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Everybody loses when schools break rules

Matt Unger | Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Back to the gridiron! As the college football season kicks off this weekend, the NCAA, its member institutions and fans can breathe a temporary sigh of relief. The public eye on the sport shifts away from rules violations and toward action on the field. Topics such as “Will Notre Dame take the leap toward a BCS berth in Brian Kelly’s second season?” or “Can Oklahoma or another elite program end the SEC’s stronghold on the national championship?” offer a lighter fare in comparison to the questions that have rocked the sport the past few seasons.

These topics that should dominate any discussion of college football have been upstaged by off-the-field issues involving rules violations.

While opposing fans love to see rival programs crushed by the authority of the NCAA, the overall health of the sport suffers when programs break rules. Granted, there was no sympathy in this part of the college football world for seeing Reggie Bush exposed for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts and Pete Carroll’s legacy tarnished for committing violations and escaping to the NFL.

Many were also thrilled to see mighty Ohio State fall flat on its face after a decade of dominance in the Big Ten. (Growing up as an Ohio State fan, it was a little painful seeing Jim Tressel and company exposed for major violations.)

Even in last year’s national championship game, commentators remained cynical on whether Auburn would be able to keep its title in the wake of Cam Newton allegations.

Miami (FL) has recently managed to top them all, with stories of rogue boosters showering star athletes with gifts that have invoked mentioning of the death penalty.

Rules violations have always occurred in the NCAA, with the most infamous example involving Southern Methodist University’s payment of players warranting the death penalty for its football program in the 1980s.

However, the number of violations is alarming for every college football program, whether they abide by the rules or not. The reasons for the problems are numerous and stem from a detailed and sometimes contradictory NCAA bylaws system that schools and coaches struggle to track along with gifts offered to players in college towns and cities.

The solutions are not simple and may require the NCAA to rework its bylaws, allow stipends for student athletes, etc. But for now, the integrity of the game suffers when even the controversy of the BCS is upstaged by rules’ violations.

Here’s hoping this season is less about which programs will next be stripped of national championships and more about the outcomes on the field.

The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Matt Unger at munger3@nd.edu