Joe Little: A dirty business


Published: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 10, 2011 at 11:17 p.m.

The Cam Newton affair flaunts the corruptness of collegiate football in the United States.

Newton was recruited to Florida, left under clouds of wrongdoing, bided time in a low level Texas college, and emerged a Heisman performer to lead Auburn to the national championship game.

Whether he has ever spent an hour being educated anywhere may be doubted. What cannot be doubted is that the national football system has no interest in that. Whether and how well he plays are its only concerns.

Cam Newton and his father are not sources of corruption but are mere victims of a system that frantically auctions talented teenage football players to the college that offers the best price. The best price is not money-in-the-pocket, but is the clearest path to National Football League riches. Footballers are recruited nationwide and few choose college playing-grounds to "do-or-die for good ol' home state U."

Did Cam Newton ever entertain any personal commitment to UF, the Texas college or even Auburn? I doubt it. His commitment was preparation for the NFL.

Given the system as it is, he cannot honestly be criticized for that. Even his father's attempt to turn that prospect into ready money is only a concocted wrong. Where else is it wrongful to seek the highest bidder for the promise of future gains?

Regrettable, few recruited footballers actually reach the NFL. Hence, this corrupt system induces young men — boys really — to engage in high risk activity with a statistically small chance of delayed payoff enjoyed by very few.

Even worse is the straight face charade the colleges play in holding out these "student athletes" as if they were really students. Some may be, most are not.

Thus we have the source of corruption. Colleges cheat to admit faux students and cheat to keep them in. The system then imposes a rule that the footballers, because they are "students," cannot be paid for their services beyond the guise of a free education and the hope of NFL riches.

Who can fix this system? Coaches and athletic directors are its beneficiaries and perhaps co-conspirators, but they have neither power nor inducement to fix it. Being "born within" the system, so to speak, they take it as it is and jostle within it for the best personal advantage. The system now pays some of them fantastic rewards that an honest system could not afford.

So who could fix this corruption? The answer; the presidents of the academic institutions of this country.

The core of the corruption lies with them and so does the power to cure it. Presidents know the system is dishonest and condone smoke screens to cover it up. Presidents know that college football is virtually the only port of entry into the ranks of professional football.

Presidents know that hundreds of young men pine for an opportunity to go through that portal no matter what. Presidents know that these young men put their limbs, if not lives, at stake in a brutal sport only for a chance and for no pay.

Presidents know that few have aptitude or desire for a true academic life but most will go though the motions the system requires of them. Presidents know that the economic circumstances of many footballers requires hidden outside support that the system formally forbids.

Presidents also believe football brings money and prestige to their institutions, and for the fortunate of them, rich private prerequisites that few loyal fans could afford. In higher academic administration money and fanfare are likely to trump morality every time — at least as long as they are sanitized by the "system."

Fixing the system would not be hard and might involve three parts.

* First, acknowledging that college football is the proving grounds for the NFL.

* Second, eliminating the ruse that players must be students.

* Third, paying the players for their efforts.

Other solutions might work. When will this happen? Once the presidents of a number of major athletic powerhouses — say, UF, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, Notre Dame and Stanford — decide this system will be fixed, then it will be fixed. Until the presidents make that decision, it will not be fixed and the sham and corruption will deepen.

When will it be fixed? When pigs fly.

Joe Little is an emeritus professor of law at the University of Florida.

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