College football: ‘Big-time’ woes

Rick Telander, well-known writer for Sports Illustrated, vents his frustration these days by lambasting the present state of “big-time” college football. Spouting off is nothing new to Telander. A member of The Sports Writers show on television and radio, Telander is opinionated and insightful.

He began covering college ball a couple of years ago and discovered discouraging events that turned him off. Incidents at universities like Oklahoma, SMU and South Carolina are examples of what can happen when things get out of hand. The emphasis placed on the word “student-athlete,” Telander said, is a hoax. He’s also dismayed about the steroid problem and the violence involving athletes that takes place on college campuses.

Telander’s article in the Oct. 2, 1989 issue of SI really disheartened me. Some of his revelations hit hard. Although some of the remarks made in the article are his observations, his football background lends credibility to his encounters. Telander played for Northwestern in the mid-60’s and has followed college football closely since that time. The state of the game today has him spinning.

Telander’s concern got me thinking about the purpose of building a top program. Is it to develop quality student-athletes? Is it to win ballgames? Or could it be generating revenue for the athletic department and university?

If a team wins, people are happy. The more a team wins, the more people show up. When more people show up, that means more tickets are being sold. The cycle continues.

As ticket sales increase and university pockets get fatter. Get the idea of big business in college athletics? In the quest to produce wins, universities throughout the country hire and fire coaches regularly. Various reasons are given for the dismissals, but more often than not the coach packing his bags had a losing record. Imagine an athletic director giving low player grade point averages as a reason for a coach’s firing. I don’t think I’ve heard that one.

Who suffers through all this? Unfortunately, it’s the players on the field, the ones busting their butts for a GAME they play—the ones given a scholarship to play football. The athletes are being exploited. As the players rush the ball, the universities run to the bank. This brings up the issue of paying the athletes for their performance or starting a farm system for the National Football League, a system similar to baseball’s.

There are, however, athletes interested in getting an education. Professional sports is not the sole goal. But for those few who can barely read or write after four years of college, my pity goes out to them. If they don’t make the professional ranks, there’s little chance of earning a decent living. And it’s not entirely the athlete’s fault.

The athlete may have run the ball well, had a good jump shot or blasted his share of home runs, but that doesn’t mean squat on the street. The only thing those skills are good for are bar room discussions of the glory years.

Telander is not alone in his disgust. Various college coaches have sided with Telander to some degree. Michigan’s Bo Schembechler is one coach who sees the problem with “big time” ball (would Bo fire Bo?).

It’s doubtful that college football will clean up its act any time soon. But big names on the major-college scene know the problems exist.

As long as money remains the name of the game, college football will continue to suffer, and so will the athletes who are brushed aside by major institutions when their playing days are over.