Off-the-Field Transgressions Giving College Football a Black Eye

It always has been said that one of the best ways to keep a kid off the streets and out of trouble is to get him involved in sports.

The structure and commitment needed to be part of a team – two- or three-hour practices every day – doesn’t provide a lot of time to get in trouble after school. Work them hard enough so they’ll be too pooped to pop, to borrow a phrase from the 1960s.

It’s the same way with big-time athletics, where the responsibities are even greater, given the demands of practice, film sessions and studying – believe it or not, some athletes do actually study. Being a member of a big-time football or basketball program is almost like a full-time job. There just isn’t a lot of idle time.

Invariably, some players, who have no business being in college in the first place, still manage to get in trouble during the season. Still, more often than not it seems that when you do read of a college athlete running afoul of the law it happens during the offseason. More down time to fall prey to booze and broads.

And this has not been a good summer for college football as the police blotter grows longer. Every day you pick up the newspaper it seems you read about some player from another Division I-A program getting suspended for some transgression. The season, still three weeks away, can’t start soon enough.

College football coaches have been known to pass the buck occasionally, but they are right in one regard. They can not watch their charges 24 hours a day. They are supposed to be young adults, though you’d be hard-pressed to believe it. Maybe the universities should hire round-the-clock baby sitters for their man-children.

You could form a pretty good team with some of the suspended players. Leading the way would be former Oklahoma quarterback Rhett Bomar. Seems he and teammate – – offensive lineman J.D. Quinn – accepted money for work they did not perform at a car dealership in Norman, Oklahoma. Wonderful. When Oklahoma learned of this, they were dismissed from the team. Bomar’s absence is a huge loss for the Sooners, who are expected to contend for the national championship this season.

One day last week we decided to scan the wires to come up with a short list of players who have been disciplined by their schools. We only checked a couple of days and here’s what we found (Trust us, this is only a partial list):

Ohio State starting tight end Marcel Frost suspended for their entire 2006 season for a violation of team rules. This could be anything from missing curfew to beating up your girl friend. Ohio State didn’t say what the violation was – the schools never do, what with privacy rights – but it had to be something serious.

Oregon State wide receivers Marcel Love and Anthony Crosby suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules.

– Georgia corner back Thomas Flowers suspended two games for academic reasons. It’s been a busy offseason for the Bulldogs.

Offensive tackle Daniel Inman also was suspended two games for a violation of team rules. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe got three games for a DUI charge and defensive back Antonio Sims was suspended the entire season for what the school said were multiple violations.

You almost expect these kinds of things in the cesspool that big-time college sports can be, but not even the Ivy League, which is supposed to be the last bastion of true sportsmanship and amateurism, is immune.

Harvard quarterback Liam O’Hagan was suspended five games for violating team rules. He joins linebacker Matt Thomas, who was suspended indefintely last month for assaulting his girl friend.

Then there’s the on-going saga of everybody’s favorite bad-boy, former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett, who was arrested last week for concealing four loaded guns in his SUV.

Clarett seemed to have the world on a string when as a freshman he helped lead Ohio State to the national championship in 2002. He sat out the entire 2003 season after getting arrested for falsifying a police report and never played another game for the Buckeyes. In 2004, he sued the NCAA in an attempt to enter the NFL draft a year early and lost. Surprisingly, he was picked by the Denver Broncos in the third round of last year’s NFL draft but was cut during the preseason.

We joke about the baby sitters (who’s going to pay them?) Seriously, these institutions of higher learning need to adjust their priorities, do a better job checking the character and background of their recruits.

We know that’s probably just wishful thinking. With the NCAA being a billion-dollar industry, we wonder if there will ever be any true reform, despite what the NCAA wants us to believe.

Failing that, at least end the pretense. Pay the players, not $50,000, but something. They’re pseudo-professionals anyway. There is nothing more ridiculous than those postgame press conferences during the NCAA basketball tournament when some haughty and pompous official from the NCAA keeps refering to the players as “student-athletes.”

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