"One athlete out of every seven engaged in intercollegiate competition is 'subsidized' to a point bordering upon professionalism."
In case you are of the mistaken notion that the current generation invented the kind of passion for college athletics that puts players in a privileged class and distorts the purpose of higher education, consider that the above paragraph greeted readers of the New York Times on the morning of Oct. 24, 1929.
The subject was what became known as "Bulletin 23," a report from the Carnegie Foundation that indicted colleges for using slush funds and unethical recruiting practices, all to lure young men to play in leather helmets and flimsy shoulder pads.
But even that wasn't the beginning. In his book, "Stagg's University: The rise, decline and fall of big-time football at Chicago," Robin Lester notes it was between 1895 and 1905 when student-players became "player-students." Back then, the University of Chicago sometimes enrolled good players before they could finish their high school courses.
You can draw somewhat of a straight line from those days to this week, when Sports Illustrated wrote the latest chapter in this saga with a cover story on college football and crime. What ought to disturb you most is that this line comes right through suburban Utah.
It includes Bingham High School in South Jordan and lineman Viliseni Fauonuku. Fauonuku was arrested for holding up two young men at gunpoint and stealing their wallets, a crime to which he eventually pleaded guilty. But he still was allowed to play his senior season for the nationally ranked Miners.
Because a prosecutor transferred the case from adult court to juvenile court, Fauonuku will be allowed to play for the University of Utah in the future. Jeff Benedict, a co-author of the story and a Deseret News contributor, said the prosecutor admitted his decision to change the charge was influenced by the young man's scholarship to the U.
That shouldn't surprise readers of the Sports Illustrated piece, which found that 7 percent of the players on last year's preseason Top 25 football teams "had been charged with or cited for a crime." Of those, "nearly 40 percent involved serious offenses…"
Collegiate sports scandals may well be the canaries in the coal mine of American ethics. If Christianity teaches that we put our hearts where our treasures are, then touchdowns and slam-dunks have become precious booty, indeed. We shouldn't be surprised that thieves will do all they can to get at those jewels.
Against that backdrop, it's easy to see why so many people were stunned last week when BYU booted one of its key basketball players for violating the school's honor code. Those shiny treasures hold so many people in a trance they can't imagine wanting anything else.
Back to 1929: The Carnegie Foundation identified the root of the problem as the commercialization of college sports and "a negligent attitude toward the educational opportunity for which the American college exists."
It made a big splash at the time, but Bulletin 23 didn't change much. Twenty-two years later the nation was embroiled in a college basketball betting scandal that convicted 20 players and 14 gamblers. That led to another Times report that surveyed 40 colleges and universities about athletics and education. The main concern they expressed was about "the establishment of false values, impairment of democracy in education, and a lowering in some cases of academic standards and cheapening of the college degree."
That was 60 years ago. Since then there have been more betting and recruiting scandals and now evidence that coaches either fail to investigate or turn a blind eye to the criminal records of their players. The difference is that concerns about commercialism, "democracy in education" and "false values" sound quaint and archaic in many circles today.
Things won't change until the culture sets its heart on other treasures.