Jewish World Review Jan. 7, 2004/13 Teves, 5764
Learning to sweat the important stuff
We've finally got Saddam Hussein in
a cage and the war is going a little
better; the economy is swiftly gaining
altitude and Britney Spears caught a
man (and threw him back).
Now the nation can get down to
serious business: We still don't have an
undisputed champion of what used to
be called, accurately, college football. If
George W. can't do something about it
soon we'll have to call in Karl Rove, or
at least Kofi Annan.
The manly professionals employed
by Louisiana State whipped the
employees of Oklahoma University in
the Sugar Bowl on Sunday night, three
days after the doughty workmen of
Southern California defeated the hired
hands of Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
This threw the complicated formula for
determining a national collegiate football
champion into chaos and confusion.
Woe is us. All is woe.
You might wonder what difference all
this makes, on a weekend when a
considerable segment of the
international air-travel industry was
thrown into chaos and confusion by
Islamist terrorists, the Iranians were
trying to determine whether 20,000 or
30,000 of their countrymen were buried
under the rubble of a mighty
earthquake, the nation's ranchers were
trying to figure out whether any more
of their cows were mad, irritable,
irascible or just pouting, and the
Democrats are still trying to figure out
what, if anything, they can do about
But if you wonder about whether
any of that stuff is important you
aren't paying attention to the news.
Some of the talking heads of television
have been talking about little else,
trying to guess which one of the
articles in the Bill of Rights guarantees
football fans, many of whom have
never set foot on a campus and
imagine that the student union is a
junior affiliate of the AFL-CIO, the right
to a certified champion.
Nothing better illustrates out-of-control sports lunacy than
the spectacle over whether there were enough millions in
Nebraska to lure a moderately successful coach to abandon
the Arkansas Razorbacks for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The
bidding stopped at $2.5 million a year, which is approximately
10 times what the University of Nebraska pays the university
president. That's when Houston Nutt, the hotly pursued
coach of the Razorbacks, called a halt and decided he couldn't
leave Arkansas at any price and settled for a raise to $1.5
million. (This did not surprise his friends. A lot of people try
to leave Arkansas, as novelist Charles Portis, author of "True
Grit," observed, but few succeed: "They can't achieve escape
This humiliated the folks gamely husking corn out on the
prairie, since Nebraska is one of the powerhouses of college
football, spends $52 million annually on fun and games and
regularly plays for the national championship in Sugar Bowls
and Orange Bowls, and Mr. Nutt is a nice man who is a terrific
recruiter and regularly takes his teams to Music City Bowls
and Independence Bowls. His athletes have distinguished
themselves more in the courts than on the courts. But he's
popular with his players, who have to get caught dealing
drugs and guns from a dorm room, as one of them did, to
get dismissed from the team. Fighting, drunk driving and
cutting class barely rate demerits.
And it's not just at Nebraska and Arkansas. The colleges
and universities have transformed themselves into minor
leagues for the professionals, and the colleges no longer try
very hard to keep up a pretense of "student athlete." Many
players don't stay around long enough to learn the words of
the alma mater and jump toward the NFL as soon as they
learn to write their names and count money.
LSU and Oklahoma, which played for the "official" version of
the national championship, expect to graduate barely 40
percent and 33 percent of their athletes. A national
commission has recommended that schools be barred from
bowl games unless they regularly graduate at least half their
players; under such a rule 26 of the 28 bowl games would
have been canceled this year because none of the invited
teams would have qualified.
The best teams, Marcos Breton of the Sacramento Bee
observed the other day, generally have the dumbest players,
and the worst teams have the smartest. West Point, whose
cadets are cut no slack from serious academics, regularly
contended for the national championship a generation ago,
and won it twice. Army went 0-13 this year. But let's sweat, if
sweat we must, the important stuff, like whether LSU or
Southern Cal is the best in the land.
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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.
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