Matt Rourke, AP
FILE - In this Oct. 9, 2012 file photo, former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, center, is taken from the Centre County Courthouse by Centre County Sheriff Denny Nau, left, and a deputy, after being sentenced in Bellefonte, Pa. The Sandusky scandal is just one of many in the last few years that has tainted the legitimacy of college football.
College football is the best sport on earth. It stands alone in its unique traditions, its pageantry, its passion and its fans.
And someone needs to save it from itself.
We’ve all heard the scandals, the latest coming from Oklahoma State, according to Sports Illustrated. The allegations against Oklahoma State include charges of paying players, academic fraud and drug abuse.
The truth is, those of us who have followed college athletics over the years aren’t shocked at all.
Sports Illustrated’s probe targeted Oklahoma State, but would anyone really be surprised to hear about similar things going on anywhere else? A reporter could go from school to school and find cesspools again and again. It wouldn’t even be hard.
The athletes know it. The students know it. The coaches know it. The fans know it. The administrators know it. The media knows it. The NCAA knows it.
Anyone with two eyes who is willing to open them knows it.
It’s an open scandal that some college football programs are willing to sell their collective souls for the best players. They will violate every principle they claim to hold dear to win games, fill the stands and rake in the millions, and they do it every day.
The biggest shame is that college athletes need exactly what schools claim they are teaching. They need an education. They need someone who will turn these boys — and they are boys — into men. Not thugs. Not spoiled, self-centered divas.
Many college football athletes come from poverty-stricken backgrounds. Many of them considered football their only escape from a life of poverty or crime. They need someone who won’t just teach them how to make a block or throw the ball on target. They need someone who will teach them how to be responsible contributors to society.
Instead, too many coaches and programs turn as much of a blind eye as they can get away with — just as long as they win the game on Saturday.
The sad irony is that the ones who suffer most from universities’ willingness to look the other way are the players themselves. How many times have we heard of professional athletes who at one time made millions of dollars find themselves broke and washed up by the time they’re 35? ESPN did a fantastic 30-for-30 documentary called Broke, available for free viewing online here.
Then, there's Aaron Hernandez. The former Patriots tight end is on trial for murder. Hindsight is 20/20, but might not have Florida, the school that Hernandez attended, been able to do something to take Hernandez off this path of destruction?
Of course, there are some college athletes who don't care about the institutions whose names they wear on their jerseys. They don’t go to a college to obtain an education. All they want is a chance to play in the NFL.
Currently, there’s no reliable alternative route to the NFL other than college.
Maybe it’s time that we change that. Maybe it’s time for a true semi-pro football league where such players don’t have to worry about pretending to be “student athletes.” Let those players who have no interest in gaining an education play there and not make a farce out of universities across the nation.
Would it hurt college football? Yes.
The existence of such a semi-pro league would create competition for the best players and fans. There are plenty of players that would rather throw off this charade of being an amateur athlete and get money for their autographs, likenesses and general fame now.
However, maintaining the status quo can only lead to more tragedy.
Didn’t we recoil in horror as we learned that Penn State — from head coach Joe Paterno to university president Graham Spanier — permitted Jerry Sandusky to prey upon children because no one wanted to harm the reputation of Paterno or the football program?
If Penn State wasn't enough to stop scandals in college football, what will?
Universities can’t say no to elite football players. Without them they might not win enough games to garner fan support and generate revenue. They crave the millions of dollars that come from ticket sales, merchandise and TV deals.
In fact, athletic departments are dependent on that money. Without it, college athletics from soccer to gymnastics would end as we know it.
It’s also clear that the NCAA is completely incapable of changing anything. If the Sports Illustrated report is accurate, Oklahoma State should get the so-called “death penalty.” After all, these allegations are on par with what SMU did back in the 1980s.
But we all know that won’t happen. The Cowboys will probably get scholarship reductions or a two-year bowl ban sometime down the road.
The NCAA still hasn’t made a ruling against Miami in the Nevin Shapiro case, and that story broke two years ago. Besides, all the NCAA’s sanctions usually do is punish a program when the guilty party or parties are already gone.
Maybe it is time that the federal government got involved. Maybe government regulation is the only thing that could bring college football into check.
It would be a shame if it came to that.
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If universities would only apply the principles they claim to hold dear to their athletics programs, there would be no need for government intervention. If college athletic programs would bother to educate their student athletes and not look the other way, these scandals would greatly diminish.
In short, college football needs to take a good hard look at itself and apply the principles it claims to uphold. Someone within the sport needs to step up and save college football from itself.
Otherwise, someone on the outside, likely the government, will have to step in.
Lafe Peavler is a National College Football Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow me on Twitter @MasterPeavler