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Monson: Grandma was wrong, college football cheaters do win

Published July 24, 2014 5:41 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

"I would prefer even to fail with honor than win by cheating."

Sophocles

Yeah, so, Sophocles never played in the SEC. If he did, he'd be failing with honor a whole lot, all the way to the bottom of the standings.

Honor in college sports, these days, is down five touchdowns to Machiavelli. When money is on the barrel, jacking a few rules en route pretty much seems like a reasonable casualty. Not endorsing that, just stating it as an unfortunate fact.

Most of us had to nod in agreement the other day when Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, in his state-of-the-league address, said what everybody already knows — that in college sports nowadays "cheating pays." News bulletin: Cheating has always paid in college sports. Outside of a few programs that got nailed on account of their sloppy indiscretions, cheaters do win and winners cheat.

Grandma had no clue what she was talking about when she said otherwise.

And neither does the Pac-12's Larry Scott when he turns his head the other way.

That's an accusation few of us can prove. And, apparently, it's something the NCAA cannot prove, either. If it can, it doesn't. As Bowlsby pointed out, "Enforcement is broken. The infractions committee hasn't had [an FBS] hearing in almost a year, and I think it's not an understatement to say cheating pays presently. If you seek to conspire to certainly bend the rules, you can do it successfully and probably not get caught in most cases."

That's a league boss talking.

I have a friend — and maybe you do, too — who was offered thousands of dollars upfront to play for a school. It wasn't an isolated case.

Bowlsby said, with only mild relief, he didn't think cheating is rampant, however he defines that term. If anybody wants to take comfort in the notion that not everybody is crooked, they can do so. But knowing that there are more than a few programs out there that are, and that are winning games and titles because of it, might wipe away that good feeling.

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, speaking at the Big 12 media gathering, told ESPN that he agreed with Bowlsby: "I am convinced there are teams that are cheating that are saying, 'Catch me if you can.' "

Here's the thing: The NCAA can't, or won't.

Even when the organization tries to enforce its rules, it messes things up. How'd that Miami investigation go? Some critics say the NCAA both enforces its rules and hands out its penalties unevenly. In the aftermath of the Miami fiasco last year, David Ridpath, an associate professor of sports administration at Ohio University, told the New York Times: "In my view, they are always inconsistent. They don't follow any rhyme or reason or precedent that they should."

To its credit, the NCAA seems to be making efforts to correct some of its issues, such as hauling the more ridiculous regulations out of a rulebook that at one point was nearly 500 pages thick. We're all still trying to figure out the distinction in legality between a student-athlete accepting a gifted bagel with cream cheese in it versus a bagel with turkey or ham and cheese.

So many rules are just plain silly.

NCAA president Mark Emmert has said his outfit is trying to address and reduce and simplify some of the rules that so often turn into violations, be they intentional or otherwise. He seems to be on target in identifying competitive balance as the goal, having said:

"We're not going to try and overcome those natural competitive advantages that people have.

"But when student-athletes step on the field, they know that the other team's got the same number of players, they've got the same number of coaches, they've got the same number of scholarships. They may have a fancier stadium, they may have other resource advantages, but we've got a chance to beat these guys because there's competitive fairness."

That idea gets blown away, though, when the other team is allowing boosters to shovel cash or cars or other major bennies at their players, while the first group gets less for its efforts.

The belief here is that athletes should get what they can while playing college sports. They should be paid beyond just scholarships. But it also should be done evenly. Whatever the rules are, they should be applied all around, for the competitive fairness of which Emmert speaks. If major college football teams and leagues want separate rules for themselves, then all of them at that level should abide by those rules.

Be forced to abide by them.

In the NBA and NFL, certain franchises have advantages over others, based on tradition or location or perception or success, but limitations and taxes and penalties are set up to help balance the competition. Ironically, it's cleaner than at the school level. That's why enforcement of rules, whatever they are, becomes so important for the colleges. Otherwise, it turns into a sham. Too late. In a lot of cases, just like Bowlsby said, it already has.

Sophocles, with his honor and all, may have done well in yesterday's Greek League. He probably would have gotten smoked in any of today's Power 5.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.