College football at the Division 1 level is a golden calf, worshipped by far too many fans who live up to the Greek word “fanatic.” Winning at any cost is the energy that drives this particular form of idolatry.
The recent cheating scandals at Ohio State and USC are only the latest proof. Coaches are under so much pressure to win that many cheat. Many universities admit players who would never get in if they were not football players and had to apply like everyone else. So schools, in a way cheat, too — worshipping the same golden calf as the coaches and fans.
Season tickets at a place like the University of Michigan, where I have seats, cost about $1,000 for two sets of tickets, and my seats are in the lower-cost part of the stadium. Few can afford to take a large family to a game, even assuming you could get the tickets.
The relatively minor sins of college football could be easily corrected. Any players who were ineligible and played in a game, those games should be forfeited — as USC recently had to do, and Ohio State and Auburn might still have to do. Players should have the freedom and encouragement to pursue a rigorous major, and not settle for the “gut courses” most schools offer for jocks.
The greatest farce connected to college football is the disparity between coaching salaries and teachers. The former head coach at Ohio State, Jim Tressel, made $3.5 million a year. The president of the university, Gorden Gee, makes about $750,000 a year; while the athletic director, Gene Smith, makes $1 million a year — and Gee is the highest-paid public university president in the country.
Professors make much less than these figures.
This is a case of misplaced priorities. The mission of the university is education, not sports. Salaries should reflect that priority.
So what is the solution to this form of idolatry? First of all, get rid of both recruiting and athletic scholarships, except on the basis of need. This would create a level playing field in college sports, and the football games (and tailgating) would be just as entertaining, even if less professional.
Secondly, coaches should not make more money than professors and administrators. Let those coaches who want a pot of gold coach in the pros.
By the way, the pros should set up their own minor league football teams instead of using universities.
We have worshipped the golden calf long enough in college football, and to a lesser degree in all college sports. It is time to tell the fans, “Get a life!” And it is time we alumni and taxpayers told our universities, “Get out of professional sports!”
— By the Rev. Henry Idema, Tribune religion columnist