True fans of college football have known for some time that
it's an ugly business. The game we love so much is completely balled up in big
money. The sport's immense popularity, fueled to a large degree by alumni
loyalty and the intense desire for bragging rights round the water cooler, has
created a massive market that is facilitated by television and results in
filthy TV contracts.
Television money, in turn, has made multimillionaires out of
many a coach. And the lucrative nature of coaching means that there is
cutthroat competition to break into the business, and once there, to win games
and advance up the golden coaching tree.
But as any coach will tell you, you don't win games without
the hosses on the field. And in college football,
unlike the NFL, coaches must convince 17- and 18-year-old phenoms
to bring their game to the school employing the coaches. Fail in this
inherently venal endeavor, and the entire coaching staff crashes and burns.
The pressures to win in recruiting and on the field compel
many coaches to break rules and to recruit illegally. The evidence for this comes
from the sanctions the NCAA hands down yearly. And for every violator the NCAA
catches, Lord only knows how many others slip by Scott free.
But as disappointing as the recruiting dirt is, at least we
don't see it on the field of play. We can watch a game of football, played hard
and clean and officiated well, and forget about its essentially sordid nature.
Out of sight, out of mind.
Sadly, however, the ugly side of college football is now
rearing its head in actual games. The cheating that runs rampant in the
recruiting arena is now manifesting itself on the field of play. I speak, of
course, about the increasingly prevalent tactic of having defensive players
fake injuries in order to disrupt up-tempo offenses.
The spread offense has frankly struck fear in the hearts of
defensive coordinators across the land and in traditional powerhouse coaches
such as Nick Saban. At this point, the spread is running roughshod over most defenses,
and it has closed the gap between supremely talented teams such as Alabama, and
relative parvenus like Texas A&M. Lacking the imagination to effectively
scheme down the spread, defensive coordinators are resorting to cheating, and
Saban cynically seeks to hamstring this offense by playing upon fears of player
safety. He famously claimed that the spread likely leads to more injuries.
Nobody seriously disputes that these cheating tactics occur.
By now every college football fan has seen spread offenses on the verge of
incinerating defenses, only to be stymied by defensive players unconvincingly
writhing in pain. A few seconds later, we see the putatively stricken players
on the sideline with grins on their faces, and a few seconds after that, back
on the field of play. These guys will never be confused with Sir Laurence
Olivier or Denzel Washington, and they're not fooling anybody.
And it is disgusting.
What we are seeing is players ordered by coaches to cheat.
It is shameless, bald-faced and out in the open for all to see. What we are
seeing furthermore is the corruption many of us believe underpins college
football made manifest on the field of play where we cannot avoid the ugly
This unabashed cheating undermines the game of college football
by destroying its integrity. Kids grow up playing football because it is fun,
and fans watch the game because it is grandly entertaining. But there's nothing
fun or entertaining about seeing grown men, who are supposedly moral exemplars
to the young, ordering their players to do the wrong thing on the field of
play. On the contrary, it is repellent.
Unfortunately, the NCAA is behind the curve on this one.
Rather than proactively and preemptively establish rules to forestall this form
of cheating, the NCAA sat on its hands. Presumably the organization will take
action prior to next season, but there is no guarantee. Consequently, it is
largely up to the media to shame the NCAA into action by copiously documenting
the cheating, and condemning it frequently and forcefully. The sooner this
contemptible behavior is nipped in the bud, the sooner we can all get on with forgetting
about the true nature of our favorite pastime.
Joseph Yeager tackles the hot topic of players faking injuries to slow down fast offenses in college football.
Joseph Yeager tackles the hot topic of players faking injuries to slow down fast offenses