The Superbowl is not just a great opportunity to advertise products, as an estimated 100 million of us will soon see. It's also a rare chance to promote a real game-changer: reform of big-time college sports.
Instead of introducing starting lineups by their college affiliations (you know, those cute spots where the player mumbles the name of his alleged alma mater), how about some long overdue candor?
When a player has earned an actual degree from university X, it will be so stated, same as always. If a player falls 20 credit hours short of a diploma, that too will be stated (as one would have to on any honest resume). If the amount of coursework completed was too slight to mention, let's move on.
Hey, it's a little white lie, some will say. No harm, no foul. Clearly, if you believe that big time college sports remain our shining example of virtuous competition, this argument might not register.
But it's possible to take a less charitable view of college football and its myriad excesses. An unholy alliance has developed between the NFL and what is effectively its farm system, Division 1 college football, and the small deception of college affiliations is the glue that holds it together.
The clear implication in touting the college affiliation of gridiron heroes is that these men are "products" of their campuses, nurtured and groomed at hallowed centers of learning. It's a charming fairy tale, glibly winked at by profiteers who are no less craven for wearing university robes or sitting smugly in broadcast booths. The cherished myth of the varsity scholar-athlete is promulgated not just by the reigning priesthood of sports, the TV announcers and talk show commentators, but by deans, faculty, students, alumni, and, yes, ordinary fans.
Do such paragons of athletic prowess and intellectual capability really exist? You bet, and it's a shame their achievements so often camouflage the ethical scandals that have become the elephant in the room.
We like to pretend that each ugly story is an isolated case. Yet the litany of abuses -- sadistic coaches (Texas Tech), employment of female "hostesses" to recruit high school prospects (U of Tennessee), falsifying an incoming freshman's SAT transcripts (U of Memphis) -- has become such a regular feature of big time college football and basketball that one might be forgiven for assuming they are part of the playbook.
So what might be gained by a more straightforward declaration of pro players' college affiliations?
First, by reducing the glories of having alma mater's name blasted across the known world (one imagines less eagerness to highlight the inglorious information that, say, a fleet wide receiver only completed 14 credit hours), universities still aspiring to the brand name benefits would be forced to reap them the old-fashioned way, by making certain that an athlete has done the coursework to be legitimately labeled a "graduate."
Second, and we really shouldn't have to spell this out, it's wrong to lie. And it's particularly wrong to repeatedly trumpet transparent lies -- we can call them misleading implications, if that's more palatable -- through the megaphone of Super Sunday. Truthfulness really does matter, or ought to, when we are: a) talking about revered educational institutions; and b) putting on a show for impressionable youth.
Will some pro players suffer embarrassment? Possibly. They're tough. They can take it.
Correcting the sham will not be a magic wand. But it may be the toppling of the first in a chain of dominos, for there is a causal link between coaches paid top dollar to win at all costs, universities desperate to enhance their brand through football success (including the successful pro careers of former players), and the ills that plague college sports.
Another option, of course, would be an across-the-board ban on all mention of college affiliations during pro football telecasts. Anybody object to that? If so, please step forward to tell us why.