Down In The Valley IV: King Football

By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

Around the mid 19th Century, Southern separatists coined a name for the commodity that guaranteed their region’s prosperity and defiantly signaled their immunity from the control of the despised central government controlled by Northern industrialists – “King Cotton.” “King Cotton” became a reason and a battle cry, emboldening the separatists to strike out at Fort Sumter against perceived injustices. The slogan served as a wedge between two regions whose cooperation just two generations earlier had forged a new nation. King Cotton was deposed at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865 and the country was spared his influence for the time being.

A new king arose on those same Southern cotton fields,  now perfectly re-invented as measured, marked, and manicured line-bound rectangles with iron posts commemorating each end.   King Cotton was replaced in the Southern psyche with a sport borrowed from the ivy-covered walls of the Northeast colleges. In places like  Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge and Knoxville and Athens, a new king was born, and his open-air castles holding 75,000+ subjects spread through the “fly-over states,” into towns with funny names, and even to the tiny central Pennsylvania town of State College. King Football reigns supreme in the minds of  many today — it’s the nation’s most popular and lucrative sport, if combined with the professional ranks, or merely in second place if you’re talking about the game played on the campuses.

And, according  to CBS Sports’ Senior College Football Analyst, Dennis Dodd, the shock of the Freeh Report on the criminality at Penn State has finally made it “Louie XVI time” for King Football. Supporting Freeh’s finding that the culture of football led as much to Penn State’s Waterloo as anything done by its leadership, Dodd chronicles the litany of  fatal sins of King Football in his fine article. And like that of the  Bourbon kings, Dodd agrees that King Football comes complete with its own self-decapitating culture:

It is a culture that awards mere mortals royalty status. It is a culture that has grabbed hold of our youth and wrung some of that youth out of them. It is a culture that winks at a supposed 20-hour weekly work “limit” imposed by the NCAA that we all know is a joke. It is a culture that (until recently) allowed head coaches to “cut” players on an annual basis simply because they weren’t good enough.

It is a culture that tacitly supports academic fraud and “clustering,” the practice of guiding athletes to easy classes that produce the least friction against their athletic lives. It is a culture that allowed five Ohio State football players to participate in a bowl game in the middle of a major infractions case primarily because the school argued in favor of it.

King Football stands supreme (and undefeated) in battles with the likes of mere university administrators or their surrogates and now requires a strong national opponent if its culture is ever to be controlled or dismissed. As Dodd laments, consider its record of wins. At Ohio State  University, its football coach lied under oath on an NCAA compliance form. Oh, the coach was gone, but his benefited players still played in the lucrative holiday bowl game because, well, the school argued for it and the players all promised to come back next year to serve their penance. They didn’t.

Of course, King Football won that round easily over the timid gatekeeper of sports ethics — the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). That’s the hoary round-table of  guardians of the student-athlete,  that busies itself with such important questions as whether student athletes can be provided cream cheese with their bagels, but when faced with a member university permitting a child molester to hunt freely on its campus, dutifully ponders  its mission and  requests information that the whole world already knows by virtue of the  comprehensive report from the former Director of the FBI. “Penn State’s response to the letter will inform our next steps, including whether or not to take action,” wrote Bob Williams, the NCAA’s vice president of communications. “Whether or not to take action”? Really? There is some question yet unanswered in your institutionalized, bureaucratic  mind about this mess? As one blogger (whose name I can’t recall) astutely observed, the only ones defending this are “friends, family, and fools.”

Chalk up another one for King Football. 2-0 sounds good?

And lest you think the King reigns only in the football mills of the major universities, consider the recent goings-on at the tiny (by Penn State and Ohio State standards) University of Montana (UM) that boasts 15,000 students but ranks fifth among public institutions for producing  Rhodes Scholars. Such a citadel of academic achievement would seem immune from the legions of King Football — much like it’s intellectual cousins, The Ivys of the Northeast, who saw the sword hanging above their heads years ago and de-emphasized the sport they founded. Oh, but not so, even in remote and scenic Missoula.

In April, the perennially FCS play-off bound UM Grizzly football team was rocked by a sex scandal that ended with the non-renewal of its conference winning  coach’s contract and the ouster of its Athletic Director. How did the administration react to the courageous allegations of a UM co-ed who came forward with a claim of  drugging and rape by four Grizzly gridironers? Why Vice President  of External Affairs, Jim Foley (who headed public relations for the school),  embarked on a vigorous four-part plan to handle the situation for King Football:

First, by banishing the word “gang-rape” from university press releases. Apparently, it was too strong a term for holding a young woman down after drugging her and then, as the drug took effect, forcing her into sex with four men. All allegedly, of course. Then, suggesting that the milder term “date rape” be used for PR purposes in university press releases. (Never mind that  the college town of Missoula, Montana has earned the nickname “rape capital” of Montana, or that the Justice Department has opened a probe into the 11 rapes of UM students in the past 18 months and possible discrimination in the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of these alleged crimes. Nope, King Football tolerates no dissent nor unpleasantness.)

Second, he complained to the Missoula town mayor and  later demanded an apology for the school from a local police officer who, on his own time,  asked Foley to “stop this spiraling PR mess and take action instead of trying to defend your actions.”  (Take on King Football? Come on, officer!)

Third, Foley sent an email that delayed the release of the UM’s final report on the sexual allegations because he feared it would look bad if they were released on the same day as news that a restraining order had been filed against the UM football team’s quarterback for rape allegations.

Fourth — and most dastardly —  he made a veiled threat against the alleged victim for her temerity in coming forward against the King.  Foley sent an email to Charles Couture, the then Dean of Students,  asking, “Is it not a violation of the student code of conduct for the woman to be publicly talking about the process and providing details about the conclusion?” It’s no coincidence that Foley was hired by UM President, “King” George Dennison.

VP Foley has followed the coach and AD with a change of jobs but he’s only moving offices. He’s now the director of licensing and writing for federal research grants.  King Football wins again! Wow, 3-0  entering this season.

Dodd makes the point that the culture permitting this flaunting of rules has got to end for educational institutions to have any credibility.

This is clearly a nationwide football scandal, a wakeup call that amateur sports must be cleansed by a Hazmat unit. If there were only enough reform-minded persons around willing to act. Among those working on reforms last year at an August NCAA summit were the CEOs of Miami (Donna Shalala), North Carolina (Holden Thorp), Ohio State (Gordon Gee) and … Penn State (Graham Spanier).

All four schools have been hit with recent scandals from the child rape at Penn State to the sleazy donor at Miami to the academic cheating at UNC and to the lying and special benefits at Ohio State.  How’s that for the foxes working on fortifying the henhouse?

The truth is that King Football survives  — like most tyrants —  because good men do nothing to oppose him. Money seems to talk the loudest, the joy of the contest trumps all, and the frenzy of the mob is hard to resist. Some educators have the guts to take on sports royalty and regain control.  Myles Brand took on and dethroned legendary hot-head basketball coach, Bob Knight, at Indiana. President Nancy Zympher would not tolerate hoops master, Bob Huggins at Cincinnati. But it seems the courage runs out right where  the light first peeks above the tunnel opening leading to the 120 yard field where dreams are both lived out and die in spans of 40 seconds.

While a daunting dynamic, some valiant souls have tried to strike at the King. Take the case of president Gordon Gee, who led academic juggernaut, Vanderbilt University,  in the early 2000s after matriculating from Ohio State via Brown University.  Vandy incongruously (and typically unsuccessfully) fields a football team in the football-crazy Southeastern Conference.  However in 2003, Gee grew disgusted by what he saw in big-time college athletics and vowed to end the culture of King Football  at the Tennessee university saying, “There is a wrong culture in athletics and I’m declaring war on it.”

No more jock dorms, no athletic department, no AD, and no full ride scholarships  for those with strong arms but weak intellects. Obituaries for Vanderbilt’s sports teams were written in most every newspaper in the shadows of the Great Smoky Mountains, and alums everywhere were wringing their hands, but something curious happened. The plan seemed to work and by 2007 Vandy enjoyed some unprecedented success.  Vanderbilt turned out PGA Rookie of the Year Brandt Snedeker, Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler, and Bobby Reynolds, then ranked No. 89 in the world in tennis. Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams earned No. 4 seeds in 2007’s NCAA tournaments, and the men knocked off archrival Tennessee — then ranked No. 1 — during the regular season. Football even got to break-even for the first time since 1982. Sports were no longer some money making, detached arm of the university because everyone became responsible for their success. The student body actually became invested in  their fellow athletically inclined members who, now quite atypically, actually lived, studied, and moved among them. Instead of mere gawkers of some huge, muscle-bound mercenaries brought onto the campus for one reason only, the teams actually became Vanderbilt’s teams.  Then, right on the precipice of  a modern revolution in the marriage of academics and sports on college campuses,  Gee left to return to football powerhouse Ohio State in 2007.

What a difference a state or two makes. Here’s Gee commenting on the football scandal he oversaw at Ohio State in 2010

Gordon Gee

where his coach, Jim Tressel, was charged with lying under oath to the NCAA about five  OSU players  receiving improper benefits for selling  jerseys or trading them for tattoos.  When asked if he ever considered firing Tressel for lying and then dressing ineligible players in the Buckeye’s big bowl game, Gee said, ”No, are you kidding? Let me just be very clear. I’m just hopeful the coach doesn’t dismiss me.” Gee later said he was joking after dismayed trustees and the press asked if he was serious, but as he spoke he never cracked a smile. So, the Lancelot of student-athletes everywhere had finally lost his nerve at the sword point of King Football, in of all places, Columbus, Ohio.

Despite the cold wind blowing from State College,  from East to West, North to South, King Football  still triumphantly looks over its vast playing field. That field is littered with the raped, the molested, the roughed-up, and even the specially benefited, but it stands ready for the next contest and the millions of dollars to be made. And, yes, we will show up by the tens of thousands every Saturday in the Fall at venues all around the land to cheer on the King.

But many are realizing now that with  King Football’s  confessor exposed for what he was,  if we don’t stop the King  now, we might not be able to stop him — and all the inevitable harm — later.  Are we at our “Joe Paterno moment” now that we are confronted with a credible report of depravity that we can either accept or ignore?

Off with his head? It won’t be easy.

Source:  Dodd, Dennis, Let Freeh’s damning report ring — King Football needs to answer for sins, and sourced throughout.

~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

35 thoughts on “Down In The Valley IV: King Football”

  1. The righteous mind by Jonathan Haidt

    “When you ask people moral questions, time their responses and scan their brains, their answers and brain activation patterns indicate that they reach conclusions quickly and produce reasons later only to justify what they’ve decided”

    I saw him speak of his book on C-span. One point that intrigued (Wowed) me, was he mentioned “the Sacred” One groups allegiance to a concept
    beyond interpretation, critique, or fact. A concept too ingrained to question, A concept that defines the group and defines identity.

    Your excellent article on King Football reminded me of his talk. This book was on my, sort of go get list, now it has been moved up to my very likely will get list. Patriotism, God, America love it or leave it, Flag right or wrong. He talks of the logic (or emotion) behind these powerful “sacred” objects.
    Football is “Sacred” to a large number of people.

    Thank you Mark E. for your article.

  2. If you come against the king you better not miss! These words are true for every soul who thought they might get justice when wronged by king football.

    As for the charge that football makes money – NO, FOOTBALL DOES NOT MAKE MONEY! I will see if I can find the link but there was a very good study done a couple years back that showed only two colleges (one of the Florida football factories & one other) made more money than the amount of subsidies that went into it. The fact that they ignore that government or institutional largess and pretend to produce a profit just adds to the myth that is king football.

  3. IS this revolution over…..Long Live the King….. Greetings to All on this fine day of Anarchy….. May Bastille Day occur sooner than we think…..

  4. “what do you expect when reason takes a back seat to force?” (jackson)

    Simply stated and simply true!

  5. “Fourth — and most dastardly — he made a veiled threat against the alleged victim for her temerity in coming forward against the King. Foley sent an email to Charles Couture, the then Dean of Students, asking, ‘Is it not a violation of the student code of conduct for the woman to be publicly talking about the process and providing details about the conclusion?’”

    OK, this is where you find the corruption at both its strongest and at its most obvious point of weakness. Look at the points, society-wide, at which a victim is not allowed to complain, and you will find the drawing rooms of the kings, and remember:


    It is in the Juvenile Courts and the public child protection agencies of this country that the people are silenced and the proceedings are confidential “to protect the identity and privacy of the victims.”

    It is becoming illegal to videotape the police so that their conduct cannot be exposed and a judge writes a dissent to a decision making this unconstitutional — in that dissent the idea is promulgated that it is the VICTIMS’ privacy that is at stake when you record the actions of these public servants.

    The various court agencies that are set up to discipline attorneys all have rules that say that complaints made to these boards are “confidential” and conveniently, this is neither defined nor tested — so that the laypersons complaining about the lawyers imagine that they are under some kind of legal compulsion to never speak of the conduct of the lawyers once they have made these weak and meaningless “complaints” to the very organizations that the lawyers have organized to protect them from such incursions against their kingdoms.

    On and on and on — victims are required to be silent so long as the power coefficient between them and their abusers are of great magnitude.

    This is why there are a few big-mouths going around trying to speak about everything. Because you cannot hurt the king.

  6. Mespo:

    Vanderbilt was easy to clean up. It is a very wealthy school. And a great school. The public schools like Ohio State or University of Oklahoma are a different animal altogether. People go to Vanderbilt for academics, same for the public schools but the average student is no where near the same caliber and so sports has more sway at those schools. Maybe part of the problem is too many people who go to college shouldn’t be there.

    King Football will only be decapitated when we pay average pro football players what a family practice physician makes and pay $300k to $500k for superstars. The other way is for people to refuse to attend games until ticket prices are $25-$50 max.

    Society has placed more importance on football than intellect, what do you expect when reason takes a back seat to force?

    I love sports and think football and other sports are or at least were good venues to learn fair play and hard work, success and disappointment. But like everything else in our culture sports has been overtaken by a win at all costs mentality and to hell with integrity and what is right.

  7. ID:

    “What value does the Freeh report have in civil damage litigation?”


    It’s what I call a settlement inducing document.

  8. What value does the Freeh report have in civil damage litigation? Does it all have to be investigated and reoorded as evidende by the Penn. AG office?

  9. Great post, great comments.

    I had heard rumblings of this here and there, but this post convincingly indicates that there is a failure of leadership in collegiate “sports”.

  10. AY:

    “Doing the right thing one alumni dollar at a time”



  11. This is a cultural and monetary thing.
    Slaughtering a few scapegoats won’t help. The lead goat and the herd will still laugh at you.

    You tell me but this is a lot of money, a change in
    how we view life, our hopes for “if only”, and the dreams which this activity provides instead of our culture’s other rewards being sufficient.

    Do laws change a culture? Does a Presidential commission? Does EPA keep our environment clean? Do doctores run in-office pharmacies with 10X jacked up prices? Is this whole nation over a barrel, to borrow GeheH’s term.

    MikeS said the small arena system with states gave corruption a better chance of winning. But now I am glad that it prevnts one battle in one arena from deciding the war—at least on some fronts. Or does it? For you who have influence to decide.

  12. I have in a previous thread on the Penn State scandal come out fully against all professional sport, and in that includded those “amateur” forms which feed the professional sports. And this as one who did not know how supremed they reign. Tnanks for the view of another example how the dollar rules our country.

    We all know the history, from man’s competition for food, to sports as an amusing fill-in for that activity, to the realization that it produces a sounder mind (nodernly confirmed: children who exercise one hour a day do better academically), and so on and on until we reach this modern replica of Roman games, circuses and paid for by TV etc,, and a necessary source of funds for academic nessities.

    I gave then the example of the international sport of orientering/orienting, where it is often a family sport on a strictly amateur basis, cheerint parents but no bashing fathers, and mothers and fathers who run also. What about those who don’t dig running through forests with a map and a compass in their hands? Here they play hockey and football with the professional sports in the TV eye and their future hopes. And that moneyed prospect does corrupt here.

    But the schools and universities are clean. They are insititutions for learning, and fully funded to perform that function. How well thay do in curing cancer may others decide. But aa American billionaire pair donated USD 500,000,000- last year to fund a new institute for complementary medicine at Karolinska Institute, so some reknown is there to be found.

    Is it all ideal here. Nope.

    The point I make is that money corrupts most things.
    And the likelihood that it won’t resist win in the areman of sports, as it has so far, is little.

    And if Gee could not stay straight, then it’s obviously a serious battle ahead.
    Ethics and laws observance versus gang rape and enabling child molester coaches. What does the money favor now?

    Tough job ahead.

  13. The moment the witness decided to tell someone in authority what he had seen in the shower room, the pendulum of State College Pennsylvania’s Football Program started its return to equilibrium.

    I am afraid that for many of these other King Football institutions the self-decapitating culture has already started its cycle. For those who are strapped to the table, the ax head has replaced the bob and the pendulum is following its gravitational pull … decapitation is inevitable.

    And then there is the “payola crisis” …

  14. Compete with China in Math and Science. I will capitalize Math and Science. There is an analogy here to Rome, the Fall of Rome, and its bread and circus. For taxpayers to put a nickel into college sports is ludicrous. Oh the State Penn guys will tell you that its a money maker. Put some forensic accountants onto the whole schmiel and it is a drain on the taxpayer big time. And for what purpose? Fun and games in beating Ohio State in football. Dumb.

  15. Mark,

    Thank you for this important story and for your moral outrage that comes shining through it. The hypocrisy that runs through football at all levels is unbridled and runs in tandem with its reportage done in stentorian tones. This week I heard Harry Carlson, famed NY Giant former linebacker state that he wouldn’t allow his grandson play football on any level because the sport had become too dangerous. Yes we do give the football players on all levels far too much adulation. They are, however, also victims who are used and discarded at the whims of the King. It is a bad business and a disgrace to academia, but it does keep us distracted as did the Roman Circuses.

  16. Given the choice between money and doing the right thing, money trumps every time. That applies to education, sports, business and government.

  17. Mark,

    As much as I agree with you that something needs to be done about college athletics and the culture of privilege that surrounds athletes in general, in the end universities are tied over a barrel by the money such programs bring in. It is unfortunate. It is wrong. Is there an easy fix? I doubt it.

    Oh yeah. I guess we could quit fighting wars for the personal profits of oil companies, the petroleum support industry and doing the dirty work for the theocratic expansionist plans for regional Mid-Eastern domination of the House of Saud (those “allies” who provided most of the manpower and all of the money behind 9/11) and instead spend that money on infrastructure like our schools so they wouldn’t have to pimp out to the NCAA’s TV money just to be able to afford basics like facilities maintenance/upgrades and lab equipment. Who knows? Maybe an American school could be famous for educating the guy or gal who cures cancer or perfects cold fusion instead of someone who is a 1st round draft pick who can run a wicked fast four-forty.

    But that would be far too practical.

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