Hate the Game, Not the Player

Coming as I do from the Great Lakes area, I know full well that college football is about as close as we come to having an official State-sanctioned religion. Let me amend that. It is the State-sanctioned religion around these parts actually, especially Big Ten Conference football, that's NCAA Division 1, baby! And in places like Ann Arbor , East Lansing , Columbus , Minneapolis , and Madison , there are no atheists in the stands or in front of the big screen TV on game day.

Not everyone agrees, though. Some of us un-athletic couch potatoes who'd rather watch Star Trek reruns, mow the lawn, read a book, or whatever else are viewed by the rah-rah-rah crowd the same way as vegans are at the National Pork Producers Council: With grudging and highly qualified toleration and forbearance. And to make matters still worse, we have no ACLU to go into court for us when it just gets out of hand. And, like medieval peasants taxed to the hilt in order to buy golden candlesticks and rare marble for the cathedral the local Prince is building, most of us find that it is better to shut up and go along with it.

Now I do in fact like football at the high school level, where 99% of the boys that play do so for the love of competition and the game. I know this because that is all most of them ever get out of it. A letter jacket, an easier time getting dates, and the thrill of running out onto the field on a crisp, cool Friday night to play your heart out. And then you graduate, and get job, go to college or whatever.

But for a certain few, the players with real talent and ability to play the game, it doesn't end after high school. In fact, it is really only just the beginning of a golden road leading to fame, fortune and glory. Maybe even the NFL or a Super Bowl ring. Or a full-ride scholarship leading to a degree at a college or university, anyway. And given the high and going higher cost of full-time attendance at a major college or university, this benefit alone is worth thousands of dollars saved by the parents of what are known as "student athletes" in tuition and living expenses that they don't have to pay for. And if the student-athlete handles it right, they end up with a bachelor's degree, possibly in a field where they can earn a good living. Or failing that, they can hook up with the good ol' boys alumni association of former athletes, boosters and groupies and get a job selling cars or insurance by trading off your past gridiron glory days. And while you are a player, there are the girls.

A sweet deal to be sure, and it takes commitment and talent too, but if you can manage it, the rewards are big. So what is the downside of the Midwest 's State-Sanctioned religion, you ask? It is called the National Collegiate Athletic Association--a free market skewing, money wasting, joyless and humorless collection of drones who act as the buzzkills for the game day worshipping faithful.

These are the guys who step in and try to maintain the illusion that the student-athletes are only playing for the love of the game, just like in high school, and that their only reason for being on campus is the same as the student-non-athletes: To get out of their parents' house as soon as possible. No wait, to further their opportunities in life by getting a degree.

Now here is where the religious aspect of all this comes in. When I was a young boy and was being instructed in religious principles, I accepted what I was taught uncritically for the most part. But as you grow older, you start to realize that there are some serious and unresolved issues to be explained. If Adam and Eve were the first and only humans, how did their children have children without it being incest? Why aren't dinosaurs mentioned? Why do bad things seem to happen to good people? And many, many more.

After a certain age, most of us seem to go through a period of agnosticism or even atheism, regardless how well or patiently our faith is instructed to us. I know I did. You have to sit there with a straight face and listen to the Imam give you explanations for why milk or butter can't be served at the same table as beef and a million other questions.

In the State-sanctioned religion of Big Ten football, the NCAA serves this function. The religious mystery they are asked to propagate and enforce with sanctions, ultimately at taxpayer expense, is the idea that the student-athletes, especially the star players, are attending college because they want to learn and obtain a degree.

In the early years of the 20th Century when the NCAA was formed, most of the people who went to college were the children of the well to do and prominent. College was someplace to send Junior for few years before starting him off in the family business or to get him ready for law or business school. And it was where young women went to meet these kinds of men in order to marry them. In those days, there wasn't any NFL.

When Biff or Junior went out for the team, they really did it for their school and the glory. And the easier dates. But what if you wanted to win more than you lost? Bring in a few "ringers" for your team. So what if they couldn't spell 'cat' or lacked social graces? You would win games, right? No, lads, this isn't sporting. You must be pure and holy "student-athletes" who play without consideration for money, fame or easy dates. And so the NCAA was born.

The job of these professional buzzkills is to make sure that no one in college athletics makes any money at all from playing sports. At least not if you're a player. Coaches make good money, even if their job security is doubtful. The schools get ticket revenue, TV contract money, and team licensed merchandise royalties. This adds up to a nice chunk of coin, too. Michigan Stadium where the University of Michigan Wolverines play football each fall has 107,501 seats. And every game is a sell-out and has been for years. If you add in concession sales, parking, souvenirs and such, football easily pays for itself and more.

But the student athletes aren't supposed to play for any reason but for the love of the game and the pride of their school. Yeah, right. This flies in the face of even the most basic economic theory. If the supply of talented athletes were small relative to the demand for them, what would you predict happens to their price? So the NCAA is the gatekeeping buzzkill that tries to hold back the law of supply and demand. Which as I think is apparent, is like trying to hold back the law of gravity.

So every few years, the schools of the Big Ten and other colleges are shocked, yes, SHOCKED to discover that their players are promised and subsequently given money, no-work jobs, cars, apartments, and all manner of other goodies from grateful and adoring alumni, sports boosters and the like, and even a professional gambler or two.

The hypocrisy here is staggering. And even more staggering is the way as with aspects of religious belief or cognitive dissonance; the believers ignore this obvious fact. But not the NCAA priesthood. The illusion of plausibility must be maintained at all costs. And so it is.

Browsing the ESPN website today, I saw this story about disgraced, disgruntled and NCAA-disallowed former Ohio State University football running back Maurice Clarett. I see stories just like this one every fall.

According to Clarett, OSU Head Coach Jim Tressel 'arranged loaner cars for him and Tressel's brother, Dick, found him lucrative landscaping jobs that he did not even have to show up for. He says members of Tressel's staff also introduced him to boosters, who'd slip him thousands of dollars, and the better he played, the more cash he'd receive. He says boosters eventually began inviting him into their homes or would meet him out in the community.'

The story goes on to say that Clarett told ESPN The Magazine that he took the fall for the school during a 2003 NCAA investigation and that he's talking now because he wants to clear his name with National Football League owners and general managers.

The taxpayers of Ohio paid thousands of dollars to educate Mr. Clarett and allow him to train up and showcase his athletic skills on national television for the benefit of NFL scouts and general managers. And all Maurice wanted out of it was to play for his school. And all Ohio State wanted out of letting him play was the chance to educate a fine young man like Maurice and have him as an alumnus some day. The Big Ten Championship, bowl appearance and National Championship were just frosting on the surprise party cake. Yeah, right. Just as in religious dogma, one must accept tenets without proof. Or in this case, proof to the contrary.

I have to conclude this informative and scholarly rant at this time, because the Michigan ' Michigan State game is about to start. So praise the Lord and pass the chips.

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Ali Hassan Massoud's picture
Columns on STR: 43

Ali Massoud is a proud old-school isolationist who writes for the Internet and blogs.