Opinion: Enjoy Football, But Don't Abandon Decency

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The Virginian - Pilot (Norfolk, VA.)


As the FBI probed the sport's recruiting underbelly last preseason, Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey spoke for many at ACC media day.

"We can't have the games start soon enough," he said, "so our fans can be reminded there are some good things in college basketball."

College football's response: Hold my beer.

This first full week of competition couldn't arrive soon enough for a sport diminished by a summer of outrage and tragedy.

And there rests the difference in the two offseasons.

Whether payola in recruiting is scandalous, or merely symptomatic of antiquated rules, can be debated by serious minds.

What can't be debated is that the adults running football programs at Ohio State and Maryland cheapened those institutions. Moreover, they left many of us who love college football wondering if their callousness is pervasive.

As usual, Week 1 offers compelling fare. Saturday gives us Michigan-Notre Dame and Auburn-Washington, followed by Miami-Louisiana State on Sunday and Virginia Tech-Florida State on Monday. Closer to home, Virginia welcomes Richmond, while Old Dominion travels to Liberty.

But even as we tailgate, cheer and mourn, we shouldn't forget what transpired at Maryland and Ohio State. Most important, we should hold those schools accountable and do everything we can to prevent anything remotely similar.

Maryland officials concede the football training staff mismanaged the treatment of offensive lineman Jordan McNair, who suffered heatstroke during a May 19 work and died two weeks later in a hospital. A lawyer representing McNair's family told the Baltimore Sun that medical personnel did not use cold water immersion, a fundamental failing.

No wonder Maryland president Wallace Loh said the school accepts "legal and moral responsibility" for McNair's death.

Maryland officials also are probing an ESPN report that detailed a "toxic" culture within the football program, manifested by unhinged coaches abusing players physically, verbally and emotionally. Until resolved, head coach DJ Durkin is on administrative leave.

If ESPN's portrayal is accurate, Terps administrators enabled that culture or were blind to it. Both are unconscionable.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer also was on administrative leave recently, his benching as university officials probed his handling of domestic violence allegations against former Buckeyes assistant coach Zach Smith, the grandson of Meyer's mentor, former Buckeyes coach Earle Bruce.

Resolution, sort of, came last week, when Ohio State suspended Meyer for three games and athletic director Gene Smith for three weeks. The Buckeyes then had the gall to "explain" the suspensions at a news conference staged before reporters had the opportunity to read the university's 23-page summary of its investigation.

The report casts Meyer as a habitual liar and says that on Aug. 1, he and director of football operations Brian Voltolini discussed how to erase texts from Meyer's phone that might be subjected to open records requests. That conversation occurred immediately after reporter Brett McMurphy posted a damning story regarding Meyer's knowledge of Zach Smith's issues.

Investigators went easier on Gene Smith, but criticized him for failing his contractual obligation to report Zach Smith's domestic violence past to Ohio State's office of university compliance and integrity.

Ohio State should have fired Meyer and Gene Smith for their tone-deaf toleration of not only Zach Smith's domestic violence past, but also his repeated job-performance shortcomings. Instead, the school caved to its football interests.

And those interests are paramount.

Meyer wins championships. He owns Michigan, the school up north. Most important to Ohio State power brokers, his program prints money. According to Ohio State's most recent U.S. Department of Education filings, for fiscal 2016-17, Buckeyes football turned a $51.5 million profit, with revenue of $89.9 million and expenses of $38.4 million.

The average profit margin for the S&P 500 was approximately 11 percent in 2017. Ohio State football's was 57.3 percent.

Some other context: Buckeyes football generated about as much revenue as Virginia Tech's entire athletic department, and its $51.5 million in profits would fund all of William and Mary's sports programs for nearly two years.

"I think anytime you have these kind of stories, the magnitude of these stories, it's going to hurt college football," said ESPN analyst and former Ohio State quarterback Kirk Herbstreit. "This would hurt any sport, whether it's the MLB, the NFL, whatever it might be.

"When you have that many things happen, I think it kind of makes you take a step back and really look to see are we getting to a point where college football is becoming so big and the pressure to win is so great, that people sometimes are cutting corners, and sometimes people are maybe turning and not necessarily paying attention to some key things."

Key things such as respecting rather than intimidating players. Key things such as reporting allegations of domestic violence and sexual assault to proper authorities.

So revel in all that college football offers. But don't abandon common decency.

Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall acknowledged Wednesday the damage to college football.

"I think with the increased visibility of college football in particular, I think with the increased monetary values and exposure, the commercialization that comes with that, a shift more towards entertainment, I think with that has come some of the conduct and some of the tabloid-ish type of issues," he said, "but also some of the scrutiny that accompanies entertainment.

"I think there will be a tipping point at some point. I think there will be a point where there will be a significant shift back to college athletes and student-athletes and amateur sport, the development of young people through a game."

We can only hope.

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August 31, 2018


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