Scoreboard, Baby!

A new book by Ken Armstrong and Nick Perry, both accomplished journalists from the Seattle Times, points out educational issues among colleges and universities in the United States, as well as how the legal system drops the ball when it comes to athletes unlawful behavior. The book concentrates on whether it matters to fans that great athletes on the field, may be committing rape, robbery, substance abuse and physical assault crimes when they should be earning college degrees.

If you attend games or follow the University of Oregon football program, you know despite its ups and downs in the late 1990s and past decade the program has achieved much success. A miraculous 2003 win over the dominant Michigan Wolverines lead to a Sports Illustrated cover (the kiss of death for athletes everywhere), followed by 3 consecutive losses to Wazzu, Utah, and ASU. In 2005, the team posted a 10-2 record, losing only to #1 ranked USC and Oklahoma in the Holiday Bowl. Fall 2009 was also a fantastic season, with high scores and a Rose Bowl appearance. Losing to a strong Ohio State program is nothing to be ashamed about. However, once we entered 2010 both Oregon football programs, the Ducks and Beavers, took an off-season tumble. 

Players abusing, using, and stealing became a common news story. Of course these stories didn’t stick close to home. They were published in magazines & newspapers nationwide. Hundreds of people commented within just a few days on ESPN.com articles bashing the Ducks program and coaching staff. Oregon is not alone.

Scores of teams across the country have suffered from corruption and politics in the athletic, education, and legal systems. Yet, die-hard fans, especially students, continue to get drunk and cheer on the young and the reckless. Our nation has become addicted to sports and for good reason. For a university, a nationally televised victory likely draws more attention than a research team discovering a cure for disease. I don’t think its right, but its the culture we live in. College athletics exist because they provide entertainment for students and the community. They increase institutions revenue since more students apply to schools with successful athletics. Even the most dedicated academics enjoy watching a good game. Expensive Ivy Leagues such as Yale and Princeton have weaker athletic programs because their selling point is prestigious academic programs, but they still provide socializing and entertainment to stressed out students on Saturday afternoons.

Scoreboard, Baby: A Story of College Football, Crime, and Complicity focuses on the Washington Huskies rise to a 2001 Rose Bowl victory. The subsequent NCAA investigations of players and coaches, and the outrageous legal settlements that favor athletes above the law.

Rick Neuheisel was successful at Washington, but was fired from the program for engaging in an illegal gambling pool and lying to NCAA investigators. He sued the University and was awarded $4.5 million. He now coaches at UCLA.

*Note: Most student athletes are great students who study hard and train daily. A large percentage are respectful individuals who put their scholarships to good academic use. They understand how lucky they are to receive degrees without $20,000 of student debt. It is sad that handfuls of strong athletes make poor decisions and consider themselves untouchable, ruining the reputation of their teammates. It is even more destructive that the media have a field day with these stories and the legal system routinely gives breaks to star athletes. If you need further proof, just look at the way the NCAA handled Jeremiah Masoli’s transfer to Ole Miss after he got suspended and kicked-off the Ducks team.

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