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August 2, 2012Every year, as bowl season hits its peak, I eagerly point out to anyone who will listen that college football is right there with boxing and horse racing as the most unapologetically corrupt of all organized sports.
Anybody with even a cursory knowledge of the NCAA's bowl system, from its massive payouts and perfectly legal bribery, to the bowls' status as charitable, tax-exempt organizations, can recognize how shameless "the system" is.
But no matter how much the public complains, the cash continues to flow and the people in power refuse to act as agents of change on behalf of student-athletes. It's the system we have, and it's too big to fail. And, to a certain extent, I've secretly admired the sheer arrogance and thinly veiled intentions of the powers that be.
As an organization, the NCAA doesn't even attempt to hide its ethical transgressions. Its handling of transfer rules for Penn State football players - and the programs that were encouraged to recruit them - only furthers the notion, edging out even Olympic badminton in its absurdity.
Under the guise of alleviating the heavy sanctions against Penn State's football players - sanctions levied by Mark Emmert without regard for its own bylaws - the NCAA has instead put players under siege. Nittany Lion players have received call after unsolicited call and been forced to make decisions many of them hadn't asked to consider.
With every opportunity to amend its ruling following the stampede of opposing coaches to wait outside classrooms, the Lasch Building and even the apartments of Penn State players, the NCAA has once again shown its complete disregard for players' welfare.
"Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people," Emmert said.
At this point, the opposite is the expectation.
Of course, the colleagues of new Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien had a completely separate opportunity to acknowledge the NCAA's flawed logic and work for the betterment of the sport. Aware of how damaging similar sanctions would be to their own programs, college football coaches should have known better than to attempt to pillage the Nittany Lions' depth chart.
In an interview with a Philadelphia TV station Thursday morning, O'Brien once again responded to concerns about opposing coaches actively recruiting Penn State players.
"Those coaches were playing under the rules," he explained. "The only thing I would say is, if those coaches could give me a call and let me know that they're coming or that they're recruiting our kids, that's all I ask. But that's not part of the rules. They're doing what the rules say and I understand that."
Certainly, the rules encourage the free agent bonanza we're now seeing, but any coach with a moral compass that extends beyond the direction of winning at all costs can see how unethical this has been.
And yet, Southern Cal coach Lane Kiffin described his recruitment of Silas Redd with all the shameless self-righteousness observers have come to expect.
"We had looked through our situation, our roster, their situation, and it really (was clear) that there was only one guy that would really fit that we felt could come in and really help us, and that was Silas," Kiffin told ESPN Radio. "We reached out to his high school coach just to tell him hey, if there was any interest, know that we would have a potential interest."
Of course, Kiffin also used the bully pulpit of the Pac-12 Media Days to publicly solicit Redd's services in front of a national audience, over, and over, and over again.
Two years after facing his own set of NCAA sanctions, which granted Trojan players "free agency," Kiffin took the opportunity to engage in the same behavior he had previously decried.
The sentiment was absurd then, and, with the official transfer of Redd to Southern Cal Tuesday, even more absurd now.
"They lifted those restrictions to help the coaches, really to help these players to have the choices that they wanted them to," he continued. "We picked up the phone in true SC fashion and called one of our great donors, Ted Jones from Fletcher-Jones Mercedes. I called him, we were at the SoHo House for the PAC-12 dinner and he said, 'Let me guess, you're calling about Silas. Where are you at?'
"So, he sent his big old Mercedes jet, which was in Vegas, to pick us up in L.A. We got done with the PAC-12 meetings and flew to - I don't even know - White Plains, N.Y."
Charming, indeed, that the generous Ted Jones from Fletcher-Jones Mercedes in Newport Beach, could help facilitate the completely unsolicited needs of a student-athlete. Only the NCAA, an organization designed to protect the academic interests of its member institutions, would view this type of behavior as responsible.
The good news, for Penn State fans, many of whom are no doubt clinging to hope that the program can rise above the cesspool environment created by the NCAA, is that O'Brien appears eager to hold the Lions to a higher standard.
Asked in the same TV interview whether or not he'd be on campus recruiting players if the roles were reversed, O'Brien's answer was resolute.
He probably would have liked to say more, laced with a few choice words unsuitable for this column. But he still managed to set the tone of moral authority Penn State fans have been desperate to hear. Said O'Brien, "That's not the right thing to do. In my opinion."
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