Time Out with Joe Sobchuk

Photo by Richard Rowe

If you are a big college football fan, you must have heard about the allegations made against the Oklahoma State football program by now. They range from paying the players and fabricating grades to much more serious, illicit activities. These acts potentially played a large role in the program’s quick rise to power in the first decade of the 2000s, as the team went from perennial loser to Fiesta Bowl champions in about ten years. If the allegations are proven to be true, it will deal a severe blow to the integrity of college football.

I choose to believe the allegations, which are detailed in a Sports Illustrated special report, for a number of reasons. First, there is a great incentive to cheat, as the NCAA is very inconsistent in its punishments and there is a relatively short statute of limitations on infractions. This means that the chances of getting caught in time are low, and even if a team is caught, they may just get a slap on the wrist.

There is also a great competitive advantage to be gained by offering “benefits” to players, as this is one of the most attractive ways to land star recruits. Or, if many contemporary schools are doing it, a program must do it as well just to remain competitive on the field. Finally, the report contains testimonies from over sixty former players and staffers who were interviewed independently, giving the report a plethora of sources.

Others choose to dismiss the claims for different reasons. First, many of the interviewed players left the program on bad terms, so they may just be mudslinging for revenge. Second, several of those interviewed have since said that they were misquoted or taken out of context or have tried to retract their statements entirely. Third, ESPN has published an article that details a handful of minor inaccuracies present in the report. Finally, some people may not believe it because they refuse to let go of their idealized view of college football—which they’ve followed religiously since the time they were born—and see the reality of the scandal and corruption that surrounds it.

The allegations should be troubling to college students, fans, taxpayers and collegiate athletes of all sports. Students should feel cheated, as the report claims that OSU football players received A’s in classes they never attended while OSU personnel completed the coursework for them. The football players just breeze through their academics while other students must struggle with their ever-demanding workloads.

Fans of all teams should feel less trusting of their own programs, because who’s to say that their teams are not doing similar things in order to stay competitive, as the report implies? In the eyes of football programs, the risk of getting caught is outweighed by the success that this type of cheating can bring.

Taxpayers (at least in states such as Georgia with competitive football programs) and athletes should both be concerned about the money, but for different reasons. Taxpayers probably do not want their money to go towards paying amateur athletes to gain a competitive advantage. And if I were an athlete in another sport, I would see every dollar paid to football players as a dollar that my sport will never see.

Finally, football players at other schools with similar “benefits” should also be concerned. At Oklahoma State, athletes were brought to the school with the sole intention of playing football and did not focus on getting an education. This may sit fine with the players, but only as long as they are still in college and healthy. As soon as they get injured or graduate, they are alone, uneducated and unable to fall back on the football program that took care of everything for them.

If the allegations are true, it will just be the latest scandal in a long line of corruption in college football. Drastic measures may have to be taken before it gets any worse.

The most severe measure would be to abolish college football entirely, but that is a solution that very few people would ever want to see. Another option is to abolish the NCAA and establish a new entity that is better at keeping corruption in check. Finally, perhaps the most popular proposal is to just pay the players, though that is a debate that has been covered in a Time Out before and has a myriad of rational arguments on both sides (I am personally against it). But until a solution is found, scandals like this will continue to stain the sport of college football.