Maybe this column has more to do with attitude than accusation.
But then, maybe not.
There’s a good chance, if you’re reading here, you are some kind of college sports fan, a follower of football or basketball. And if that’s true, you already know about FBI investigations into and wiretaps revealing corruption in that realm, about ongoing trials that include daily testimony regarding payments made by this coach or that, about money filtered to this recruit and that assistant coach. You’ve heard about cash funneled, or, more accurately, flushed to amateur athletes and their relatives from shoe company executives and agents and financial advisers and other go-betweens.
Those payments blast far beyond benefits that hover in the neighborhood of, say, a paid-for pizza here or a bought tattoo there. The recent testimony speaks of tens of thousands of dollars offered up every month, straight out of a coach’s pocket to his player.
And perhaps, one way or another, in one circumstance or another, the team for which you root — including Utah and BYU — has a player on it or has had who’s received impermissible payments of one kind or another, what with money flowing freely, with boosters hanging out in the locker room and such.
Here’s the question: Should you care?
And another: Do you care?
Or is this just the way that it is, and you’re either OK with it, helpless to do anything about it, or willing to turn a blind eye to it because … well, everybody’s doing it. And the thing you care about most is … your team winning.
There seems to be an attitude shift going on here.
In the shade of billions of dollars being generated by big-time college football and basketball, does the public — do you? — worry about such indiscretions in which the so-called student-athletes get some extra recompense for wearing a certain shoe or picking a certain school and playing in them or playing for them? Or is the concern centering more on whether your school gets caught?
Has this situation in which you find yourself as a fan gotten to the point of past decades’ performance enhancers in sports, of masking those performance enhancers, where you suspect when exceptional things happen that something illicit is going on, but you’re never exactly sure, so you ignore it? You’ve sort of given up trying to determine who’s cheating and who isn’t, landing in a spot of … well, everybody’s doing it so, it’s OK.
When the home-run record in Major League Baseball was being so often unnaturally threatened, it was a natural suspicion, when any individual player achieved greatness, that something underhanded was happening. When there was another surprising winner of a famous bike race, you wondered whether the champion was clean.
Now, when you hear about a college program landing another prized recruit, you wonder how much cash he got, and from where. When a team wins any title, in league or in a playoff, or in a big dance, you wonder whether his team was bought. You wonder how dirty the head coach is, an individual who makes millions of dollars and is held up as some kind of societal icon. You wonder what price his assistants or associates paid.
Those are the questions every fan of college sports faces.
Those are the questions you face.
How much hypocrisy are you willing to swallow at institutions of higher learning in the name of fandom?
How much should you consume, given that the institutions and their teams — and the coaches who lead them — for which you root are benefiting financially more than any of the athletes who may be getting paid, in addition to their scholarships and stipends?
In noting the testimony in this ongoing trial in New York, the current landscape in college sports seems like the wild, wild West, and the outlaws are winning. Even coaches who get caught up in the tawdry doings ultimately win — because by way of their cheating, they’ve already made millions of dollars in securing big contracts. What does that suggest? It suggests that it’s worth taking the chance to cheat because, if you do, and you win, then the dollars follow, even if a firing follows, too.
Who knows if jail time, were it ever to come to that, would change that line of thinking.
If you love college sports, because you get drawn into the competition, the pageantry, the pride and the loyalty, now you must navigate not just through the accusations pointed at others, but also the suspicions surrounding your own. If your team wins, you’ve got to wonder how and why — beyond the strategic brilliance and great mentorship of your head coach.
And adjust your attitude about it accordingly.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.