By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) What’s going on at Penn State right now is really no different than any other college sports scandal.
Sure, this scandal is the worst in the history of college sports and its level of despicability is so severe it puts free tattoos and illegal recruiting to shame.
But at its very roots, this scandal happened for the same reasons all other college scandals and ensuing cover-ups have occurred: College presidents, athletic directors and coaches have too much power and think they are invincible.
Penn State simply took the idea of abusing power to a whole new level.
And now major reform is needed.
The reality I bring up is not a secret: College football is extremely dirty. It’s national championship trophy is handed out by the BCS, an organization so intertwined with politicians that two of its bowls have been exposed for handing out illegal campaign donations.
How bad is it? Literally in the middle of writing this very column, former Fiesta Bowl COO Natalie Wisneski was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of filing false income tax returns for the bowl game. She was already facing charges for soliciting illegal campaign donations. Meanwhile, the Sugar Bowl is also dealing with similar allegations.
Surprised? Don’t be. After all, until last week, it was former Penn State President Graham Spanier who was the chair of the BCS presidential oversight committee.
These are the people who hand out college football’s most prestigious trophy: the BCS National Championship trophy — the only national championship trophy the NCAA does not hand out itself, in its most important sport no less.
And why don’t they hand out their own trophy? Money.
It’s all connected. The NCAA. The BCS. The school presidents. The athletic directors. The coaches. The key politicians. The boosters. The key politicians who are also boosters.
All parties involved are money-hungry. All parties are selfish. All parties have more power than they know what to do with.
Sometimes this leads to schools offering pay-for-play deals. Sometimes it leads to boosters offering players goods likes free cars and free tattoos. And sometimes, as Jerry Sandusky showed us, it leads to coaches abusing their power so much that they end up sexually abusing little boys.
The examples go on forever, but what we can rarely find is any accountability.
None of these money hungry, power-abusing thugs will ever admit any wrongdoing. Football is too important. So when the facts come out, there is only one response: cover it up. And when the cover-up fails, there is only one response: deny, deny, deny.
Penn State is only the latest example, but it is also the most important and the most disturbing.
This scandal just shows how bad it can get in this corrupt culture where football and money rule, but human decency does not.
We can only hope that this is rock-bottom.
Please let it be rock-bottom.
Often times in life, the bottom leads to change. It leads to accountability and responsibility, something rarely shown in college athletics.
The phrase “reaching rock bottom” is often used in regards to addiction to drugs and alcohol. In the case of college football, there are way too many people in positions of authority who are addicted. They’re addicted to power. They’re addicted to money. And most of all, they’re addicted to winning.
What allegedly happened at Penn State — from the heinous acts of Jerry Sandusky, to the failure to stand up for what’s right by Joe Paterno and Mike McQueary, to the cover-up by Tim Curley and Gary Schultz — is the worst result of what’s wrong with college athletics. A man committed the most atrocious of crimes and football was put first. Football was put ahead of the lives of the most innocent of victims: our children.
At its very core, this scandal shows us how brutal college football can be: Win at all costs. Literally ALL costs.
Reform of college athletics has been needed for a long time, but no one with the power to do so is willing to stand up and call for change because the culture does not allow it. Furthermore, they don’t need to because they know the fans will keep coming back for more no matter what happens.
Just look at Penn State fans last Saturday. Their former coach allegedly raped little boys, their school covered up and 107,903 fans still showed up at Beaver Stadium to support their football team.
A year ago I wrote a column entitled, “The Worst Sport We Just Can’t Stop Watching“. In it, I detailed all that was wrong with college football, mostly having to do with the corrupt BCS and Cam Newton possibly taking money to play at Auburn. I thought that was bad, but how naive was I?
How naive are we all? If a scandal as bad as the sexual abuse of children and the ensuing cover up could go undetected at Penn State for so long, what else are we missing?
What else is being covered up?
The time is now for someone to act. And I’m not taking about anyone currently involved or connected with the NCAA. No one can be trusted, even NCAA President Mark Emmert.
No, this reform has to come from an even higher place. Somewhere there has to be at least one politician not in bed with college football that can stand up and demand change.
I know it’s a lot to ask. How dare I ask our country’s leaders to keep this from happening again — you know, child rape and the deepest of cover ups?
This is college football at rock-bottom and it’s time to pick the sport off the ground.
Adam is the Sports Content Producer for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.