Thursday, June 16, 2011

College football cheaters need to be unplugged

Cam Newton, Arkansas vs AuburnFormer Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton caries the ball against Arkansas last season. (Press-Register, Bill Starling)

How can the NCAA send a strong, clear message that impermissible benefits, cover-ups and general cheating won't be tolerated?

Slap a football program with a television ban, including a prohibition on pay-for-view coverage. Auburn fans remember the agony of the 1993 season when the Tigers went 11-0 but couldn't do any of the winning in front of TV cameras.

The whispers about the widespread boosters' improper cash payments and sweetheart car deals have simmered on the college sports scene for years, but the staccato revelations surrounding the smarmy pay-for-play scheme surrounding Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and Ohio State's memorabilia-for-tattoos scandal revealed the ugly underbelly of college sports.

And as details continue to emerge at different schools around the country,
Josh Bean's column appears on Thursdays in the Press-Register. Contact him at
the story increasingly mirrors baseball's steroid scandal, which saw fans transform from skeptical to accepting that steroids dominated the game for at least a decade.

Is college football headed down the same road? The NCAA needs to do something bold to counter what appears to have become a culture of cheating, especially in the wake of Southern Cal vacating its 2004 BCS national title.

If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying, right? Banning a big-time school from TV would certainly be an audacious way for the NCAA to encourage schools to follow the rules.

Nearly every big-time program in the country touts its sparkling academic center for athletes, but blue-chip football prospects see little -- if any -- allure in academic support. Major prospects have two major questions when deciding where to sign: How often do you play on TV? And how good are you at sending players to the NFL?

And the two questions will always remain linked.

Thanks to the Saturday combination of ESPN, CBS, ABC and the SEC Network, schools such as Alabama and Auburn need only worry about which network will grace its stadium with camera crews.

Playing on TV every week allows players to build a national following and informally court endorsement deals after college. Former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow capitalized on the Gators' extensive TV exposure, making him a celebrity in Denver before his plane ever landed there.

That's why players care about TV coverage, but imagine the chilling effect that would be felt throughout the country if Ohio State gets banned.

Those opposing a TV ban argue that it would hurt other schools by keeping them off the airwaves, but that's precisely why it's the right thing for the NCAA to do.
If Ohio State isn't on TV, that means Michigan and Purdue and everyone else in the Big Ten will get one less TV game that season. That makes cheating less desirable because it could hurt your school as well as every other school in your conference.

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