The two most recent newspaper investigations into the Michigan football program revealed something interesting about how college football fans view "cheating" in the sport. With the Michigan athletic department facing questions about its academic advising policies* and excessive football practice time, a majority of Michigan fans had the same response to both allegations--a collective shrug**. Major fansites led vicious attacks on both newspapers, and fans seemed to say that, even if the allegations were true, they weren't a big deal.
Some believed that a simple "but-every-school-does-it" response justified Michigan's actions. As for the excessive practicing allegations, based on message board posts, many believed that college athletes should just suck it up and work harder.*** And, of course, other schools pay players, they say, and that's certainly much worse.****
But isn't exactly the opposite true? Academic policies***** and practice time restrictions are in place to protect players. Restrictions on paying players are in place to protect...well, I'm not sure exactly who******. If you actually care about the well being of players and student athletics, shouldn't you be much more concerned about providing athletes a good education and a good athletics-life balance than about their mother getting some extra money from a booster to pay the rent?
In a very cynical sense, college football fans are being extraordinarily selfish. They care about bribery because they get screwed if there team plays by the rules and misses out on top recruits. On other other hand, when schools provide crappy educations and work players too hard, it's only the players that are hurt. Another new class of freshmen will make the fans forget about the seniors that graduated soon enough.
It's unfortunate fans feel this way. All of these raise very important questions about the future of college athletics, that, as far as I can tell, are occasionally raised in public but never really addressed. Instead of worrying about these problems, fans and media are too busy enforcing absurd rules and wringing their hands over the need for a playoff in college football. Good to know we have our priorities straight.
* I guess this isn't technically "cheating", but the point remains.
** Although I suspect if the Columbus Dispatch had written these stories about the Ohio State football team, the tune of Michigan fans would have been slightly different.
*** Yes, I realize most people objected to the Free Press's reporting methods and interpretation of NCAA rules, but, my general sense was that, even if the allegations were true, people weren't really bothered by them.
**** As I said in **, Michigan fans are obviously quite biased about the situation. That said, the reaction to the Cam Newton allegations seems to suggest fans and the media consider paying players a great blight upon college athletics.
***** As I said in *, the academic policies aren't technically illegal, as far as I know, but the fans' response to the allegations were still illuminating.
****** Different conversation, but can someone point me to anyone that has an even somewhat valid point as to why college football players should not be paid? It's on my long list of things I really can't even begin to understand the vehement objection to. As if it's somehow OK to pay football players to arbitrary amount (tuition+room/board), but nowhere beyond that point.