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Further Analyzing CFB and the Narrative Problem

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In learning about leadership, there's a certain theory that has stuck with me. This theory remains rooted in the concept that leaders must fully understand themselves, their character, and their ethical values. To that extent, leaders should be able to avoid hearing about a scenario and saying "Wow, I dont know what I would have done in that situation." Even though that seems like an innocuous statement, it has some powerful undertones. Because, when you give that response to a scenario, it can be argued that you dont really know--or even understand--yourself as a person. It can be argued that you don't know your personal character. That you don't know your ethical values. And that you certainly don't know yourself as a leader. Because, if you did, you know *exactly* what you would have done in that situation.

Whether or not you actually agree with that position (and many dont), I think it's a pretty powerful concept. And it's a concept that I thought about during the recent actions of Jim Tressel, Gene Smith, and Gordon Gee. While I'm not in their shoes, I feel very strongly about the fact that I wouldnt have done what they did. To this day, I'm still galled by the initial a circus of a press conference. If I was an Ohio State fan, this whole episode would cause me to feel sick to my stomach during the entire season. I dont know if I could even watch. In fleshing this out, this leadership concept also makes me think about Notre Dame, Oregon, Auburn, Iowa, John Junker, and the entire cast of characters involved in the negative stories from the past year.

Now, the point of this post isn't to take a moral highground. It isn't even to analyze these individual stories. Instead, my goal is to re-examine the narrative for CFB over the last year and how it has affected my feelings for the sport. This discussion started with a post in January and has further evolved over the last few months as new stories have emerged.

As explained in the previous post, it's pretty staggering how many "negative" stories for CFB have emerged over the past year. It's even more staggering how many of these "negative" stories have undercut the main selling point of college football, which is having amateur student-athletes playing football in exchange for a college scholarship. That's a powerful narrative, yet one that is constantly being undercut by current realities. It's also a narrative that doesn't leave itself open to much wiggle room. Hence, if a player is caught receiving improper benefits, then they--and potentially their school--are supposed to be punished.

For the purposes of this post, I think it is instructive to walk through the chain of events from the past year. In order to curtail the length of this post, I trimmed the summaries of the events covered in the previous post, and then added all the stories from the current off-season.

1) Conference Realignment (Summer 2010)

For the most part, the realignment saga was all about money. Which is fine. Money makes the world go round. However, the realignment saga arguably damaged the overall NCAA narrative, as it’s hard to sell "rivalry, history, and tradition" when it’s clear that schools will abandon their existing relationships for a certain price. I dont want to belabor this point, but, if you still dont understand why realignment wasnt necessarily helpful for college football, then please read Scipio Tex's epic realignment piece. In fact, just try to wrap your head around this one question from that article, which I still find to be largely unanswerable:

Explain to me exactly what this current move did for Longhorn fans? Fans. Me? You? Us? Not Longhorns, Inc.

2) USC Hammered by NCAA Sanctions (June 2010)

After a four-year investigation, the NCAA slapped the "lack of institutional control" label on USC and bombarded them with sanctions. This actually got the NCAA some good press, but it also caused the media to question the legitimacy of USC's 2004 National Title. About a month later, USC decided to send back their copy of Reggie Bush's Heisman trophy.

3) UNC Suspensions and Dismissals (July-September 2010)

On the verge of their marquee matchup with LSU, UNC suspended 13 players (and 6 starters) because of various allegations and infractions. Most notably, star player Marvin Austin was suspended and then later kicked off the team for accepting improper benefits. The story eventually led to John Blake resigning on September 6th.

4) Various NCAA Coaches With "Conference Call" Over Problems with Agents (August 2010)

After a series of off-season rumors and scandals, Nick Saban spearheaded a conference call over how to "protect" players from unscrupulous sports agents. The article explains how investigations over agents had recently been conducted at four different SEC schools. Out of twelve.

5) Alabama Player Marcel Dareus Suspended (September 2010)

One of the heroes from the National Championship game, Dareus' suspension was related to accepting improper benefits during two off-season trips to Miami.

6) AJ Green Jersey Suspension and Controversy (September 2010)

Interestingly, the AJ Green suspension dovetailed into a much larger discussion. After he was suspended for four games for selling a game jersey, several pundits declared the NCAA to be hypocritical. As Michael Wilbon noted, Georgia sold 17 different versions of Green's jersey to the general public.

7) Reggie Bush Returns the Heisman Trophy (September 2010)

Following the lead of USC, Reggie Bush also returned his Heisman trophy. Not exactly a shining moment for the NCAA. Please note that we're still in the month of September.

8) "Death to the BCS" Eviscerates the Current BCS System (October 2010)

The work of several Yahoo Sports authors, "Death to the BCS" declared itself to be "the definitive case against the Bowl Championship Series." This book produced some strong indictments against the already unpopular BCS system, and it was widely discussed all over the internet.

9) "30 for 30" Specials Highlighting Negative Aspects of NCAA/Recruiting (November/December 2010)

This fall, ESPN's "30 for 30" series included the stories of Marcus Dupree and the SMU Program receiving the "Death Penalty." If you are unfamiliar with either of these stories, here are Barking Carnival's excellent recaps of "The Best That Never Was" and "The Pony Excess".

10) Gordon Gee and "Little Sisters of the Poor" Comment (November 2010)

While his sentiments weren't entirely misguided, Gordon Gee's comment that the non-BCS schools played "The Little Sisters of the Poor" was heavily criticized. Additionally, as pointed out by Dan Wetzel, his comments actually served to spotlight some of the key problems with the BCS.

11) Cam Newton Story With Bombshell after Bombshell (November/December 2010)

Plain and simple, the Cam Newton story was *the* story of last season. But, as I pointed out in a Pundit Roundup column entirely dedicated to the Cam Newton coverage, the story was discussed in a variety of platforms. These ranged from whether he should win the Heisman to whether athletes should be paid in college. Regardless of how you felt about the case, it 's hard to argue that it projected a positive image of the NCAA system.

12) Lackluster BCS Matchups (December 2010)

With the exception of the Rose Bowl and National Championship Game, fans were lukewarm over the other BCS games. This lack of excitement is further demonstrated by the next item on this list.

13) Unranked UConn Cant Sell Fiesta Bowl tickets (December 2010)

In a further indictment of the current system, there were a flood of stories related to schools being unable to sell their allotment of tickets for bowl games. Most notably, UConn resorted to begging fans to buy Fiesta Bowl tickets. Not surprisingly, it didnt work. Later calculations placed their financial losses for the game at $1.66 million. Their actual losses were much higher, as OU routed them and then their coach fled for Maryland. Good times.

14) Ohio State Players *Not* Suspended for Sugar Bowl (December 2010)

A few weeks before the Sugar Bowl, several Ohio State players were found to have violated NCAA rules by selling various items. After the news broke, various parties succesfully lobbied for a postponed punishment. In discussing the issue, Dan Wetzel said Terrelle Pryor's acts "exposed the charade of college athletics." After reading his article, it's easy to understand why someone would have simply skipped the game. This is especially true if they didnt have cable, since the game--like all the other BCS games--was solely televised on ESPN.

But, as you know, that wasnt the end of Ohio State's issues from Tatgate. Stay tuned.

15) UT TV Deal and the ongoing hyper-monetization of college sports (January 2011)

BON analyzed the deal here. To me, the most interesting part of the coverage over the deal was the constant regurgitation of the $300 million figure. In talking about the network with fans of other schools, they dont really know exactly what the network will show. They dont really know what cable packages will offer the channel. But they damn sure know how much ESPN paid for it. And, for the NCAA, I'm still not sure that's a good thing.

16) Iowa workouts, rhabdomyolysis, and the school's response (January 2011)

Even though it comes under unfortunate circumstances, I want to give a shout-out to SBN Blog "Black Heart Gold Pants." They absolutely crushed the coverage of Rhabdogate. A few weeks ago, I actually read through most of the FOIA-acquired e-mails over how Iowa planned to deal with the situation. Some of them were truly mind-boggling over their "plan" for the press releases and press conferences. Honestly, who could have possibly thought that saying "we expect no further comment at this time" was a good idea?

In looking to see the response from BHGP, I found a series of well-written articles over the entire situation. See here, here, here, and here for their coverage. In particular, I thought this post's discussion of the changing world for SIDs due to social media was especially insightful.

17) SI/CBS News Investigation over "Crime Rates in College Football" (March 2011)

This extensively researched report provided several statistics over the criminal records of players in Top-25 programs. It also pointed out that only two of these programs conducted background checks on recruits. This article drew a lot of bad press, but, as Dr. Saturday pointed out, its results were largely skewed. In any case, this was another black eye for college football.

18) Larger coverage of "Oversigning" Problem (January - March 2011)

Oversigning is nothing new. It happens every year, especially in the SEC. But, for the first time that I can remember, the prospect of curbing these abuses finally made some traction. Supplementing the series of articles explaining the problem, the University of Florida President wrote his own SI editorial that called the practice morally reprehensible. And it is. I dont see how anyone could read this article and feel good about the process.

19) Suspicious Oregon payments to Lyles and Flenory (March 2011)

Recruitocosm was all over the problem of Street Agents in Texas. Their position was potentially vindicated by the recent Yahoo Sports report over the suspicious payments by Oregon to Will Lyles and Baron Flenory. After the news broke, Oregon announced that it opened its book and released the invoices from the transactions. You can read the articles and make up your own mind, but please wait to reach any conclusions until you read about Lyles and Patrick Peterson further below.

20) Jim Tressel e-mail cover-up and pitiful "self-sanctions" from Ohio State (March 2011)

With this one, I dont even really know where to begin. After the player suspensions associated with Tatgate, I think everyone--and especially Jim Tressel--assumed the issue was put to rest. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the news broke that Tressel knew about the memorabilia sales before the season started. Incredibly, he knew about the sales well before the initial Tatgate, in which he forced all the players to promise to return next season before being allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl.

After the news broke, Tressel was quickly given a two-game suspension and $250,000 fine. This initial announcement led to one of the most bizarre press conferences I've ever seen. During the press conference, OSU President Gordon Gee brushed off the idea of Tressel being fired and actually said "I hope he doesnt fire me." At several points, AD Gene Smith jumped in to prevent Tressel from answering questions. It was later reported that OSU had considered stronger penalties, including forcing Tressel to miss Spring Practices, but chose to allow him to participate in off-season activities. Later, after the players' appeal to reduce their own suspensions was denied, Tressel decided to request that his own suspension be increased to 5 games.

To be honest, everything about this story upsets me. I'm just going to move on and continue hoping that the NCAA eventually increases Tressel's punishment.

21) HBO "Real Sports" special alleges "Pay for Play" scheme at Auburn (March 2011)

I havent seen the show, but here's a transcript over the relevant portions of the interviews. There's always the possibility of the "Haters" defense or the "Thayer Evans/Jamarkus McFarland" defense, but, on its own, this allegation is pretty huge. Auburn just won the National Title, and this report comes on the heels of the Cam Newton situation.

22) John Junker fired as CEO of the Fiesta Bowl for being a corrupt idiot (March 2011)

Even though I think the title here says it all, here's an extensive analysis of his trangressions. Please raise your hand if you think John Junker and the Fiesta Bown are the only parties in the bowl system who have committed such abuses. I'll wait.

23) Patrick Peterson, Will Lyles, and potential "Pay for Play" scheme (March 2011)

According to the former CB coach at Texas A&M, Will Lyles asked for $80,000 for Texas A&M to sign Patrick Peterson. More specifically, he said they had to "beat" $80,000. Peterson eventually signed with LSU, Please raise your hand if you think that was a coincidence. Once again, I'll wait.

Conclusion (For Now)

This post is already longer than I expected. The noteworthy thing is that it could have easily been longer. My initial list had several additional topics, which ranged from the tragic death of Declan Sullivan to the widespread tactic of coaches deciding to close practices to the general public.

Rather than writing another 1000 words about my own personal feelings, I want to try to set the table for an extended discussion in the comments. Depending on how things go, I'd like to potentially revisit these issues in a later post. In the comments, please feel free to address these two key questions.

1) Have your feelings about college football changed over the past year? If so, why?

2) If Mack Brown, Deloss Dodds, and Bill Powers acted similarly to their Ohio State counterparts during a scandal, how would that have affected your feelings over this season?

For my part, I'm conflicted. I certainly didnt enjoy watching Auburn's farcical "All In" routine last year during the Cam Newton controversy. I especially didnt enjoy hearing fans cheer wildly when Gene Chizik announced "I'll say this very loud and very clear. Cam Newton is eligible at Auburn University. Period. End of Story." Furthermore, I have significant issues with how schools have handled recent controversies such as Tatgate, Rhabdogate, and Declan Sullivan's death. And that doesnt even begin to address the BCS system, NCAA investigations process, or the overinflated importance of preseason polls.

Ultimately, I think the negative stories from this season showed me that I might have a breaking point for being a fan of college football. And that breaking point has absolutely nothing to do with how a team performs on the field.

Hook 'em.