fan since he was a child, and now he had the financial means to help the program out. Instead of doing the normal booster duties, such as giving money to the program for better facilities, more exposure or a new stadium, Shapiro decided it would be best to skip the middleman and go straight for the players and recruits of the Hurricanes.
From 2002 until he was indicted for the Ponzi scheme in 2010, Shapiro supposedly gave impermissible benefits to over 70 athletes. These range from cash, prostitutes, VIP club and restaurant trips, and even abortions and on-field bounties. Shapiro said he estimated the total cost in the multi-million dollar range, and that Miami coaches (in football and basketball) knew about the entire thing. The players who received benefits include Frank Gore, Jacory Harris, Devin Hester, Andre Johnson, Kenny Phillips, Antrel Rolle, Sam Shields, the late Sean Taylor, Jonathon Vilma, Vince Wilfork, Jon Beason, Willis McGahee and Kellen Winslow. While the NCAA is just reaching the tip of the iceberg in terms of benefits received and who was involved, this may be the closest any FBS football program has ever come to calling down the infamous Death Penalty since SMU in 1987. While the penalty stipulates that the school must be a repeat offender, action may be taken if the severity of the rule breaking is big enough. While the most Miami will probably receive is a much harsher version of what USC got, it wouldn’t be completely off-base for the NCAA to shut down Miami football for a few years.
Now, what’s the next step for the NCAA? While these Miami allegations will probably keep a lid on misdeeds for a few years, eventually college coaches and boosters across the country will go back to the old adage of “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.” Coaches are under enormous pressure to succeed and fans will do whatever it takes to have a winning program. If that means slipping a few extra dollars to an underprivileged recruit, that’s what will happen. I’m not saying that every school will break the rules, but Oregon has already shown that it will do a lot to get good players. They allegedly paid a recruiting advisor to push players in the Ducks direction. What this means that as long as players and coaches are judged by wins and losses, expect the rampant abuse of the system to continue.
There are many suggestions out there, but one seems to be the only real way of stemming most of these problems: pay the players. Of course, many people will argue that you can’t pay football players without paying all other athletes, so that’s what the NCAA should do. They should require all schools to pay a percentage of whatever revenue they make off each particular sport back to the players. Therefore, football and basketball players would make a lot more money that water polo and women’s soccer athletes would. While this seems unfair, colleges say they are about preparing young people for the real world, and what’s more real than some people getting paid more than others based on skills that have no real application outside of entertainment? The schools would still be making oodles of money off of athletics events and TV contracts, but now the players would get a piece of the pie while also learning that sometimes the real world isn’t fair. Until this or some other solution is put in place by the NCAA, we will always have the Miamis and Ohio States of the world trying to get ahead of the rest by going outside of what’s right.