After Jim Tressel, Is There Any Integrity Left in College Sports?

When I first heard the news about Jim Tressel and Ohio State, shock struck me. It was an instant, unconscious shock, and I only felt it because I hadn’t expected to wake up on this day to find this particular piece of news.

The shock evaporated a split second later when my mind began to actually process the information. Because, really, why would this NCAA document be so shocking? We already know that Tressel was involved in a cover-up and the sports world has been flooded with similar acts of corruption in the last few years.

Quite honestly, this kind of stuff is almost expected these days. With the numerous recruiting violations, point-shaving scandals, pay-for-play demands, improper benefits, academic misconduct, and general lack of institutional control (hello, USC), should we ever be surprised by anything?

It’s sad. Really, awfully sad.

Many of you are probably pessimists (realists?) who don’t believe that there’s a clean coach or program out there.

Me? My world is pink. I try to fill as much of my life with pink as I possibly can, from the pink laptop to the pink purses to the pink heels. Maybe that’s why I see the world through rose-colored glasses.

I’m not stupid; I know that corruption exists. But some purity still survives, right? It has to. Otherwise, what is the point of sports?

Sports has become entertainment, yes, but I want my entertainment to be hard-fought and fair with an ending that’s not predetermined. I want players to leave it all on the field or court instead of thinking about what they’re getting once the game is over or before the game has even begun.

I go back to that scene in Jerry Maguire where Jerry asks Rod Tidwell to think about why Rod first started playing football. Jerry is expecting a sentimental answer involving some kind of childhood love for the game; instead, he realizes that money was the main motivational factor for Rod.

In Blue Chips, Nick Nolte’s character quits his coaching job because he can’t stand the dirty business of college basketball anymore. The most poignant scene is when Nolte walks away in the end – only to be drawn straight to a playground basketball court where kids are hooping.

What happened to playing for love? Is this really what our world has become?

Okay, I get that evolution has occurred. With higher stakes, increased television exposure, difficult-to-please fans, and impatient administrations, winning takes on a different tone than it used to.

Deep-rooted corruption has always existed, of course. Kentucky basketball received the death penalty for the 1952–53 season and Southern Methodist football received the same for the 1987 and 1988 seasons.

The difference is that corruption is so widespread and rampant these days that no program is untouchable. Earlier this month, news broke that a former San Diego assistant coach and two former players were involved in a point-shaving scheme. San Diego – just about the last place where you’d find a sports betting scandal.

Through my rose-colored glasses, I still believe – I need to believe – that some programs have remained committed to the integrity of college athletics. That programs like Gonzaga, Boise State, and Butler successfully compete at the highest levels without taint.

Because if all integrity is gone, what are we left with? What are we, as fans, journalists, sideline bystanders, left cheering for? If championships are won before they’ve been played, players need to get paid to play, players get paid to not play, and everyone is looking forward to their next big paycheck, then what is the point of watching a rigged game that no one cares about?

Even if sports is entertainment, that’s just bad entertainment, folks.

So, I keep on believing.

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