If You Think The NFL Is Crooked, Get a Load of the NCAA

Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, left, and head coach Brady Hoke.
Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, left, and head coach Brady Hoke. –AP

The snarkier corners of the college football commentariat had a bit of fun with the UMass scoreboard fiasco Saturday, noting that its collapse during the school’s first on-campus game in three years, a homecoming loss to Bowling Green, was further evidence that New England just isn’t cut out for NCAA Division I football. They’re probably right. And thank god for us, because as embarrassing as it can be to care about the NFL, the NCAA is an even more shameful outfit.

This season, the NFL has been generally portrayed as both corrupt and incompetent, an organization that can’t be trusted to run the till at a Pop Warner snack bar much less a highly influential billion-dollar business built on precise regulation of violence and aggression. But, credit where due, just this very morning the Goodell Mob managed to get an important issue right on just the second try: The league issued a statement apologizing for the penalty incurred by the Chiefs’ Husain Abdullah for his end zone celebration, which the refs interpreted as showboating but which was in fact an act of religious devotion. It was an honest mistake, and the NFL handled it swiftly and correctly. That means they snuck a single reasonable decision in just before the end of the month, so we can now return our full scorn to the cesspool that is big-time NCAA football.

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Heisman winner/rape investigatee/shoplifter Jameis Winston was finally suspended two games ago for yelling something crude in a dining hall, which might not be a grievous sin but is at best deeply unwise, given the serious sexual assault accusation leveled against him in 2012. But Winston managed not to get in any more trouble for an entire week after his benching, and even though there are some strong signals that he’s not a very good dude, I’m hesitant to write off a 20-year-old who is being manipulated at every turn by a system designed to suck every last ounce of money out of his immature body and brain with no regard to his mental health or development as a person.

But I have no problem writing off 55-year-old, multi-millionaire Brady Hoke, the Michigan coach whose all-but-criminal mismanagement of quarterback Shane Morris’s concussion in Saturday’s loss to Minnesota may well cost him a job that was on shaky ground to begin with. In the familiar pattern of such scandals at both the pro and college level, the only thing more revolting than Hoke allowing Morris to return to the game despite clear evidence that he had suffered brain trauma was the ensuing cover-up.

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After a couple days of Hoke hemming and hawing and denying any knowledge of Morris’s concussion, Michigan’s athletic director, 62-year-old, multi-millionaire Dave Brandon, decided that 1 a.m. Tuesday morning was the right time to issue a statement acknowledging that “a serious lack of communication’’ led to “confusion on the sideline,’’ resulting in a situation “not in the best interest of one of our student-athletes.’’ That’s a funny way to say, “Coach didn’t technically know if the kid was concussed, because he didn’t care to ask; he cared to win a game and save his job.’’ The whole thing’s repulsive, and also a perfect illustration of why the NCAA is even scummier than the NFL.

The most obvious way the NFL is a smidgeon less odious than the NCAA is that it pays its players to destroy their bodies. Big-time college football programs instead pretend that scholarships are fair compensation, which ignores the fact that so many of the players are ill-equipped to take full advantage of their alleged academic opportunities until it’s too late.

Many come to school unprepared to keep up in the classroom, a problem exacerbated by their absurd athletic workload. I think students who play revenue-generating sports at Division One schools should be paid. They should also have access to long-term physical after-care programs to address whatever lingering damage their bodies suffer while they are, uh, pursuing their education. But there may be too many barriers in the way of those things ever actually happening. So how about this? How about anyone who earns a Division One football scholarship gets to return to school free of charge at any future point until he earns a bachelor’s degree? That doesn’t cost anyone any extra money—it just makes good on the lie that the schools are willing to trade education for athletic profiteering.

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