College football’s scandals do little to diminish its popularity

The start of college football season used to be one of the most wonderful times of the year — not the most wonderful time, because that is March Madness. But it was top five.

Then came an offseason of strife and scandal and a variety of offenses that are breathtaking in their size and scope. Some of the top programs in the country are facing sanctions and suspensions and in one instance, perhaps the death penalty. The system is clearly broken, so much so that even the debate over the fairness of the Bowl Championship Series has been set aside amid all the hand-wringing over why it’s so hard to run a good program and a clean program.

So why can’t many of us wait for it to all start again? Why am I still looking forward to seeing third-ranked Oregon play No. 4 LSU on Saturday night at Cowboys Stadium, even knowing that the Ducks are under investigation for allegedly paying a middleman to funnel players to Eugene and that two Tigers (so far) have been arrested for their alleged roles in a brawl outside a Baton Rouge bar that left several people seriously injured?

Eight Miami players have been suspended for Monday night’s opener against Maryland in College Park. Those eight, and four others, have been ordered to pay restitution for receiving improper benefits. (Only one player, linebacker Marcus Robinson, was cleared. Heisman hopeful?)

Miami’s penalties likely won’t end there. Imprisoned booster Nevin Shapiro allegedly provided benefits to 65 Hurricanes, according to an investigation by Yahoo Sports. Just 13 of the 65 are current players, but if the NCAA finds there was a climate of corruption in Miami and that the coaching staff and university were aware of it, there should be much harsher penalties, from the loss of scholarships all the way to the dreaded death penalty, which would dismantle the program.

And the list goes on. Disgraced Ohio State coach Jim Tressel is gone, as is Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Boise State, eager to join the big boys of the sport, got its wish this summer with an NCAA investigation and the firing of longtime athletic director Gene Bleymaier. Southern Cal lost its appeal of the Reggie Bush decision, meaning it is ineligible for postseason play and faces scholarship cuts as well. In the wake of two investigations into its program last season, North Carolina fired Coach Butch Davis in July and the Tar Heels will appear before the NCAA in October to ask for leniency.

And that is part of the problem with the NCAA: the staggering amount of time it takes to investigate these cases. Because some of its decisions come long after the original wrongdoing, it allows the initial dismay over allegations to cool. There’s nothing wrong with due process, but the NCAA needs to take some of the obscene amount of money it’s making from the BCS and hire a few more investigators.

It also needs to look at the bigger picture. Taking scholarships away from miscreants is all well and good, but Ohio State, as an example, made a lot of money using players and coaches who knowingly broke the rules. Why is taking a scholarship a worse punishment than taking some cold, hard cash? Maybe it could be put toward the next investigation, and the next.

Clearly, the current system isn’t working. The NCAA put some fairly harsh sanctions on USC in the wake of the Bush scandal. Those sanctions did not appear to discourage a laundry list of top programs from cheating, too.

The schools clearly aren’t policing themselves, and the NCAA is policing the schools slowly, or not at all. Is it any wonder we want to bury our heads in the sands of televised college football Saturdays and forget for a few hours just how flawed the College Football Machine has become?

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