College sports in severe need of overhaul

This may be as good a time as any to rethink big-time college sports. The University of Georgia could begin the process of a new look and possible overhaul. As football season winds down, the Dawgs are ripe for change.

Their rah-rah enthusiasm has been chilled. The current team is mediocre. Unless they improve substantially, our beloved Dawgs could replace the Commodores as perennial patsies in the SEC. As you may remember, Vanderbilt beat us on Homecoming Day. Some glum boosters said it was like getting trounced by Emory.

Georgia's graduation rate for so-called student athletes is among the lowest in the nation.

Higher-education bigwigs may pretend otherwise, but college athletics, mainly football and basketball, are out of hand. Games and game-day activities have become orgies of excess and meanness. Georgia fans are getting a national reputation for coarseness and incivility. The kids are OK; their parents are the problem. Whatever happened to Southern hospitality and common courtesy?

Trying to change the name of the tailgating parties won't solve the problem. UGA President Mike Adams banned use of "The World's Greatest Outdoor Cocktail Party" to describe the Georgia-Florida football outing. The Adams crowd said they preferred something like "Florida Family Fun Fest and Dawg Day."

My spies in Jacksonville tell me that censoring the name had no effect. In fact, they say fans set a new record at the Oct. 28 fiasco for guzzling and passing out.

If President Mike really wants to stop drinking before, during and after ballgames, he should try banning booze. Terming a binge a family picnic doesn't change a thing. It's still a binge.

Come to think of it, prohibiting liquor won't work either. That has been tried. We didn't get sobriety. We got Al Capone.

Let's face facts about the football culture. That's where the change is needed.

Fact one: Too many college players are thugs, plain and simple. Their off-field and sometimes on-field behavior show it. So why should we expect fans to behave better than players?

How can college presidents and their athletic directors lament misbehavior on the field when stadiums have laser messages calling for noise, noise, noise and an announcer yelling "Louder! Louder! Louder!" so the visiting quarterback and players can't hear? That used to be a crowd penalty against the home team. Now trying to deafen the other side is considered routine fun. Next thing you know we'll be water-boarding the opposing coach.

Fact two: While President Mike and Company are cracking down on drinking, legendary Larry Munson, a hero of young fans, is on game-day radio plugging beer.

Fact three: Money madness rules. Head coaches make $2 million to $3 million a year. Assistant coaches rake in a half-million and up. And that may not count the cash they receive for endorsements from Nike and similar brands. Take a tour of the multimillion-dollar Butts-Mehre jock temple on the Athens campus. It is little more than an elaborate stage set advertising a gateway to the NFL - the ultimate goal of many so-called student athletes, most of whom will never get close to either the NFL or graduation. They're being conned.

Don't get me wrong. The football experience can and ought to be great. Nothing is quite as delightful as an autumn Saturday in Athens and a wildly cheering crowd in Sanford Stadium.

Let's enjoy the happening without guilt, and stop kidding ourselves. College football has little to do with college. It is the circus come to town. Even staid corporate CEOs can make asses of themselves on college football Saturday - and nobody on their board cares. It is an occasion for screaming your lungs out and weeping for joy or sadness - over nothing. After all, football was meant to be a game to provide diversion from hard study for physically fit young men. Didn't quite work that way in the long run, but it is still simply a game.

Football ought to be fun for everybody. If it must be cutthroat professional-level competition, don't play games with scholarships. Use salary caps. Pay the players. Let them attend real classes, if they desire and can really pass credit courses.

Stop pretending. Euphemisms won't help. Making believe that a scholarship football player is first and foremost a student seeking a degree is akin to claiming a trial lawyer is seeking truth more than victory. It just ain't so.

Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. E-mail him at bshipp@bellsouth.net.

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