It is such a maddening double standard. Cam Newton spent most of last season under a cloud of suspicion, but yet somehow the officials determined that it was his Dad that was at fault and Cam could continue leading the Auburn Tigers towards a National Title. And just before playing in their BCS bowl, several Ohio State players were found guilty of violations -- but instead of handing out proper and fitting punishment and keeping these kids out of the bowl game, they're suspended for the first 5 games of the 2011 season. A few weeks ago, we learned that Jim Calhoun will be suspended for a few games next year for recruiting violations, yet there he was last night celebrating a victory in the Big East Championship game and talking about the "other stuff" as if it were a legitimate hardship. And then there's Jim Tressell, who will sit out two games next year for violations.
It is a separate conversation to discuss whether or not you agree with all of the rules and regulations that the NCAA places on sports programs. Certainly, and in spite of what most programs and the NCAA would like you to believe, universities wouldn't place the importance that they do on football and basketball if there wasn't money to be made. And you could argue that the free education that many players don't really value (or take advantage of) is nowhere near enough compensation for what the schools get in return for exploiting these kids. It's not a black and white issue to be sure.
But what is black and white is that time and again, coaches and players break rules that are documented and for the most part, we turn a blind eye to the issue. Worse yet, when it is a "big school" that is likely to bring lots of fans to a bowl game or a tournament, the punishment is hardly swift. If Ohio State were playing in a the Motor City Bowl instead of a BCS bowl, don't you wonder what would have happened to those players? And if UCONN weren't a big cog in the best basketball conference in the country -- on the verge of a possible tournament run -- do you think Calhoun would have been let off so easy? And Newton -- what a mess. I think one thing that bugs me more than any other is the way these kids are taught that as long as you're good at a sport, you can escape consequences. Do you really believe that many of these athletes that take money or cars or clothes are so naive that they don't understand that they are breaking the rules?
The classic excuse -- Oh, every program is a little bit dirty -- just smacks of B.S. You know, if I'm driving on the interstate and start driving 85 because I'm passed by 3 cars doing at least that -- I don't think the state trooper that stops me for speeding is going to accept that defense. And it may well be that the 65 mph speed limit we have in Illinois is too low and it should be 75, or 80 or whatever. That doesn't excuse the fact that I know it is 65 mph and if I decide to drive even 66, then I'll have to live with the ticket that I might get.
We've set such a dangerous precedent in our sports minded culture that if you can do amazing things in a sport that you're above the law. We have more examples than we can count of players that want you to believe they are honorable citizens, but prove the exact opposite with their actions. But make it to a Super Bowl and it's "He's put his life in order and learned from his mistakes." Unless, of course, you're a baseball player that has used steroids or HGH....then I'm not sure the chair is punishment enough.
I'm as sports obsessed as anyone and the NCAA tournament -- the first two rounds especially -- are perhaps my favorite sporting event of the year. I'll still be filling out a bracket and entering a pool and I'll still be parked on my couch Thursday through Sunday watching basketball like my life depended on it. And, I'll still be excited next September when the weather starts to get a bit cooler and college football is in full swing. And I'm already eagerly anticipating opening day on March 31, even though it's likely to feel more like football season here in Chicago. But each year, it gets just a little bit harder to live with all of the behind-the-scenes stuff that we know is there but try to ignore. We did that in baseball, and look at how that has turned out.