College Football Is Being Destroyed By Greed

The conferences are a mess and corruption rules the game

College football is killing itself. The game is collapsing under the weight of widespread university greed. The drive to make more and more money is resulting in a seismic realignment of the football conferences, which is creating more confusion and less interest in the game. The latest shift came this week as Syracuse and Pittsburgh said they would leave the Big East for the ACC. The news came the same day the driving force behind the Big East, Dave Gavitt, died. In many respects, the Big East is dead as well.

Next year, Texas Christian University will join the Big East. Nothing against TCU, but it doesn’t belong in a conference dominated by schools from the Northeast. Such alignments diminish the great rivalries that come from playing against schools from the same state or region.

The constant school shuffling is upending traditions and making the conference names obsolete. Take the Big Ten Conference, which actually consists of 12 schools. But at least all the schools in the conference are mostly located in the Midwest. Except Penn State, which belongs in the Big East.

At the same time, the Big 12 Conference has only 10 schools. Maybe it should switch names with the Big Ten. Not to worry, the Big 12 also owns the trademark names for the Big Eight and Big 14—depending on how things go.

Conferences do go out of business. The Southwest Conference imploded in 1996 after 82 years. The SWC was weakened by recruiting scandals in the 1980s. In 1994, four SWC schools joined the Big Eight Conference, which at least was rightly renamed the Big 12. All was fine until two schools left last year.

All of the movement is being driven by money, mainly from television contracts. The conferences are angling to create their own TV networks and generate maximum revenue for the schools. All of a sudden university presidents at big-time football schools want to be like the New York Yankees, and the drive to recruit the best players and win at any cost has resulted in many college programs losing their way. Every year it seems there is a cheating scandal at a major university. It used to be a big deal, but now it’s a one- or two-day story.

Ohio State’s coach resigned last year amid allegations of players receiving cash and free tattoos. The star quarterback at Auburn University, last year’s national champs, was dogged by allegations his father demand money from a school that tried to recruit his son.

University of Southern California was stripped last year of its 2004 national title, and its star running back, Reggie Bush, returned his Heisman Trophy after it was determined he and his family received improper benefits. The benefits included free airfare, a car, limo rides and a rent-free home from a sports agent.

Yahoo sports reported this year that a booster at the University of Miami gave millions of dollars in cash and paid for services (including sex) for more than 70 players over eight years. The story caused a minor stir, but the season has gone on. Then again such perks are probably expected at Miami, which constantly seem to be dogged by cheating allegations.

Things seem to have gotten worse in recent years. But Taylor Branch’s powerful piece in the Atlantic this month titled, “The Shame of College Sports,” traces how illicit money and cheating have plagued college football almost since the first coin flip. The Ivy League is held up as a model for the so-called student-athlete. But Branch’s story details how legendary Yale coach Walter Camp had a $100,000 slush fund and some elite schools had rosters with phantom students.

Branch makes the case that the colleges should end the charade of amateur sports and begin to pay the players. Indeed, some colleges are making tens of millions of dollars a year from sports programs often populated by poor, inner-city minorities.

I’m not so sure paying college players will solve the problem. But I do know that college football is broken.

Paul Davies spent 25 years in the newspaper business, including stops at the Daily News, the Inquirer and the Wall Street Journal. He can be reached at [email protected]