Friday, May 20, 2011

Can the college football offseason get any worse?

Perhaps the explosion of social media services on the internet have just made news—both bad and good—more accessible to more people. Or, maybe this is the absolute worst offseason in the history of college football. It sure feels like it.

Yesterday brought the tragic news from Oklahoma, where rising Senior LB Austin Box was found unresponsive, transported to an emergency medical facility and pronounced dead. News reports indicate a possible drug overdose. That tragic news came one week after an equally heartbreaking loss at Alabama. OL Aaron Douglas was found dead in Fernandina Beach, Florida after a night of partying with friends. Reports there indicated that an overdose may have been the case there as well.

These are horrible, tragic losses of life that bereave their families and break the hearts of teammates and friends. They are also the latest two instances of bad news in the world of college football.  Since the BCS Championship game on January 10, 2011:

  • Ohio State’s Jim Tressel admitted to withholding knowledge of several key players on his team receiving improper benefits from a local tattoo parlor owner.
  • News reports raised allegations that University of Oregon may have committed NCAA violations by paying possible street agents.
  • Almon Harvey Updyke—a crazed Alabama fan—admitted that he poisoned Auburn’s cherished oak trees at Toomer’s Corner.
  • An internal report revealed shocking details of excessive and illegal expenditures by the senior management of the Fiesta Bowl.
  • Four former Auburn football players confessed to receiving improper benefits—including thousands in cash—during their playing careers.
  • Four other Auburn football players were arrested after allegedly committing a home invasion in Lee County, armed with handguns and stealing several items.
  • Boise State University admitted to a series of NCAA infractions regarding improper benefits.
  • Florida dismissed a football player after his second arrest on marijuana possession in three months.
  • An Ole Miss player died during spring conditioning workouts due to complications related to sickle cell trait, prompting a wrongful death lawsuit by the player’s family.
  • A number of Iowa football players were rushed to the hospital, with potentially life-threatening cases of a kidney ailment related to muscle fatigue and dehydration.
  • An Ohio State player—LB Dorian Bell—was suspended for the entire 2011 season for an unspecified violation of team rules.
  • South Carolina suspended QB Stephen Garcia for team rules violation, with internet and media reports indicating alcohol abuse.

Allegations of rampant cheating. Allegations of alcohol and drug abuse. A coach accused of lying to investigators and withholding information from his own superiors. Crazed fans accused of defacing landmarks. Lawsuits. Three lives tragically cut short and as many as 13 others with life-threatening medical conditions related to workouts.

In the span of just four months, it looks like the universe of college football programs has spiraled out of control. The 12 incidents listed above are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head. I’m sure there are others that I’ve overlooked, but the common thread to them all is that there is no common thread. There’s no single root cause that you can point to as the heart of the problem that, if corrected, will somehow restore the once respected amateur sport that I’ve grown up loving and following so closely. It’s as if a bunch of football programs woke up on the morning of January 11 and said, “Yeah. Let’s all be like the University of Miami from 1983 through 1994.”

All we can do is hope and pray that the 2011 offseason is just an anomaly.  It’s a rash of bad actors, bad timing and plain bad luck. The first Saturday in September can’t get here soon enough for me. If the next four months are anything like the last four, it’s going to be a long and difficult summer.

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