Life's sweet pleasures include the glorious Saturdays of college football when autumn paints the earth gold and America's stadiums fill with sweatered patrons to see games of youthful vigor so exuberant that Sunday's pros can only envy it, never match it.
A dark summer of marching thunderstorms that crashed down on Oregon and California, Arizona and Kansas, once again has left Saturday's children disillusioned, just as they were 80 years ago when Teddy Roosevelt threatened to abolish the game to end its violence, just as 50 years ago when academicians cried out against corruption.
What goes around, comes around. The Pac-10 has put half its members on probation as a result of scandals in which athletes were given credit for classes they never attended. Much is made, then, of today's Pac-5 when, in fact, the same league was cut in two over a similar scandal 25 years ago.
Frank Kush was fired after being chared with hitting one of his players at Arizona State . . . Tony Mason was kicked out at Arizona in a flap involving fraudulent expense accounts . . . Howard University players said they were physically abused and their scholarships were revoked without cause . . . At Kentucky in the last five years, there have been arrests of at least 15 players on charges ranging from burglary to rape, and the school was put on NCAA probation for nearly 100 violations that included the paying of players according to performance.
Not a month of 1980 has passed, it seems, without another thunderclap in the darkness. It began in college basketball, football's poor cousin, when a New Mexico assistant coach was hauled in by the FBI to explain his conversations on a phone line the feds had tapped in a gambling investigation. From that came revelations that New Mexico not only obtained phony class credits for its players, but this creative assistance coach countefeited stationary and a registrar's stamp of a whole college back East for his purpose -- instant transcripts.
The storm gathered quickly, and soon enough raindrops were falling on the heads of Southern Cal, UCLA, Oregon, Regon State, Arizona State -- the Pac-10 bad boys. The image projected by news stories was that these schools signed up their football players for non-existent classes in non-existent classes in non-existent garages nonrented in San Bernardino by the truck-driver president of a mail -- order diploma mill outside Butte, Mont.
Disillusionment once again is epidemic. Teddy Roosevelt never saw violence as violence is practiced by today's armored sprinters; the corruption of the 1920s that bothered academicians so much -- rampant professionalism within a system created for students -- is so sophisticated today, so much a part of the fabric, that the game can never be reduced to the students-at-play ideal.
The disillusioned always want relief. So their question about college football today is what to do about it, how to fix it so the darkness passes and leaves Saturdays in the sun.
Typing in the gloom of some outrage that is now forgotten, I once suggested abolishing the whole college athletics system. Turn it openly pro. Let the NFL and NBA foot some of the bills. Don't recruit kids, draft them out of high school for the 70 teams in a single Super Conference. If a kid wants to go to class, that's nice; if not, just give him his paycheck every week and point him toward the practice field.
I was fed up. The college game breeds hypocrisy, I said. It tries to be both an educational system and an entertainment enterprise. These are mutually exclusive. Get rid of the hypocrisy and hire the players straight out. Everyone would feel a lot better.
Not everyone, it turns out.
Jim Kehoe has another idea on how to redeem the disillusioned.
His idea is better than mine.
Fight like hell, Kehoe says.
Kehoe is the athletic director at the University of Maryland, only this spring called out of retirement to resume the job he held for 12 years. He coached track at Maryland for 25 years. Kehoe loves the college game not only for the beautiful Saturdays but for the good it does people. For every thunderstorm that passes over, there are a thousand rainbows.
"Certainly it is a business and, yes, the emphasis is on winning," Kehoe said. "We need to make millions and millions of dollars at Maryland. And as competition, we've got the Redskins, the Colts, the Orioles, the Dips and Caps and a race track on every corner. Yes, we are entertainment and in sports you are best entertaining when you are winning.
"Our coaches know that if they lose, they're gone. It's the same as any business. If The Washington Post doesn't make money, someone is gone. We have to win. It is a vicious circle, yes, but in no way does it excuse cheating. You just can't let cheating go on because once you let it go it will systematically destroy you.
"We must have eternal vigilance. I find it difficult to understand, for instance, how any school can hire a coach who has had his school put on probation by the NCAA. Not that it is always the coach's fault alone. Somebody else has to know what is going on. They guy on top has to be vigilant, he has to take the steps and do the monitoring that keeps his school honest.
"There is," Kehoe said, "nothing more devastating or reprehensible than tampering with academics. That is tampering with the heart and soul of everything we stand for. These are educational institutions. Athletics is very big and it costs million of dollars, but it still is simply part of the total educational system."
Kehoe said the current publicity about assorted scandals, as well as the Pac-10's unilateral action against its members, "is a good deterrent to keep things from getting completely out of hand. It sounds bad and it is bad and it shouldn't happen, but what I say, and what I believe from 25 years of coaching and working in big-time college athletics, is that these flaws, these shortcomings are only a small fraction of the total picture.
"You just don't read about the positive experiences. You don't read about the hundreds of thousands of young people, men and women, who have profited from the guidance and discipline and authority of college athletics.
"You read about our failures. Sure, some kids stub their toes. But even the good Lord lost one. The whole structure of college athletics is positive. I have a number of big books with letters from not dozens but hundreds of my former athletes. They say things like, 'I may not have seen eye-to-eye with you, Coach, but now that I'm a father and a businessman I understand about discipline and authority and why society has to have rules.'
"It's all about performance. Athletics is a positive performance and we can do it in a college setting with students learning how the world works. A youngster who performs under the guidance of a Jerry Claiborne has to be better for it.
"That's what we're here for, and we have to fight that battle all the time because it is worth it in the end. It is very hard to balance the business and entertainment, but, yes, it is worth it. The major emphasis has to be on the boy or girl going to class to prepare for a long life of trials and tribulations. And, yes again, there will be abuse of the systems, but the heart and soul has to be cared for.
"We must never back off what we're here for."