Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Personal Note after a Week of Tumult

I get no pleasure from this, writing and commenting on the sordid stories from the underside of college football.  I'd rather write about wins and losses, courage and commitment, the human side of the game.  That's what interests me most, the reason I started writing here in the first place.

I believe there's something special about Duck football, the players and coaches who come here and the fans who have followed this team.  The thing is, we loved them when they were 6-5 and made their first Freedom Bowl.  We loved them when they were 3-8, and the best we could hope for was an occasional upset over Washington. 

But then there was that magical season.  1994.  Duck fans remember Jerry Allen narrating the seminal moment: "Huard is gonna go back to throw the ball..."  Our dreams and ambitions got bigger.  Over the next few years brighter and brighter stars elected to come here, a five-star running back from Washington, a skinny quarterback from San Leandro, California.  The profile grew, with flashy uniforms and an electric offense and ESPN College GameDay on our doorstep.  We didn't ask why they came to our damp little corner of the world.  We were just happy to be a part of something that was growing, a rising hope, a place where effort and commitment mattered, where the wall of noise and energy we created on the sidelines lifted our kids to their greatest effort, the best they had inside themselves.

Truth is, they're the most talented young men in the country at what they do, and I don't care if they get a little bit of money on the side.  If you don't think the players at Ohio State or Florida make more than the average chemistry student, you're an utter fool.  First place in the BCS was a 26 million dollar prize.  The coach who lands his team there stands to make upwards of three to five million a year.  It takes players to win, and a lot of money, a lot of passion is at stake.  In the SEC, big money boosters bust their tails in banking and real estate merely to get in the position to help their school get the coveted speedster and the quick-twitch manchild with a nasty streak.  What's happened at Oregon is a small bag of feathers to the deals made over chicken and waffles in towns where football is a religion.  We're new to this; we really have no idea.

The NCAA is hopelessly committed to a cycle of looking the other way and scandal.  They like to pretend college football is this glorious, pristine world of tuition, room and board and books.  ESPN celebrates the heroes and the great teams and dominating performances, tiptoeing past the SUV parked outside the locker room, but clamoring with earpieces and outrage when the story breaks at big money U., somebody finds a payment, or a piece of evidence too damning to ignore.  Everybody's shocked and appalled.  Yet Craig James played the game, and so did Kirk Herbstreit.  Eric Dickerson got a gold Trans Am.  Are we to believe James, Robert Smith and Tom Luginbill played it for free?

NCAA investigators want sanctions the way coaches want wins and first downs; they hate to punt as badly as Chip Kelly.  They'll find something in Eugene, and slap a bowl ban on the Ducks.  That's what they do.  They're concerned about the street agents and 7-on-7 leagues invading college football like English ivy

I'd rather talk about the games.  You would too; I watch the traffic counts on the blog, and when I write about spring practice or recruiting or the wide receivers, even Washington's, I get five times the traffic that's generated from a story about possible NCAA penalties and infractions.  People don't want to hear about the payments and inducements.  They want x's and o's and hip bumps.  I don't blame them.

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