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A Sport Fails in the Most Important Category: Integrity


College football, in all its seedy glory, has returned. What I find amazing about the sport is that fans watch the games, knowing all the time that players will barter their trophies for tattoos (Ohio State) and cavort with grubby boosters supplying earthly pleasures (Miami).

Even when reputations are tarnished, fans who witnessed the games in person or on television will still have their hazy recollection of watching Reggie Bush or Cam Newton or Terrelle Pryor galloping around the field, so what the heck.

This obsession with fielding powerful college football teams just might be part of the reason the United States continues to slip in world education ratings. According to one recent survey of reading, science and mathematics skills, the United States is entitled to chant, “We’re No. 14! We’re No. 14!”

That makes this country the Utah, let’s say, of world education standings. With a standing that low, you don’t even get an invitation to the Bowl Championship Series.

The N.C.A.A. is said to be studying the abuses of big-time football. With all due respect, nothing fries the brain more than seeing “N.C.A.A,” and “committee” and “education” in the same sentence.

Still, the N.C.A.A. perseveres in its role of enabling a development league for professional football. The system fails the players, none of whom get legally paid and few of whom get much of an education. When evidence falls on its doorstep, the N.C.A.A. can and does act, the way it did last Tuesday, when it punished 12 Miami players, eight with suspensions, for accepting favors from a booster, Nevin Shapiro.

After being caught running a Ponzi scheme, Shapiro is now spending the next two decades in a somewhat more locked-down institution. However, Miami itself will open at Maryland on Monday night, so all is right with the world.

Who knew that college football had such a delicious sense of irony in choosing the first big game of the television season, Saturday between Oregon, ranked third in the preseason polls, and Louisiana State, ranked fourth.

By delightful circumstance, both schools have players suspended for various reasons, and both are being investigated by the N.C.A.A. for using the very same notorious scout Will Lyles to recruit players. Of course, they should play each other, over and over again.

Meanwhile, opening against Akron on Saturday will be Ohio State, which is chugging along merrily despite the departure of Jim Tressel, who beat Michigan most of the time while displaying a preachy tone. Tressel also tended to obfuscate, and resigned in disgrace last May.

Ohio State’s star quarterback, Pryor, was suspended for five games by the N.C.A.A. for violations, but he bolted and was drafted by the Raiders. The N.F.L. also ruled he had to sit out five games for bypassing the league draft, but it will probably take him that long to adjust to pro ball and maybe a new position.

Scandals like these should be an embarrassment to Miami’s president, Donna Shalala, and Ohio State’s president, E. Gordon Gee, but essentially any president of a major football power is expected to know the deal when signing on.  When Gee was Chancellor at Vanderbilt a decade ago he abolished the athletic department and placed it within Student Services because he wanted to assert the appropriate balance between academics and athletics.  He seems to sing a different tune at Ohio State.

In last week’s edition of Sports Illustrated, Alexander Wolff is urging Shalala to shut down the football program at Miami, thereby emulating the act of Robert Hutchins, the president of the University of Chicago, who abolished football after the 1939 season. In 1956 the Presidents of the eight Ivy League schools brake ranks and formed their own league.  Athletic scholarships were abolished and no more major football schools were scheduled.  Even today Ivy League football teams do not participate in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs.

Football can work on a level where the presidents are more powerful than the boosters, and where schools are not hopscotching around the country to create mega-conferences to please their masters from the television networks.  Yet today it seems that many reputations, awards and even game results (University of Toledo point shaving scandal) are tarnished by all of the cheating that is going on.

Bush became the first player in history to relinquish the highest individual honor in the sport, the Heisman Trophy, and his former school, U.S.C., was penalized with the forfeiture of victories in which Bush played in 2004 after a series of violations was discovered. (The asterisk and fine print in the 2011 media guide say that U.S.C.’s record is 0-0-0 for 2004, due to “NCAA penalties.” I looked.)

More recently, Newton helped Auburn win last season’s national championship after the N.C.A.A. chose to overlook that Newton’s father had been peddling his son’s services. Auburn’s championship stands.

These problems are not going away until school administrators and athletic department officials decide that academics must take precedence in our colleges and universities.  These ethical dilemmas are not easy to deal with.  People are needed in positions of authority who have the proper training and outlook—training that can be received at schools like the United States Sports Academy.  For information on Academy programs please go to http://ussa.edu.

This article is based on a piece written by George Vecsey tha first appeared in the New York Times.  Mr. Vecsey can be reached att E-mail: geovec@nytimes.com



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