Forget the issues, just enjoy the athletes
For many years now, when I tell people I prefer professional sports to the college variety, I get the same lecture. You know, about the purity of the college game and the unspoiled 'kids' who are playing for the love of the game.
What a bunch of bunk.
As someone who has spent a professional lifetime around all kinds of sports, the pro games are now surely more pure than the colleges. Hey, it's a job. Anything goes. Win or go home. Perform or get cut. Do well and they pay you millions.
Was I just talking about college athletes or pros? I don't know. Same thing. Deep down, you know it is. Don't tell me college athletes don't get paid. Do you have any idea what college tuition adds up to these days? There are professional baseball players in the minor leagues earning less money than the young men and women earning college scholarships equivalent to $25,000 a year.
And don't bore me with talk of graduation rates. If your kid wasn't a starting left tackle or point guard for a major university, nobody at that school worried much about him graduating. Nobody tutored the kid for free. Young people today grow up a lot quicker than they did in my generation, and it seems to me it's time we held them, not their coaches, responsible for what they do with their free tuition.
Don't bore me with all that purity bunk, either. Big-time college sports are a depressing cesspool, and it's probably worse than we know. Student-athletes? Say it with a straight face. Hey, if you need your alma mater to win football games to make you feel good about that school, great for you. Be proud.
Larry Eustachy cavorts with female students in Missouri, Mike Price canoodles with strippers in Florida. In Waco, Texas, they're saying ignorance is Bliss, because coach Dave Bliss, a college basketball lifer, tried to save his job by lying about a kid on his own team who was killed perhaps by a teammate.
Ohio State wins a national football championship and then all summer pampers running back Maurice Clarett, a kid who obviously should be playing in the pros but probably can't afford to take the pay cut. Washington fires Rick Neuheisel, apparently not so much for betting on college basketball but for lying about it.
Less-than-elite schools such as Fairfield and St. Bonaventure ran afoul of the NCAA in almost laughable scenarios. At Fairfield, an assistant coach accused of writing term papers for a player reportedly asked him in the locker room, 'Did you get that paper back? OK, what did I get?'
And you know the story at St. Bonnie, where the school tried to make its starting center eligible with a welding certificate rather than a junior college associate degree. Hmm, simple mistake, I'm sure. And, actually, the welding certificate probably is the more useful of the two.
NCAA President Myles Brand, the new sheriff in town, is one of those self-important bozos who will flit about the country rattling his saber and telling everyone how he's going to clean up the mess. Sorry, Myles, that train left the station decades ago. It's way too late.
My advice is more pragmatic: Police the heck out of everybody as much as you can, but enforce the rules fairly whether it's Fairfield, Fresno State, Ohio State or UCLA.
And enjoy the games.
I've told people for years that if they're going to let players' salaries ruin their enjoyment of watching them play, they are stupid. I really don't care how many millions Alex Rodriguez earns for playing shortstop I love watching him.
And I really don't care how many of your college's players graduate or how many of them think welding is an upper-division science credit. If they play well, if they're fun to watch I'll watch them. It's just another form of entertainment.
Never mistake it for anything more than that.