Louis J. Freeh, a former federal judge and director of the FBI, led an investigation of a cover-up in the football program at Penn State University. The investigation involved more than 400 interviews and the review of millions of documents. Freeh concluded, "Our most saddening finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims."
The cover-up by Coach Paterno, the president and athletic director resulted in the devastation of the lives of many young men. It also blemished the university and big-time college football. Indeed, cover-ups are endemic in the world of college football.
In 2003, concerned by commercialization in college athletics, E. Gordon Gee, who currently serves as president of Ohio State University, warned, "Nothing short of a revolution will stop what has become a crisis of conscience and integrity for colleges and universities in this country."
Revenues and power in big-time college football have expanded dramatically since Gee's warning. By recently adding two games and a national championship in big-time college football, the Bowl Championship Series, or BCS, and its members will likely generate an additional $300-500 million in revenue, further solidifying its power.
The operations of the BCS, like those of Penn State's football program are shrouded in secrecy — the antithesis of trust and the mother of cover-ups. The BCS, which has displaced the NCAA in running big-time football, shares Penn State's disregard for those adversely impacted by their decisions.
A few facts evidence how sobering this disregard for student-welfare has become. Many, perhaps most, football players will leave college lame or with latent injuries.
Dr. Bennet Omalu, who is credited with having discovered the first case of dementia related to football, cautioned that, "The concept of permanent brain damage and dementia following repeated blows to the head is a very well established and generally accepted principle in medicine."
Unfortunately, this accepted medical principle and the warning inherent in it has gone unheeded in the world of big-time football. Annually, one out of 10 college football players suffers a serious concussion, with hundreds of others suffering major brain trauma or debilitating injuries during their collegiate careers.
The insatiable drive for revenues and glory has resulted in an expansion of the number of games, practices and injuries suffered by so-called student-athletes. The BCS, and its member institutions, reject Article 2.2 (The Principle of Student-Athlete Well-Being), which mandates that, "intercollegiate athletics programs be conducted in a manner to protect and enhance the physical and educational well-being of student athletes."
What, other than injuries, do student-athletes receive for their efforts? Many receive little more than a moment of gladiatorial glory. A few sign professional contracts.
Colleges insist that players are paid with an education, an asset of great value. But graduation is often illusory and academic values are regularly ignored in the drive to increase revenue and solidify institutional power.
There has been some improvement in graduation rates in the past decade, but the record remains abysmal particularly for players of color. With more televised games played during the week and with conference championships and added games, athletes are missing 40 percent more class time than they did in 2005.
The BCS allocates ever-increasing revenues among its members, co-opting coaches and presidents at smaller institutions with revenue sharing — crumbs from the BCS table. It completely ignores student welfare and academic issues in its allocation of burgeoning revenue.
Funds that could be used to increase safety and academic support for student-athletes are used to pay coaches and administrators more, build larger stadiums and fund other extravagances.
In the decade since Gee decried the crisis of conscience and integrity in the world of commercialized intercollegiate athletics as a revolution, little has been done.
The hope that Penn State's cover-up will awaken coaches and college presidents was dashed when the BCS contrived to increase revenue further at the expense of the student-athletes who generate those funds. Big-time college football is a world where money speaks louder than morality.
At the turn of the 20th century, college football faced a similar crisis based on a disquieting record of injuries and deaths. President Roosevelt intervened.
Congress should intervene today and hold hearings to get to the bottom of this culture of cover-up, with its disregard for educational values and student welfare. Those hearings, together with the work of groups like the Knight Commission, could save big-time football from further crises that might lead to the death of big-time college football.
Rodney K. Smith is a former college president and director of the Center for Sports Law and Policy at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego.
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