You just have to put it aside.
You just do.
With all the corruption and the money and the hypocrisy and the sleaziness in college sports — and it wasn’t like we needed a full-blown federal investigation to find that out — you have to stop sometimes and ask yourself why you’re still following them.
The games, that’s why. And the people who play those games. The storylines. The drama. The competition. The athletic excellence. That’s what makes things interesting. That’s what makes it fun. That’s what keeps you coming back.
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That’s true even after the events of last week when the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York announced an FBI investigation into college basketball that has already resulted in the arrest of four assistant coaches and firing of a once-iconic head coach in Louisville’s Rick Pitino.
Bottom line: The wall will fall and sooner rather than later. Modern-day reality has chipped away at the “amateur athlete” facade and last week’s news of big-money payments and big-money influence might be the sledgehammer blow that brings the tipping point.
“We are not running this the way a billion-dollar industry should be run,” Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said this week at his team’s media day. “We try to put a circle into a square. That’s what men’s college basketball is. It’s not a bad circle. But it can’t be done like the square.”
Right now, however, the circle is about money and greed and sleaze. The system is broken. So why cover it?
A few years back, I read an interview with Chris Fowler, ESPN’s lead play-by-play announcer for college football, who summed up the double standard needed to do the job.
“When you cover this sport, you always have to live in a bit of denial,” Fowler told Rolling Stone. “You check some things at the door. It’s entertainment, it’s a diversion, it’s a distraction from the real world.”
That’s not to say real-world sports issues should be ignored. Absolutely not. They’re news. They’re important. In all of sports, there might be nothing as important as the reporting being done on the emerging link between football players and CTE.
Yet in the coverage of the death Monday of one of my favorite musicians, Tom Petty once said something that applies here, as well.
“Music is probably the only real magic I have encountered in my life,” said Petty. “There’s not some trick involved with it. It’s pure and it’s real. And it moves and it heals and it communicates and it does all these incredible things.”
I would say the same about sports.
When you cover this sport, you always have to live in a bit of denial.
ESPN’s Chris Fowler to Rolling Stone
It’s the late Skip Webb, who was the parent on my son’s soccer team who loved the game so much he just wanted every kid on that team to love it as much as he did, so he helped out in any way he could.
It’s the inductees at the UK Athletics Hall of Fame banquet I attended a couple of weeks back. Yes, the more famous honorees John Wall, Randall Cobb, Collin Cowgill and Ralph Hacker, but the less so, as well.
There was Sherry Hoover Bordner, the cross country star turned chemical engineer who was so good she pushed her teammates to improve. Coach Don Weber called it “The Hoover Effect.”
There was Sarah Rumely, the former volleyball star who seemed so thrilled to be there and who thanked her beaming grandparents for teaching her competition through card games. Who can’t relate to that?
It’s also Charles Moushey, Kentucky football’s special teams secret weapon (no longer) who has just one job, to get down the field as fast he can to cover punts. Three times this year Moushey has downed kicks at the opponent’s one-yard line. And each time he has appeared to be the happiest and most excited person on the face of the planet.
That’s worth following. That’s worth writing about. And even if it takes a healthy dose of denial, that’s what keeps bringing you back.