Of all the fraught topics I’ve tackled over the years, this is the one most likely to make enemies. People in the South don’t get as upset about politics as they do when they think you’re criticizing their college football team.
So let me say up front that I’m not trashing any particular team. I’m trashing all of them.
Just kidding. As any longtime reader of this column knows very well, I’m as big a sports fan as you’ll find — especially college football and basketball. I actually made my living as a college basketball coach for 13 years, albeit at a lower level.
So please understand that it pains me to say this. It’s not a conclusion I wanted to reach. And yet I’m convinced that it may be time to say goodbye to big-time college athletics.
The whole business has simply gotten out of hand. It’s too big, not to mention too big for its britches.
I’m pro-free market enough not to begrudge anybody making a buck. But when the football coach is paid more than the president of the university, the governor of the state, and every member of the history department combined, I think we might have a problem with priorities.
And then there’s the corruption. Seriously, has there ever been an ostensibly legal enterprise that is as corrupt as big-time college sports? Has a year ever gone by without multiple scandals involving major universities?
I can tell you first-hand that recruiting is a cesspool, even at the level I coached. Honest coaches trying to run clean programs find themselves at a disadvantage because so many other coaches and programs cheat.
Athletes contribute to the scummy-ness, too, as many have their hands out from day one. And who can blame them? “The other guy offered me a bunch of stuff,” they essentially say. “Why aren’t you offering me stuff, too?”
I’m not arguing, by the way, that we should do away with athletics. I believe sports have great value for individuals and communities. I’m just suggesting that we consider some common-sense reforms, starting with banning recruiting and abolishing athletic scholarships.
Instead, let’s spread that money across the student body, making 80 percent of all scholarships needs-based and the other 20 percent based on merit — academic merit, since that’s supposedly what college is about.
Let’s pay coaches like faculty members — and give them tenure just like faculty members. Then let’s put together teams by holding open tryouts for all students in good academic standing, the way high schools do.
That way, our college sports programs really will be representative of our states and communities. The onus will be on coaches to organize, teach, and develop.
Best of all, athletics will no longer overshadow the academic mission of the university. They will be an important but subordinate part of that mission, as they were always meant to be.