Friday, November 20, 2009

Corruption in College Athletics

Today’s blog is about corruption in college athletics. Oh My God, I may end up writing my next book before I’m done.

Let us begin with one of my favorite people on earth: Bill Hancock. For many years, Bill was a voice of reason and calm and kindness at The NCAA. When he took over the basketball tournament’s media operations along with Jim Marchiony (another very good man who is now at Kansas) everything changed after the Reign of Terror/Error of the late Dave Cawood—not a good man.

Several years ago, Bill was persuaded to go work for the BCS in large part because the NCAA’s move from Kansas City to Indianapolis had been tough on his family. He is the one person connected with the BCS with whom I refrain from using profanity when discussing how corrupt and god-awful the whole thing is. You simply can’t get mad at Bill. It is a little bit like convincing yourself that there’s something inherently wrong with Sesame Street. Bill is just all good.

Last week, the criminals posing as commissioners and presidents and athletic directors who run the BCS did a very smart thing: they made Bill the face of the BCS, naming him as their executive director. Remember a few weeks ago when some of the BCS Dons announced that they had decided their biggest problem was that they hadn’t defended their system well enough? Well, this is their solution: send Bill out to defend it because even people like me aren’t going to want to jump on Bill Hancock with both feet.

Bill is a man of substance defending something that has no substance. But he will do it well. In one of his first radio interviews since being promoted Bill talked about how great the bowl system is because so many teams get to end their season with a win; so many teams get to be rewarded for their seasons and get to travel to places they wouldn’t otherwise get to see.

As always, Bill told the truth. And I know he meant every word. Of course his argument is completely specious. To begin with, blowing up the BCS and replacing it with a playoff doesn’t mean changing the bowl system even a little bit. All those deserving 6-6 teams will still get rewarded with trips to Shreveport, Toronto, Detroit, Birmingham and Houston—to name a few of the high points on the bowl system world tour. Half of those teams will still get to win their final game. Knowing Bill, he would probably like it if there were some way to ensure they could ALL win their final game.

What’s more, the second-tier bowl system is as corrupt in its own way as the BCS, we just care less about the corruption. All the so-called bowl “tie-ins,” are ridiculous. Why should every team in a BCS conference that goes 6-6—often by scheduling three cream-puff non-conference home games be “rewarded,” with some kind of postseason trip? There are too many bowls—the NCAA hands out bowl certifications like candy at a Halloween party—and then all these self-important yahoos walk around in their ugly jackets acting like they’re saving the world with their bowl games.

I’ll give you an example of what I mean. In 1996 Army was 9-1 and Navy was 8-2 going into the Army-Navy game. The bowl game in Shreveport—I forget what corporate name was slapped on it at the time—announced it would invite the winner of the game to play. Since Army and Navy didn’t have bowl tie-ins at the time this was something of a relief that at least one of them was guaranteed a spot in a bowl. During Army-Navy week though it began to look as if one of the conferences tied into the bowl in Hawaii wouldn’t produce enough bowl eligible teams and word was if that happened, the bowl would invite the Army-Navy loser since Army and Navy had already agreed to send the winner to Shreveport because it was the only sure thing on the table.

On the night before the game I was standing around at a party with a group of people. The Shreveport bowl people were there being squired around like royalty by the athletic directors, which I found kind of amusing. I made the comment to some people that something had to be wrong when the WINNER of the game got to go to Shreveport and the LOSER got to go to Hawaii. One of the Shreveport guys overheard me.

Pointing his finger in my face he said, “you don’t like Shreveport maybe we won’t invite either one of you, how would you like that? We’ll go find someone else who WANT to come to Shreveport, who appreciates getting the bid to our bowl.”

I looked at the guy and said. “To begin with, I don’t represent either school, so feel free to NOT invite ME to Shreveport. Second of all get over yourself—you’re running a fifth rate bowl and anyone who thinks going to Shreveport in December instead of Hawaii is a good idea needs serious therapy.”

Cooler heads prevailed before Mr. Shreveport and I could really get into it but seriously folks this is the way a lot of these guys think. Every time I encounter one of them at a game—they’re easy to recognize because of the silly jackets—you would think they were the U.N. Ambassador from someplace, not the bowl rep from Memphis or Fort Worth.

So, long story short, no one is saying those bowls need to go away. They can stay just as they are and everyone who doesn’t make the NCAA football tournament can continue to play in them the same way teams play in the NIT in basketball. What’s more, as Bill well knows, if the four BCS bowls became part of the tournament rotation they would all be a big deal as opposed to now when one of them is a big deal.

One more BCS note: according to at least one of the many ‘bowl prognosticators,’ if Oklahoma State beats Oklahoma next week it will get a BCS bowl bid over Boise State. A team that was life-and-death to beat Colorado (at home) last night would go over an undefeated team. Seriously, other than my pal Bill (who knows better deep in his heart) is there anyone out there who doesn’t think the BCS makes the guy in Afghanistan who took the $30 million bribe look like a fairly decent guy?

Onto basketball corruption: two items today. Someone asked in a post the other day what my problem was with the “I won’t-mention-the-corporate-name/Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament.” There’s a couple things: First, the semifinalists were Syracuse, California, North Carolina and Ohio State. That’s a good field. My problem with it is that their presence last night in Madison Square Garden was decided in AUGUST.

I call it the “Gardner-Webb rule.” Remember a few years ago when Gardner-Webb beat Kentucky and went to the Garden? The corporate geeks running the event and, I guess, ESPN decided they didn’t want to take any chance on an upset. So, even if one of the other 12 teams in the tournament had upset one of the big four, it would not have been playing last night. Last I looked in a real competition you win, you advance, you lose you go home. Not in this event. Don’t call these guys semi-finalists. It implies they had to do something to get that far. The fact is—even though the four teams DID win their games on their home courts—there was no chance for them not to advance.

The other thing—and this goes on everywhere—is that for all the trumpeting about this being a charity event, the corporate logo is slapped in giant letters at mid-court and all over the court. There is ONE “Coaches vs. Cancer,” logo--if you look carefully under one basket. Here’s a question I would love answered: how many NET dollars from this event actually go to cancer research? Coaches vs. Cancer must be a tax-exempt 501C3 organization so it should be required to answer that question.

Last thing on corruption: Did anyone see the story on AOL the other day on the apparent myriad violations committed at South Florida (okay, ALLEGED myriad violations) by this guy named Terrelle Woody, “personal trainer,” to Gus Gilchrist? Woody basically got thrown off campus at Maryland in the spring of 2008 when Gilchrist was enrolled there so he and Gilchrist landed at South Florida where—surprise—Coach Stan Heath put Woody on the payroll.

Now there are all these allegations about illegal workouts and Woody coaching guys up in the locker room during games even though he wasn’t a coach. Heath’s responses to the charges sound a lot like Ron Ziegler during Watergate. The best one is when asked about Woody coaching players he’s says, “any bozo can tell guys, ‘play hard.’” He’s right. But most of those bozos aren’t on the payroll and don’t have access to the locker room during games do they?

Maybe Heath can sign on as Bill Hancock’s assistant at the BCS. Then again, maybe not. Bill will do just fine on his own—or at least better than anyone else can do in an absolutely impossible job.


Dana King said...

Your distaste--okay, hatred--of the BCS sums up why I never watch college football unless Pitt (my hometown team) or Maryland (where I live now and my daughter goes to school) are playing, and I can't bear to watch Maryland anymore this year.

The BCS likes to say that, under their system, "Every game counts." Bull. Boise State's games don't count. Ohio State's games don't count, not in the national championship sense, because they and the Big 10 are having a down year, so no one is considering them.

Mush of the fun of the basketball tournaments and all professional sports playoffs comes when a team gets hot at the right time, or gets an injured player back, or improves throughout the year and threatens to run the table in the postseason. In the current system, if Tim Tebow misses the wrong two weeks with an injury and Florida loses, they're done. There's no chance for redemption.

I'd rather watch regular season hockey, college or pro. And I do,

Vince Spence said...

Blog is Latin for less than 500 words, not more than 2,000. I love your writing (always have, always will), but....

Unless, of course, you are getting compensated by the word...

Anonymous said...

There is no way to put the genie back in the bottle with college athletics, but I wish common sense would prevail. Yeah, right.

Vince -- sshhhhh.....why tempt fate by asking for John to write less. This 'blog' is a gem every day. It's, quite simply, the best insiders view around and a must read. Don't screw around with putting ideas in his head.

Tim, Denver

Jim in the Cuse said...

That's an interesting point about the 'coaches vs. cancer' tournament. I've often wondered how much, bottom line, is actually donated/earned for any of the non-profits involved with these tournaments. I've always just taken the generosity factor for granted, especially when it comes to Boeheim, who is HUGE round Syracuse when it comes to cancer charity work (both he and his wife Julie are always part of some charity event), but your insight certainly gives me pause. And you're right; the semi-finals are nothing of the sort.

I love that you are such a voice of dissent in the sports world, John. I wish more sports figures were as straight and off-the-cuff as you are (re: the Shreveport jacket-wearer).

And Vince, come on. Would you tell Shakespeare to limit the sonnets, Whitman to limit his poetry, or Sid Vicious to limit his...viciousness?!? Well, you get the idea.

Christopher said...

One way to look at the Coaches for Cancer event is to think of it as a scripted/reality show. John, you are correct that if it was a true sports competition any of the 12 teams could advance to the semi-finals.

The positive spin on this is that at least it is still a competition for the final four teams. Otherwise it would be entertainment like professional wrestling and not sports. There is a reason that the WWE isn't covered by the newspaper's sports page.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post on this topic, particularly the bowl certifications.

I live in Springfield, MA and our City lost out on a tradition a few years ago due to the NCAAs refusal to grant a schedule waiver to major programs to participate in the Tip-Off Classic, a function run by the Basketball Hall of Fame. Without the waiver, which they regularly grant to the corporate-sponsored pre-season tournaments if I understand correctly, the major programs refused interest in the event, thus killing it.

It made me ill watching the Basketball Hall of Fame Game played in Louisville this week.

Anonymous said...

Vince Spence: You are a moron.
Shutup and go back to trying to write your one-eyed golfer crap. You are a joke and should be banned from this board. Are you jealous or just stupid?

Vince Spence said...


Vince Spence said...

And your point?

Are we related?

Gordon said...

I thought calling Dave Cawood "not a good man" was in very poor taste considering the fact that the word "late" preceded his name.

Continuing with your most apt mafia analogy, now that Bill Hancock is a "made man" he now becomes part of the problem. He sold his soul to the devil!

As long as the networks continue to support the current system there will plenty of "hush money" to pay off the schools who are "pure bread". This leaves out the Boise States and the TCUs of the world who will never be "made" because they do not have the correct blood lines.

Just like in every sport where money controls all but the outcome ,and even that sometimes seems questionable, we fans have no influence over the BCS and the "Dons" who run it.

Ed Tracey said...

I've never found a "Good Guys vs. Cancer" (or heart disease, diabetes, etc.) title to make much sense. Good for them for organizing such a charity, but disease will win more often than not.

Similarly, the "Friends of the XYZ Museum" organizations beg-the-question: is there an "Enemies of the XYZ Museum" group that needs to be confronted?

JMSwierz said...

For Vince...almost seems crazy that you don't know this unless you are trying to be funny, but 'blog' is short for WebLog. The origin is not latin and has nothing to do with length. If you were trying to be funny or make a point, if you think Mr. Feinstein's writings are too long than you can always read someone else who writes less.

DH in DC said...


I don't know if you saw it, but your guy Bill Hancock just hired none other than Ari Fleischer as its PR person to help address the BCS image problem. I'm not sure if this is a great opening move by Mr. Hancock. On the other hand, Fleischer does have a wealth of experience serving as a mouthpiece for an operation with stature and credibility in the same league as the BCS.

Bo Smolka said...

Great work as always. Stay pissed John, stay pissed ....

Mark F said...


I have read several of your books and have been a fan of your work for several years which is why your cheap shot at Dave Cawood in the above post both surprises and truly disappoints me.
I was fortunate enough to know Dave Cawood and considered him a friend and mentor. I am lucky enough to work in college athletics; I have a job and a life that I truly enjoy. Much of this was made possible by Dave Cawood who gave me a start in the industry back when I was a lost college student who didn’t know up from down. Mr. Cawood didn’t have to help me but did so out of the kindness of his heart.
I am not sure why you seem to have disliked this man so much. My guess is back when Mr. Cawood was working for the NCAA he didn’t treat you as important as you feel you should have been treated. It‘s one to thing to be critical of someone’s job performance but something all together different to dismiss someone as a person. John, you don’t get to make the decision if someone was a good person or not.
Dave Cawood unexpectedly passed away a little more than a year ago. He left behind a wife, son, dozens of friends, and a hometown that misses him greatly. I would have thought taking a dig like this at Mr. Cawood would be beneath you, I guess I was wrong.

Mark F.

Anonymous said...

It will be amusing to see what sort of flim-flam man style huckstering we see from those BCS apologists once their system fails to give Texas its much deserved down ranking the Longhorns earned with their poor showing against Nebraska. Instead it will be "move along, nothing to see here, move along" as TCU will remain blocked out of the game vs. Bama.