Monday, April 9, 2012

Meyer Again Shows the Darkside of College Football

Meyer represents all that is wrong with the game
College football has so many things going for it. It gives people a chance to share pride (or anger) in their undergraduate institutions, uniting large masses of people together under one common goal. You get to enjoy it the best while at that school, ensuring that you can engage in some epic tailgating while in your prime partying years. And it even allows you to forge a deep hatred for another academic institution just because they're rivals with your particular team. Yet, above all that, one of the best things about college football is that it is supposed to be the last reflection of amateur football, a true representation of the student-athlete. We get to watch these athletes excel on the field with the supposed notion that they do it for the love of the game. Now, we know this isn't completely true, given that all of the top athletes are gunning for the NFL. But the fact remains that one of the more appealing aspects of college football is the fact that the vast majority of the players are playing their last years of football. From that, comes the sort of innocence and authenticity that makes the sport what it is.

One of the best parts as well is enjoying it as a fan. Where else do you get to see scenes like this:

And yet in the modern era, college football has turned into a money-grubbing, step-over-everyone-on-the-way-to-the-top type of selfish nonsense. Conferences like the SEC have turned the concept of the "student-athlete" into a complete joke, whether it be through laughable academic standards or the unethical conduct of the coaches themselves. The undying desire of some of the coaches to put out winning programs, which feeds into the fan frenzy like that seen above, also leads to the catch-22 situation of the process of getting to that ultimate level. For a shining example of this, look no further than Urban Meyer.

The Sporting News today came out with a scathing portrait of Meyer's tactics and the impact he left on a SEC program at Florida that won two National Championships. It calls into question the conduct of head coaches in college football at the highest level. It shows how Meyer, as a representation of the dark side of college football, runs a program. It shows what purportedly goes on behind the scenes at some of most successful programs in the country. It's disgusting on every level.

First, you have shining examples of how his players essentially ran the team. The "inmates running the asylum" dynamic is nothing new in sports, but it's interesting how it came about in this case. I would imagine that it was hard for Meyer to maintain the respect and discipline of the players when he kept a certain amount of the elite players under his protection, refusing to allow them to endure any consequences for their actions. Why would he do that? His only goal was to win football games, doing so in any way possible. I couldn't believe the extent to which this went. Percy Harvin dictating what conditioning drills they would run in practice? Elite players failing multiple drug tests only to have it swept under the rug? Harvin actually choking out a coach, only to have Meyer come and defuse the situation without any disciplinary action? Indefensible.

Then you have players being "medically cut" out of the program. This is a tactic used to perfection by Alabama coach Nick Saban. It involves deeming a player medically unable to perform, which shifts his scholarship and essentially cuts him from the team to make room for a new recruit. I can't possibly think of a more draconian way for a player's medical problems to be handled. But does anyone care? Saban has also won two championships for Alabama. Who cares if it completely undermines everything that this coaches do and say to get those players on campus to begin with?

That leads perfectly to the next point. These coaches, especially Meyer, will do and say ANYTHING to get a kid on campus. I'm all for aggressive recruiting, as it is the lifeline of a program and is the most necessary product for gaining wins on Saturdays. But at the same time, there are certain lines that should not be crossed. After all, shouldn't ethics be at play here? You have Meyer, only a year or so removed from being the coach at Florida, telling kids that he is recruiting to Ohio State that Florida is such a mess that he wouldn't send his son there. Uh, excuse me Urban. YOU CREATED THE MESS THERE! And what about the fact that Urban used his "medical problems" as an excuse to recruit, telling one recruit that God told him (Meyer) that he was supposed to coach him, and that he didn't care if he died in the process. Are you kidding me?!

Here's the problem though - these coaches win, so recruits aren't going to stop coming. Even more than that, they put guys in the NFL. Just think about the sheer number of players that Meyer and Saban put into the league every year. It's unreal. So if you're a top recruit, looking at various schools, what incentive do you have to choose the high road? And do you really even know that it exists? You hear what these snake oil salesmen are selling to you, and of course you're going to listen. Easy classes, team success, a path to the NFL, etc.? Of course I'll play for you coach!

That's the sad part. Coaches like Meyer illustrate the denigration of the modern student-athlete. I'm not going to sit up here on a bully pulpit and try and pretend that football players should be Academic All-Americans, but there is a difference between that and simply trying to maintain some image of what college football is all about. I mean, really, what about this process is "collegiate" at all? It's terrible.

I understand that there have always been dirty recruiting tactics. I know that schools have always tried to take shortcuts to get the elite kids on campus. But I can never remember an era like this, where the programs that blur the line between unethical and allowable have more of a conceded advantage over the rest of the college football landscape. As it stands right now, schools in conferences like the Big Ten, who all impose standards on their programs, simply cannot compete with a conference like the SEC. There's a reason that the SEC continues to rattle off National Championships every year. It's because coaches like Meyer and Saban have unfair advantages in obtaining the best athletes, and thus having the best teams.

Until the NCAA does anything, this is the situation we're going to be left with. Yeah, we'll still cheer like the maniacs in the Virgina Tech video for our favorite programs every Saturday, perhaps even with that glimmer of hope that this year the good guys will win it. But we all know in the end that teams like Alabama, stacked with kids who don't have the worries of a football player at another school, will win out. Unless, of course, Meyer starts winning titles at Ohio State. Then the problems are at the Big Ten's doorstep.

As for now, I'll stop my rant, and let the startling revelations in the Sporting News article above speak for themselves. We can only hope that more information like that sees the light of day, and we see positive change come to the college football landscape. I fear, however, that as long as the billions of dollars keeps rolling in, the NCAA will sit back, content with their money, apathetic to the problems, and incredulous to the plight of the modern student-athlete.


chooch said...

I listened to an NPR fresh air the other day with a former college athlete sports agent who would essentially find ways to pay the students. There are so many interesting dynamics to it all. The players are essentially slave labor, making insane amounts of money for the schools and for the NCAA in general. Why does it seem like everything is corrupt these days?

Dave Johnsen said...

It's crazy. You'd think that they could come to some sort of agreement to advantage the student-athletes. It's a system that benefits the NCAA and the Conferences billions of dollars, yet those students see nothing of the money. It is essentially a system that perpetuates slave labor. There's just so many angles to this; it really illustrates how messed up the entire situation truly is.