LAS VEGAS Perhaps a luxurious Las Vegas Strip hotel is not the best place to search for perspective about the proper place of college football in the higher education universe.
The Cosmopolitan, the newest hotel/casino on The Strip, is peddling decadence at every turn from the oversized shoe statues in the hallways (a popular photo spot for tourists) to the art on the walls, which features consumer goods dripping with chocolate.
The very idea of a media day, a need to promote a sport that ranks second only to pro football in popularity and has produced a class of sportswriters (including this one) devoted to covering its every deed (and misdeed), seems an exercise in excess. As if the happenings in these conferences would not be covered in great detail were they to take place in less swank surroundings.
Yet just a day after NCAA President Mark Emmert asserted his power by punishing Penn States football program with a near death penalty and warning against the march of college athletics toward a sports industrial complex, here we were.
One of the grave dangers stemming from our love of sports is that the sports themselves can become too big to fail, indeed, too big to even challenge, Emmert told The Associated Press. The result can be an erosion of academic values that are replaced by the value of hero worship and winning at all costs. All involved in intercollegiate athletics must be watchful that programs and individuals do not overwhelm the values of higher education.
Or as Nevada coach Chris Ault put it: It sheds a light on all of us to realize football has its place. In the sports world, maybe its on top. But in the real world, its not.
Except where it is.
At college and in towns that rely on a successful football program to boost the local economy, to generate national attention for the university, to create a reason to invite wealthy alumni back to campus and show off plans for the new business or law school, to generate revenue to prop up other sports programs. Precisely when the program becomes too big to fail, as Emmert said, because of all the people relying on its success.
Penn State didnt report a child molester to the proper authorities and allowed him to harm more victims for another decade, a cover-up that seemed designed to ensure a smoothly run football program.
Itd be nice to assume Penn State is an isolated case and its scale is unprecedented.
But the same willingness to lie, to turn a blind eye, to gloss over details in order to protect a football kingdom led to the demise of Ohio States Jim Tressel and Arkansas Bobby Petrino. Just to name two recent examples. Tressel, like Penn States Joe Paterno, was held up as a paragon of virtue in the coaching profession.
Those were two shining examples of guys that were role models that always did and said the right things. Its really tough to sit here and say its going in the right direction when maybe our two beacons or our two examples have just been taken down, said New Mexico coach Bob Davie, who does believe that power has been shifting away from coaches and back to administrators in recent decades in most places around the country.
Said Ault: Those should bring the clear view to us coaches that you do have an obligation and a responsibility and its called integrity.
Boise States meteoric rise in college football and the decisions the school has made to fund improved facilities and to jump conferences has led to the impression, not entirely unfair, that football is driving the universitys decision-making process.
Coach Chris Petersen, often compared to the pre-scandal Paterno who donated millions to the university and talked about being able to excel on the field while maintaining high standards in the classroom and community, said there are lessons to be learned about the role of football in the Penn State scandal.
Its not a positive to me to be a place where its all about football or all about one thing. I want to be a part of something thats committed to excellence. I dont want it to be all about the football program or the head coach, he said.
Can it get out of whack? I think weve seen that. As tragic as that Penn State situation is, just tragic on every different level, we need to learn from that and not let that happen to us. I dont think anybody wants it like that. Certainly were all in this together. We all need to hold each other accountable so there are checks.
It sounds great. A system of checks and balances designed to make sure that no one person consolidates all the power and is able to bend a university to his wishes.
But the excess is all around them decision after decision from conference realignment to the new playoff system to expanded stadiums being driven by the lure of extra dollars, many of which find their way into coaches pockets.
The proper role of football to a university?
Too often its to keep the money coming.
Brian Murphy: 377-6444