But as another season kicks off, with more poor kids getting their knees, backs and heads stoved-in for the entertainment of rich alumni, it's a good time to note the source of that corruption.
Football is the only collegiate sport that serves as the sole minor league for its professional game. Yes, there are NBA basketball players on some campuses, but most are just passing through for a year. Seniors are usually second-rounders. Some baseball players go pro, but you can choose to sign right out of high school, and most clubs prefer that you do. Future pros are scattered among the other sports, although you know what they call collegiate womens' gymnastics don't you – the senior tour.
Only in football (American football you dork, not soccer) does the pro sport depend on the college sport to train its employees. A few kids have gone early, but most turn into negative examples. No, the techniques, the training, the coaching, the schemes – the pro game is college dependent. (Thus the league imposed an NCAA penalty on Terrelle Pryor when he left Ohio State, suspending him for five pro games. In poker that is called a tell.)
It's this dependency that makes college football a big money game. Only a dozen or so programs make money for the schools – everything else goes to a jock-ocracy of coaches, assistants, trainers and bowl managers. The fight to stockpile talent has become a corrupting industry in its own right. And the need for ever-more money to feed the beast has caused institutions to ignore their histories, their ethics, and their reputations in the search for money.
There is only one reason college football continues to grow. Politics. It's not for fund-raising, because alumni of Emory and the University of Chicago donate just as heavily as those who went to Georgia or Wisconsin. It's politics. A school with a big-time football team gains power in funding negotiations. Its alumni, once in office, become a conduit for millions of dollars.
That's why my son's school, Georgia State University, recently took on the task of destroying young minds and bodies for profit. UGA and Georgia Tech are the big swinging dicks under the Gold Dome, even though GSU is just as big, and even though its research ambitions are just as high. The only way it can get legislative attention is through football.
So my son is paying hundreds of dollars extra in tuition this year to help fund the effort, as is every other student. It's a forced payment, called a “student activity fee,” that creates no activity other than 11 Saturday afternoon rides – and probably 10 Saturday afternoon defeats. The big highlight this year is a game with the University of Houston, that might get on TV, and where the Panthers are certain to be turned into kitten chow.
Its worse at truly big-time schools. Most players aren't going to school. They're enrolled in fake majors, they earn fake degrees, and the NCAA encourages the charade. I think schools like my alma mater, Rice, along with Stanford and a few others, are among the worst of the worst, because our academic reputations, and our relative success, are used to excuse all the rest of it. And we don't seem able to get ourselves out of the $10 million/year cost – not to mention having 1/10th the student body there in pursuit of careers that will end (almost all of them) within five years of graduation. October has always been “golf cart season” on the Rice campus – with kids having to be driven around the sidewalks because they can't walk after getting hammered again over the weekend by athletes who are bigger, stronger, and better-paid.
It's past time the NFL were told to fund its own player development. The best way might be to take the 64 “survivors” from the next game of conference musical chairs and name them farm clubs for the 30 pro organizations, who would stock the talent pools, oversee the training, and fund any losses. Disassociate football teams from the universities they play for – most are already run by separate foundations – and stop pretending this has anything at all to do with education.
But that may never happen. Headlines are an addiction for college presidents and alumni, as potent as crack. It's the most pernicious drug on any college campus and it's not going away.