#360USA: Cash still king in college football

Steve Brenner 08:51 21/09/2015
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Flood has been suspended.

Welcome to the madhouse. Or, as it’s more commonly known, the American collegiate sporting system.

The blurred lines between sport and actual academic learning in the United States are plummeting towards the point of being totally undecipherable.

In the rest of the world, people attend places of higher education to earn degrees and learn skills to help them ease into adulthood.

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That is, however, providing billions of dollars are not floating around a system which appears rotten to the core with no sign of a deep cleanse coming anytime soon.

Certainly, the scandal which erupted in the hallowed halls of the prestigious New Jersey-based Rutgers University this week smacks of people with vastly inflated egos earning too much money while displaying an almost laughable lack of common sense.

Kyle Flood, the coach of the Scarlet Knights football team, was suspended for three weeks and fined $50,000 for a breach of regulations following a botched attempt to have a star player whose participation for this season was thrown into doubt because of poor grades.

Sports coaches are forbidden from interfering with academic teachers. Yet here was Flood covertly trying to get Nadir Barnwell’s scores elevated to the point where he would have been selectable.

The pathetically covert attempt which involved not wearing Rutgers branded clothing to avoid detection while e-mailing teachers from a personal account, predictably failed.

“Flood was manipulating the college process for sporting gain,“ said David Ridpath, an associate professor of sports management at Ohio University. “He covered his tracks but his focus wasn’t education. He just wanted him on the field.”

This, it should be noted, is a school with a poor track record when it comes to misbehaving members of staff.

The scandal of basketball coach Mike Rice had national ramifications after videos of him verbally and physically abusing students were released for the world to see in 2013.

The footage was, and remains, shocking.

With that in mind, Flood would have surely been expecting the bullet. Instead, the man who will make total of $1.35 million in 2016, $1.45 million in 2017, and $1.55 million in 2018 was merely given a ticking off.

In a normal educational establishment, the fact a student was struggling in the classroom would be enough for members of staff to rally round and decide on options which would best suit his future.

Many, not all, of these universities however refuse to play by regular rules.

Players with sporting prowess are hunted and then accepted into programs, many of which host ambiguous courses such as ‘Independent Learning’.

The class which Barnwell failed to spark Flood’s desperation to remedy the situation was Dance Appreciation.

“It’s an easy A. If you’re looking to do nothing and have a bunch of hot girls in class all day – sign up,” wrote one student.

Ironically, the lobbying for Barnwell became irrelevant because he was axed from the team following charges of aggravated assault, riot and conspiracy to commit a riot from an incident on April 25.

Of course, with college football here is a multi-billion dollar industry which attracts huge national TV audiences. Forget about the fact that only two per cent of players make it to the NFL.

Yet, and although this is not the case with all students, many of the potential sporting stars sadly don’t have the academic abilities to cope.

Ever since college football was signed up by TV networks in the early 80s, money has flowed in. The likes of Ohio State, Michigan and Alabama remain big players.

Rutgers, thanks to its proximity to New York, places their emphasis more on education than sporting excellence. The cream of the athletic crop won’t be choosing them.

Yet ultimately fruitless attempts to become a football powerhouse creates problems like those which have seen Flood become a national talking point.

Six players have been kicked off the team in the past two weeks following arrests while star wide receiver Leonte Carroo has been suspended after becoming involved in a domestic violence incident.

As of January this year, there were 20 academic integrity investigations in the NCAA – a truly alarming statistic.

“Coach Flood exemplifies our university’s standards and values both on and off the field,’’ Rutgers President Robert Barchi said last September.

How wrong he was. When money talks, trouble invariably follows.

The release of a report on Friday detailing the effects of brain trauma on NFL players was shocking yet came as no surprise to those who have been fighting for deeper discussion on the subject.

Two weeks ago, this column highlighted the scandal surrounding the upcoming film starring Will Smith which chronicles the amazing true story of a Nigerian doctor whose discovery of CTE – a chronic trauma of the brain – forced the game’s governing body into a series of denial.

After the release of an investigation by Boston University and Department of Veterans Affairs researchers, the debate has now got even more weight behind it.

They decreed that 87 of 91 former NFL players examined following their deaths tested positive for CTE.

“People think that we’re blowing this out of proportion, that this is a very rare disease and that we’re sensationalizing it,” said Ann McKee who runs a lab in Boston dedicated to the study of CTE. “My response is that where I sit, this is a very real disease. We have had no problem identifying it in hundreds of players.”

The NFL’s response, if there is to be one, will be fascinating.

The latest Major League Soccer viewing figures have been received with disappointment and a shrug of the shoulders.

Despite a strong start to the season, numbers have dipped to the point where an NBC documentary about Bournemouth raked in 92,000 compared to the 91,000 which saw Orlando versus Sporting Kansas.

With around 60 per cent of MLS teams qualifying for the end of season play-offs, there is the problem that much of the season sees too many matches with little meaning.

As the season draws to a climax, interest undoubtedly peaks once again. As well as mounting a stronger marketing push, the introduction of promotion and relegation is the answer.

That unfortunately will never happen because of the organisation’s tight financial guidelines.

It’s a shame though. They may be dirty words in American sport yet going up or sliding down at least guarantees excitement from first whistle to last.

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