Readers who have been with The Texas Pilgrim for awhile know that I have shared a love/hate relationship with college athletics in several essays, primarily surrounding the issues raised by the reports of the Knight Commission on intercollegiate athletics. I have been a huge fan of college sports and close follower and supporter of The University of Texas for most of my life and no one wants success for my alma mater more than I. That’s the “love” part. The “hate” part that is so well described by the Knight Commission in its reports has to do with the corrupting elements–the out-of-control commercialization, the undermining of the academic mission, the myth of the “student-athlete”, and related problems, mainly involving football.
Now we have the Penn State/Sandusky child abuse case, and in my mind nothing in the Knight reports remotely touches the deep-seated corruption here. Some say it is about the money. Wish it were so, it would be easier to fix, and maybe it is a factor. But this is primarily about the breakdown of authority and the corruption of moral judgment by a system that favors procedure over substance. Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn said it well: “You can’t write prudence and judgment into a code…..When a code tries to cover every possibility, it ends up shifting power from the college president and trustees to the compliance officers.” Simply put, the “cops” in the form of the NCAA are incapable of dealing with this kind of breakdown.
Many say that competitive sports build character. I have always disagreed with that. Sports don’t build character, they reflect it. Similarly, many say that colleges and college athletics reflect the nature of the society and the culture. That may be so, but it shouldn’t be; they should be better than that, they should rise above it with much higher standards.
Legacy? Penn State will never be the same, or let’s hope so. Same for college athletics across the board. We’ll see.