It’s Christmas Eve, but it’s not too late. There’s still time to pick up a few things for your kids. And no, I’m not talking about the Wii controller, the latest Xbox game, the flatscreen TV, or the new laptop. I’m talking about the gifts that will make memories for years; the gifts your kids will really appreciate when they get older.
My best presents weren’t the Legos or the Gameboy or the sweatshirt. As I look back on my childhood Christmases, my favorite gifts were the ones that forced me outside. I remember the Nerf football, spongy and shining out of the box, that survived hundreds of sessions of pick-up football in the cul-de-sac until finally it was nothing more than a bare block of foam. It’s paint gone from all those incompletions scraping off the asphalt, it’s shape altered by the times the neighbor’s dog got a hold of it.
I remember the hockey sticks for my brother and the goalie pads for me. Gifts that turned our driveway into an imaginary rink. Gifts that transformed my brother into the overtime goal scorer, and me into the netminder who preserved a shutout with his spectacular glove save. Believe it or not, that hockey gear is still in my parents’ garage, and still gets use from time to time. Simple gifts that gave me my favorite times with my brother and inspired in me a love of hockey that I still possess today.
Only a week til Christmas, so its a little late for wish lists. I won’t be asking for anything extraordinary from my family and friends at this point. Get me the sweater, the book, the DVD, and I’m a happy guy.
But let’s pretend for a moment there is a sports Santa Claus. A sports version of St. Nick who is very interested in making the wishes of sports fans come true. Well Mr. Claus, I’ve been pretty good this year and I have a few requests.
Here is what I want for Christmas:
I WANT A COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF
I know Santa, you get this one a lot, but I’m never going to stop wishing for this. I’m thrilled with an Oregon/Auburn matchup in the title game, but the BCS continues to get lucky and that can’t last forever. I’ll even admit TCU probably isn’t as good as Oregon or Auburn, but shouldn’t that be decided on the field? The Horned Frogs did absolutely everything that was asked of them, but won’t get a sniff of a championship simply because of discrimination toward smaller schools and non-traditional powers. I don’t care how big or small the playoff is, I just want a level playing field here. And spare me the excuses of extra games, protecting student-athletes, and preserving the bowl system. The bowl system is a middling mess of mediocrity. You mean we might miss out on Florida International vs. Toledo in the Little Caesar’s Bowl? Good, I’d rather watch curling anyway. Trust me Santa, if you want to stop receiving these letters, you’ll find a way to make this happen for me and the countless fans who hate seeing this sport’s champion be crowned by ignorant human voters and soulless computers.
I WANT THE NCAA BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT TO STAY AT 65 TEAMS
College football may get it wrong, but college basketball gets it right. There is no need to expand March Madness to 96 teams as is being discussed by the NCAA. 65 teams means the little guy still has a shot and that’s all the little guy is asking for.
It’s to the point that I won’t even try new foods. The other night someone offered me some asparagus. I have no idea if I’ve ever had asparagus and I promise you I couldn’t tell you what asparagus tastes like. I said, “No thanks, I don’t like asparagus.”
Not true. To dislike something you have to try it first.
When I go to the grocery store I buy the same products every single time. I even have my routine down. It begins with the soap and contact lens cleaner, moves on to bread, frozen dinner section, cereal aisle, produce, beverages, meat, see you later. There is never a variation.
Okay, sometimes I do it backwards, but that’s only if I’m feeling dangerous.
Food is only one example. Growing up, all I ever wanted was to become a wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys. I watched my ‘Boys every Sunday and dreamed of someday catching passes on the Texas Stadium turf.
My first chance to play real football came in seventh grade. The gear was sweet. I had never worn actual shoulder pads or buttoned up the chinstrap on my own helmet. I took it all home, put on the uniform and went straight to the mirror.
As a sports fan, I am no longer shocked or surprised by anything. I’m guessing I’m not alone here. Athletes get arrested at an alarming rate. Rarely does a day go by without hearing of some sort of cheating, whether its performance enhancing drugs or marital infidelity. Suspensions, violations, and probations are now expected during the course of any professional or college sports season.
Manny Ramirez got busted for taking a female fertility drug. Yawn. Brett Favre allegedly sent pictures of his privates to a woman while playing with the Jets. Whatever. Ben Roethlisberger had an “encounter” with a college student in the bathroom of a bar. Double yawn. Tiger Woods led a secret life, and slept with who knows how many women in who knows how many states. I give it a shoulder shrug and a raised eyebrow. Even if Lance Armstrong, the last hope for integrity and truth in sports, is proven guilty of doping, will we really be blown away? I might bat an eyelash, but I’m not going to be floored. In fact, my initial thought will probably be something along the lines of, “that took longer than I expected.” Sad but true.
Scandal has become synonymous with sports. It’s like acne on a teenager, it’s assumed. We’re not nearly as appalled at the sports landscape as we used to be. When was the last time you really gasped at a scandal? It’s been a while hasn’t it? There’s no more surprise, no more shock, no more asking “how can this be!?” American sports fans are desensitized and apathetic toward all of it.
The latest example came this week when Josh Luchs, a former NFL agent, admitted to Sports Illustrated that he broke NCAA rules and regularly paid college football players. In his first person article, Luchs says he gave hand outs to players in hopes they would sign with him. I appreciate Luchs’ candor and the glimpse behind the scenes of what really goes on between agents and college players, but am I stunned by any of his revelations? No.
This is simply another kind of behavior that has come to be expected in the world of college athletics. At this point, if you’re like me, you’re almost completely numb to any kind of NCAA violation. Big schools cheat. Small schools cheat. Coaches have impermissible contact with recruits. Players take money. And the world turns.
Sure, there have always been schools out there breaking the rules, but today these violations are so pervasive it’s hard to find a university that doesn’t have a blemish on its record. Our alma mater may cheat, but as long as we’re winning, it’s pretty easy to look the other way.
I think I’m ready to come out of my scandal induced coma, and propose some real changes. Not because I’m angry or disappointed or betrayed, but because I’m just so sick and tired of hearing about it.
There is plenty of blame to go around here, but a good chunk of it lands right in the lap of the NCAA. It’s an archaic, poorly run bureaucracy that needs to be fixed. When I think of the leaders of the NCAA, I think of a group of old men sitting around a table in a dimly lit room. They are wearing glasses, suspenders, and bow ties, and they’re churning out new rules so quickly that their typewriters are smoking. They are so far removed from what life is actually like on a college campus. They know nothing of what a coach has to deal with or what it’s really like to be a “student-athlete.” And they don’t care.
Listen up NCAA…there are TOO MANY rules. How much time, effort, and money do you spend as an organization just investigating infractions? I’m willing to bet it’s a bunch. Why? Because you’re creating rules faster than you can enforce them.
Why not lighten up on the recruiting rules? There are hundreds of rules coaches are expected to follow, and I can’t blame them for slipping up from time to time. There is a limit to the number of phone calls and number of texts a coach can send. There are only certain times of the year when recruiting is “open.” It’s kind of like deer season. There are certain periods when the recruit can sign a letter of intent. There are rules for how a coach can recruit a high school junior and different rules for a high school senior. There are rules for when and how a recruit can take a visit to a campus, and there are rules for what can and cannot happen during that visit. Try reading the NCAA recruiting guidelines for division one football. Go ahead try it. It will make your head spin.
The NCAA could do away with most of these rules. The NCAA will tell you there must be a level playing field, and the kids have to be protected. Remember the NCAA really cares about the kids. Since when is a high school kid incapable of turning off his phone or throwing away his mail? Let coaches pursue the kids, and let the kids decide when and how they want to. Less red tape would mean fewer violations, fewer probations, and maybe coaches could get back to coaching.
Not only do these silly rules cost the NCAA money to enact and enforce, they cost the universities millions of dollars every year. Every school now has to hire a compliance staff to keep up with the ever-changing NCAA legislation. These compliance officers are paid to make sure players are eligible, see that no violations are occurring, and educate the coaching staffs to the new rules. Have these compliance staffs solved the problems? Are there fewer violations now than there used to be? No and not even close.
This isn’t to say that some rules are needed. I don’t think players should be allowed to take money from agents or have contact with agents. But it’s the agents who deserve the brunt of the punishment, not the players, and certainly not the entire program. Should the current players on the USC football team really suffer because Reggie Bush accepted benefits from an agent? It’s absurd.
The NCAA seems to think more regulations will equal cleaner programs. It’s a nice concept, but it’s wrong. There are more regulations than ever, and there’s more cheating than ever before. Everyday brings a new headline.
UConn Men’s Basketball Team Admits Major Violations, Florida Football Misuses Facebook Commits Four Minor NCAA Violations, NCAA Accuses Michigan Coach of Violations, Memphis Forced to Vacate Wins from Final Four Season, NCAA places Alabama football on Probation, Trojans Hammered for Lack of Institutional Control…
And on, and on, and on we go.
I’m not naive enough to think that cheating can be eradicated from college sports or any sport for that matter. Coaches and players will continue to come up with ways to cut corners and gain a competitive edge. Those that do should be punished. However, I’m exasperated by the callous nature of the NCAA and the complete refusal of this institution to look inward and recognize that widespread changes need to be made. I don’t think we have to be so far away from cleaning up the landscape of college athletics. I’m frustrated by the stubborn refusal of an organization to change.
I think I will remain mostly numb but I don’t want to feel this way anymore. So please NCAA, please help me change. Help me to see violations as the exception, not the norm. Help me to care, help me get rid of the cynical sports fan inside of me. That way if I am shocked, it will mean that scandal is rare instead of prevalent. I want to feel again, I want to care, I want to be the sports fan of my youth. Please NCAA, look deep into the blackness that is your soul, and try to change so I can change.
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