King Kaufman's Sports Daily

The "Enronic" nature of sex- and booze-soaked college sports programs. Plus: ESPN's "Dream Job" and Stuart Scott -- boo-yah or bum-rush? The readers write.

By Salon Staff
Published February 26, 2004 1:00AM (UTC)
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Last week's column about University of Colorado football coach Gary Barnett and the mushroom cloud of recruiting scandals and rape allegations around his program generated a lot of mail from readers. So did Monday's review of ESPN's new reality show, "Dream Job."

As Phil Donahue used to say, "I've got wisdom out here," so let's get to it. I like to stay out of the way when I'm letting you talk, but I'll jump in and reply where appropriate.


Patrick Files: I had a buddy who was an all-American swimmer at the University of Tennessee in the early '90s. I didn't know that swimming programs recruit high school kids, but he said that he was a hot item as a high school senior, setting some records in Ohio. Anyway, I'll never forget what he told me about his visits to the Division I schools that recruited him: "On every single visit, they (the school's swim team) got me drunk or laid or both."

And that was for swimming! Imagine the smorgasbord of booze and babes that teams lay out for football and basketball recruits! Of course, this behind-the-scenes recruiting can go on completely without the knowledge of the athletic department, wink wink. I wonder why big-time college sports doesn't sink under its huge burden of hypocrisy.

Rob Carlson: Let's ban athletic scholarships entirely from universities. Spare me the sob stories about how otherwise kids can't go to college. Maybe we'd offer a few more academic scholarships. College sports is a money-making machine that helps generate funds for -- you guessed it -- college sports. If the whole house of cards falls down, maybe it would shake up the pro sports world too. I say this as a sports fan, but I don't care anymore.


Doc Hall: I'm not surprised by any tale from any big-time collegiate sports program. Rabid supporters throw money at anything that promises to give them a shot at a day or two of supposed athletic glory. It's a race to the bottom, like Enron. You can describe the behavior as Enronic; rhymes with moronic, but not the same. Enronic is win-at-all-costs hubris run amok.

Were it only money, the stories would not be so sordid. To be Enronic is to be so obsessed that nothing else matters. Enronic yahoos attempt to bully into submission anyone perceived to impede their cause in any way, however trivial. Although universities have tried to ignore this because they are addicted to the money, the time of reckoning is at hand. It won't turn around until some big-name universities drop out of Division I competition in major sports, or perhaps drop sports altogether. And their administrations would have to adopt an anti-terrorist security system for a long time afterward. Enronic mobsters have a mafia mentality.

Robert Green: I love ESPN's "look what we've found under this rock!" tone, as if they haven't helped promulgate this since day one with their coverage. Me, I don't watch college sports. I hope you don't either.


Chris Railey: I've spent a good deal of time on a sports forum of my old school [the University of South Carolina] to keep up with fellow alums and hear news, and I can tell you that nobody there is the least bit shocked, or even mildly surprised, by the Colorado allegations. At this point, it's just assumed that sex, booze and who knows what else are fundamentals of big-time recruiting. It's a running joke on this board that there's no reason a state with as many good looking women as South Carolina can't get a Top 5 recruiting class.

Jack Gormley: For purposes of full disclosure I consider myself a fan of C.U. athletics (I live in Denver) but I attended college in Baltimore. As a former student-athlete I know firsthand what goes on at recruiting parties and, no, none of this surprises me. What is starting to trouble me, however, is the developing "feeding frenzy" surrounding this program. At first glance Katie Hnida [the former Colorado placekicker who has said she was raped by a teammate], by coming forward, has performed a brave and selfless act, but it seems Hnida, by not naming names, by being purposefully vague, has been allowed to accuse the program at large, and that's not right either.


Now do not get me wrong: Rape is a vile crime and should be prosecuted ruthlessly (as well as the false accusation of rape, when applicable), but I think a closer look at her motives is warranted. What else besides her stated motivations does she gain by this? Two things immediately come to mind: 1) Revenge. She received a lot of press coverage here and then failed, very publicly and, by all accounts, bitterly. It was probably the first time she had failed at anything. 2) She is probably guaranteed to remain the only female to score a point in Division I for a long, long time. What coach would even consider allowing a female to participate on his team? Every little girl with dreams of playing with the boys had better reassess, because that dream is over. And that is a shame.

Paul Thompson: I am a statistician in a Division of Biostatistics. I make OK money (high 5 figures). However, I clearly missed my calling. I didn't become a football or basketball coach. Do you know what some of these jerks make? $750,000 is a very common base. Then you add the shoe contract, and gawd knows what else. Then these clowns can't even keep the trash they recruit from raping coeds.

What we need is more colleges following the lead of Gordon Gee at Vanderbilt, and putting the brakes on these insane salaries. And no, the market does not have to drive the system. They are not in a free market, they are college coaches. This year, the University of Illinois at C-U, my alma mater, had two Nobel prize winners. I would just bet that the two of them together are paid less than [football coach] Ron Turner, who went 1-11 this year. This is a big issue. The salaries should be reined in. If they want the big bucks, let them coach in the pros. College salaries should be tied to the salaries of other faculty.


Edward Tarkington: It seems a coach's best survival strategy these days is to "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil," and if Barnett had followed all three of these rules instead of just the first two, he'd have a better chance of lasting as the Buffs' coach -- many highly respected coaches such as Bobby Bowden and Tom Osborne survived similar debacles by playing dumb and watching their words more carefully. My guess is that Barnett -- like most coaches -- keeps himself in the dark because he knows his players will behave the same way whether he tries to police them or not, so he's better off letting them run wild and hoping they don't get caught.

Lavelle Porter: Speaking as a former college football player, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a recruit who didn't go to a strip club, or have "escorts" on his recruiting visit (here I'm speaking of the big-revenue men's sports, basketball and football). More to the point, the festivities are often provided with the blessing and funding of the athletic department. I mean, look no further than the movies: There's a reason why the sordid recruiting visit is a cliché in popular sports films like "Blue Chips," "He Got Game" and "The Program."

Tom Lewis: I went to an all-boy Jesuit prep school (on work-study I might add) that was known for its football at least as much for its academics. Sex and alcohol were used to recruit kids and keep them there, and this was in high school in the '80s. One of the football players from my graduating class was recruited to UCLA and he was given a "job" at the highest pay rate available for U.C. students. His job was to keep snow off of the administration building's steps. Every month he got a check for 100 hours of performing that work. The story that you are addressing goes back to high school, much like the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing pharmaceuticals.


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"Dream Job" letters [PERMALINK]

Shane Spencer: Finally, somebody I trust stands up and calls ESPN out. I am glad it was not just me. I cannot stand what "SportsCenter" has become. I really, really cannot stand Stuart Scott. Does he even care about sports? There are very few at ESPN that care about sports and that is very depressing. I work at home and would love to tune into "SportsCenter" if I would not get pelted with annoying anecdotes, stupid sayings or idiotic clichés. You have to be a master of ESPN'ese to weed out the actual highlight.


I would also like to be fair and say two things about ESPN and Fox Sports. ESPN still has some great shows (the 15th rerun of "The World Series of Poker" is not one of them), and they show them at odd times. One show comes to mind, and that is "Outside the Lines."

King replies: I agree that "Outside the Lines Nightly," which bounces around the late-night schedule between ESPN and ESPN2, is a consistently excellent show, and it can be hard to find. ESPN should make an effort to anchor it to a more regular time slot. It's fine that it's on late, when, like "Nightline," it can respond to the news of the day. And it's fine for it to be preempted or delayed for live coverage of West Coast games. But most of the time it's bobbing around the schedule to accommodate multiple repeats of "SportsCenter" or easily movable shows like "NBA Gamenight."

Peter Smith: Can't believe you're ripping on Stuart Scott like that. He's my second favorite broadcaster, right after Chris Berman. If you want to talk about annoying, talk about Dan "Somebody Please Give Me a Butterknife So I Can Slit My Wrists and Die a Less Painful Death" Patrick. Listening and/or watching that dude is painful. He's got nothing better to do than crucify black athletes when they screw up. And more annoying than Scott could ever aspire to be are all the white guys on ESPN and other sports shows for years now who try to copy him. Nothing more embarrassing, annoying and pathetic than listening to some dude try to rip off some "street talk" and sound like Vanilla Ice instead of Eminem.

I'm a big hip-hop fan, so I completely identify with Scott. When he talks, I want to listen, and I understand exactly what he's saying. He's a big part of ESPN's ascent, and believe me, ESPN is paying attention -- because the hip-hop community, black and white, is paying attention. Berman works because he's got real talent. The other white guys are just trying to hang on while Scott continues to pay their rent. Stuart Scott: Cool as the other side of the pillow. Don't hate.


King replies: If you think I ripped on Scott, you should read me on Berman. Here's one example, from the 2003 baseball playoffs: "It's high praise indeed coming from me when I say that Berman was only insufferable Tuesday, as opposed to shoot-the-TV insufferable."

Stephen Gilbert: I think the question of whether any "untrained bozo" can be as bad as Stuart Scott depends on your definition of bozo. Scott has something special. Whatever it is makes me lunge for the remote.

Gabriel Bereny: Full disclosure: I am a sometime DJ at KZSU, Stanford. You implied that any given "Dream Job" contestant was an "untrained bozo" but seemed to rule out the possibility that one of them might rise higher. At least one of the contestants is not untrained. Aaron Levine has been a sportscaster at KZSU for several years, doing play-by-play on a regular basis, and he also wrote for the Stanford Daily. And he's been part of the roundtable sports talk show on KZSU. OK, so all that is no guarantee of non-bozo-dom but at least he's not untrained.

King replies: If I'd known Stanford kids were reading that column I'd have typed it slower. OK, full disclosure of my own: I wrote that thing about typing slower in an e-mail to Bereny, who wrote back to say that my Cardinal-baiting was misplaced because he's not a "Stanford kid" but a 41-year-old non-student, one of many the radio station welcomes as volunteers. Shoot. I'm keeping the anti-Stanford joke all the same.


Anyway: I didn't write that none of the contestants had any training or even that none of them had no prospects for success. I wrote that ESPN was saying, "Any untrained bozo can do this job." That doesn't necessarily mean that only untrained bozos need apply, but it's certainly encouraging for the untrained bozos of the world. And, uh, go Bears.

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