With the Louisiana State University football team preparing for their nationally-televised matchup against the No. 16 West Virginia Mountaineers, the headlines surrounding the game — and college football in general — have been more about what's happened off the field as what's happened on it.
There is, of course, the ongoing legal drama concerning LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson. The latest news is that Jefferson will testify before a grand jury for his role in a brawl that occurred outside a Baton Rouge bar and put an ex-marine in the hospital.
But with the Tigers shrugging off the effect of losing their starting quarterback with their 3-0 start and fans embracing Jarrett Lee in Jefferson's absence, seemingly lost in the conversation is how LSU has managed to escape any sort of major NCAA sanctions.
Now, before you jump and say "What are you talking about? LSU is on probation!" note that the most recent controversy at LSU involved an assistant coach and a player who never saw game action, both of which have since left the school. More importantly, despite the long list of "sanctions" that were self-imposed (this is an important qualifier), what happened to LSU was more of a slap on the wrist than anything else. After all, how bad can sanctions be if the school's athletic director comes out and says ""All things considered, it's a good outcome for us."
No, we're talking about MAJOR violations. The type that LSU won't be so eager to self report. The type that could see the forfeiture of games. The type that could conceivably cripple a football program, or at the very least tarnish its legacy.
We bring this up not because we'd like to see LSU be convicted of infractions and punished but because, well, NCAA rule-breaking scandals in the SEC are nothing new. Seriously, just google "SEC NCAA violation" and you'll get over 2 million results. What's even more troubling is that, three years after being the conference with the second-most NCAA violations, all the SEC has done is "tweak" their reporting process. Reading between the lines, it seems that this is more of a P.R. move to save face in light of how the whole Cam Newton scandal played out last year than any sort of meaningful reform.
Now, for those who haven't been paying attention to what goes on beyond the box score in college athletics, the first thing you need to understand is that the type of scandal that has plagued the SEC has long plagued college sports in general. Most recently, the entire premise of the NCAA and "student-athletes" have come under heavy scrutiny.
There are several lawsuits against the NCAA by current and former athletes questioning the organization's right to profit off the likeness of its unpaid players. That prompted this excellent report by PBS' Frontline on the ethics of the NCAA's multi-billion dollar endorsement and television revenue, most of which comes from the men's basketball tournament. Most recently, the Atlantic magazine published this extensive take-down of how the NCAA does business followed by a brief proposal on how to pay college players for their services.
Regardless of your stance on whether or not college players should be paid, it's become more and more apparent that the NCAA cannot continue to do business as it does today for much longer. The corruption and hypocrisy that pervade college sports are starting to become too much for the general public to bear. And now, as several college conferences are moving towards significant realignment, even the United States Congress is considering getting involved.
Keeping track of all this chaos is important for many reasons, not the least of which is that LSU could very well be playing for the BCS National Championship in New Orleans this coming January and that the Sugar Bowl has become become one of the biggest tourist draws in the city every year. College football, which is not organized by the NCAA but still adheres to its regulations, is at a cultural and historic watershed moment that could alter the landscape and economics of the sports for years to come.
It's also important to note that the Sugar Bowl itself is also not immune to scandal. Just yesterday the committee that puts on the game announced that it had violated tax laws with improper political donations. Sure, it's not as bad as the Fiesta Bowl fiasco that was uncovered earlier this year, but like LSU's self-imposed sanctions, it makes you wonder just what else could be lying under the surface. It doesn't help that the Sugar Bowl did not act on the illegal contributions until it was approached about them by HBO's "Real Sports".
It doesn't help that the Sugar Bowl and the SEC are are tied at the hip in many ways. After all, an SEC team is guaranteed a berth to the bowl game every year and, if these recent scandals are any indication, more than a few of those teams came to New Orleans while masking any number of rules violations.
None of this is to say that the SEC, LSU, the Sugar Bowl or any other college entity actively endorses corruption. But the simple fact remains that, the way college football and the NCAA is currently structured, corruption and scandal are pretty much an inevitability.
All of which is to say, don't be surprised if everything you're hearing about the demise of college football and the scandals plaguing its participating schools and bowl games are just the beginning.