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Scott Ostler

The Sewer Is Overflowing in Georgia

February 12, 1986|Scott Ostler

Just so you don't have to dig for it or figure it out, the theme of this column is that big-time college sports, with some heartwarming exceptions, are a sewer.

Now, the sermon:

During one lively month in 1981, four of Bear Bryant's Alabama football players had brushes with the law.

One was arrested for drunken driving and was dismissed from the team. Two others were dropped from the team after police stopped the car in which they were riding, found marijuana and arrested the driver.

The fourth player was arrested after a traffic accident for allegedly firing a shotgun at two university law students.

That player was not cut from the team because, Bryant explained, the player had not broken any training rules. The player also was 'Bama's starting fullback.

What Bear did for that fullback is, I think, a nice example of a college coach going the extra mile for an athlete.

Going that old extra mile came up the other day in the trial down in Georgia that is focusing attention on the University of Georgia's athletic program.

Vince Dooley, who coaches the Georgia football team, said in court the other day that he favors going the extra mile for athletes and other students with poor academic skills.

That extra mile seldom carries Bulldog players as far as the graduation stage. Since Georgia athletics were integrated in 1969, there have been 200 black athletes. About 30 of them have graduated.

That number, 30, isn't exact. The Georgia people don't keep as close track of graduation stats as they do of, say, Herschel Walker's rushing yardage.

Georgia's extra mile, according to what was said in court, consists mostly of doing whatever is necessary to keep athletes involved in revenue-producing sports producing revenue.

Which is what sports is all about--building character.

I know a coach who keeps files full of press clippings, and one file is dramatic evidence of the character-building in sports.

The bulging file contains hundreds of press accounts of athletes smoking, drinking, snorting, driving while doing all of the above, assaulting, robbing, raping, pillaging, point shaving, cheating, lying and dying young.

There's more grief, pain and antisocial behavior in this file than in all the songs on the country-and-western top 40.

Clippings collected over the years and crammed into a file folder don't prove that sport has gone to hell. But they indicate we might have a little work to do before we brag about building character or going extra miles.

At Georgia, for instance, the people who run the athletic department seem to subscribe to the very popular theory that if you take a kid who is completely unqualified for college, let him hang around campus for five years and play some football or basketball, the kid will be better off for the experience.

He still won't be able to read or write, maybe, but he will have absorbed some valuable stuff, by osmosis or something. A lot of coaches really believe this. They believe they are doing these kids a favor.

Maybe, but I know I have strolled across the Caltech campus several times, and I still can't do basic calculus.

All colleges are doing, in too many cases, is taking kids out of the real world and twisting their values and perceptions like a pretzel.

Take recruiting. Please. What the recruiter says to the kid is: "You are special. You are better than real people. You are above the laws and rules. Here, kid, have a car. Have some money. Live in a special dorm, jocks only. Don't worry about going to class. Rest up for practice.

"And kid, try to stroll around campus once in a while to soak up some college culture. If nothing else, in four years you'll learn how to wear alligator shirts and penny loafers."

Now, tacitly encourage a young athlete to miss classes, take illegal money and fire a shotgun at campus police, and you probably shouldn't expect the kid to have a real strong respect for, or understanding of, other rules and laws, such as those dealing with rape, robbery, drugs, gambling. . . .

If Vince Dooley wants to go an extra mile for his athletes, maybe he should march them to class personally. Or even cut back on the workload on his players--less time in pads and more time in study hall.

The NCAA, in fact, should establish time limits on athletes, limiting the hours they can be forced to labor learning the game.

If nothing else, that would cause coaches, administrators and athletes to find new ways to cheat and skirt the rules, which is the only mental exercise some of these people get.

I'm sure there are many colleges and universities that play it honest, or at least make an honest attempt to do what schools are supposed to do.

But too many of these places are ripping off all of us.

If most of what I read about Georgia is true, from now on I'll go out of my way to miss any Bulldog football or basketball game, even if I have to walk an extra mile.

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