I was driving, listening to the radio, stuck in Chicago traffic (which is as redundant as Justin Bieber and badness, I know) when the on-air hosts said "another big college scandal, this time at Miami."
I actually hit my preset button for a different station.
I thought about when I was a freshman at the University of Missouri in the late '80s. There was a certain star player -- a future NBA player -- who liked to drive around campus in a certain brand new, dark blue Chevy Blazer. My friends and I would joke about it -- haha, he must be on the payroll -- but we never missed a game.
I thought about when I transferred to Michigan State and was at a party. A certain Spartan football player -- a future first round draft choice -- called my dare one night. We were having a perfectly reasoned conversation about sports and other stuff guys talk about at college parties. Then my wise-ass nature got the best of me. I half-joked (I sort of knew the truth) that MSU was paying its players. He proceeded to reach in his pocket, pulled out a wad of bills the size of a small pillow case and slapped them on the counter. He then shouted "you think we get paid? Here's your answer!"
I remember being more shocked at how brazen the guy was about what was going on then about the act itself. It's one thing to shoplift in a deserted department store. It's another to walk out of Nordstrom's with a shopping bag of clothes.
But the experience didn't stop me from going to every game that fall.
Fast forward to recent events. We've had another case of a big name program brought down by an out-of-control booster. We had a big name coach who let his own hubris get in the way of making sound, reasoned decisions. We have a lot of smoke around college football's most recent national champion and Heisman Trophy winner. And in a little over two weeks, we have another college football season about to kick off.
So how should we feel about this? Should these shameful acts impact our excitement about the next four months? Let's point to history as a guide.
In 2004, Ken Caminiti spilled the beans about his steroid use to Sports Illustrated. At the time, he was the first player to go public. I remember being shocked by it, as did most of my friends. Then 2005, Congress held hearings on the subject. This is where my feelings switched to that of disgust. The Mount Rushmore of juicers were all invited: Jose Canseco -- whose book, Juiced, let the genie out of the bottle -- showing up in his grease ball haircut and sleazy suit; Sammy Sosa, using his lawyer to translate because he claimed he didn't understand English; Mark McGuire with his infamous "I'm not here to talk about the past" performance; and the pompous finger-wagging of Rafael Palmeiro, who shouted down lawmakers, saying he had never taken steroids. A few months later he tested positive.
However disgusted I was by those hearings, my energy for the subject quickly subsided. Soon I just became disinterested. I had to rationalize my beliefs: If I wanted to continue to be a fan, continue to enjoy baseball, I would have to compartmentalize. My utter disdain for these athletes had to be put in a box along with all the other people I had been disappointed by in life. I couldn't let that bleed into my joy for the game. So, I kept going to games. I still do. Every time there is a new revelation, most recently the Roger Clemens trial, I shrug my shoulders and say, that's baseball.
So I guess I don't care? Is this OK?
I wonder if that's where we are headed with college football. Are we desensitized to the scandals? Are the salacious storylines as much a part of our consumption of the sport as when we ask how our team will replace seven starters on defense? Should I be more outraged?
What I do know is I have four trips planned this fall -- all around college football games.
I guess that's my answer.
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