Is Winning Worth Violations?
The following is purely hypothetical.
Say Urban Meyer has a puzzling change of heart and wants to leave Ohio State. He then calls up UF’s athletic director, Jeremy Foley, and says, “I want to come back.” The story breaks on a national, monolithic sports website like Football.com. Do the fans want Meyer back? Probably not.
Fans say they care about loyalty, culture and rooting for the good guys. Currently, those look like three strikes against Meyer. He left Florida to be with his family, then immediately took a job at ESPN, and went to Ohio State from there. Puddles of ink have spilled about the culture problem in the locker room of Meyer’s Gators, leaving fans feeling dirty for rooting for some of those players. With many of these issues sticking to Meyer, he doesn’t look like the good guy that mentored Tim Tebow in Gainesville. Fans would say they don’t want any part of that.
This is all talk. All fans really care about is winning. Ask any fan base in the country if they would take Meyer’s success with the baggage. Ask them if they would take the character problems in the locker room, the numerous arrests, and graduates infamous for alleged murders. Then throw in two national championships, a Heisman Trophy, three SEC championship appearances, and loads of first round picks. Every fan would take it.
Winning excuses everything. It has always been like that. There is an easy trade made in college football. If you want quick success, you have to take some risks. There will be rumors of recruiting violations, secret payments, covered-up arrests, and failed drug tests, but you will win football games. That’s how Miami built a dynasty and SMU claimed relevance in the ‘80s. These questions were around Pasadena when Pete Carroll created an NFL program at USC in the early 2000s. These risks transformed Oregon from a laughingstock with quirky uniforms into a powerhouse this decade.
This is not to say that all winning programs are breaking the rules. There probably are countless successful programs that are trying to win in an honest way. But cheating seems to be more prevalent than the NCAA wants to let on. So it must be doubly hard for these honest programs to make it in a big way.
All that to say, Gators fans would still say no. They would turn Meyer away, but only because the current coach is winning. If the wheels fell off of Will Muschamp’s team, and they dipped below .500, fans would drive up to Columbus and beg Meyer to return.
If schools really want to clean up the image of college football, and change the perception that cheating works, then a big-time program should fire its coach for violations, while that coach is still winning at that school. That won’t happen. Winning means too much to these schools. There are too many rewards to give up for posterity’s sake. So coaches will keep breaking rules, and when the hammer comes down, they will flee to the NFL.
Baker in Oregon
Is winning worth violations? Of course it is. In this era of massive money potentially flowing into athletic departments via winng programs, and particularly programs with BCS title aspirations, the risk of bending the rule book to benefit you is well worth it. Coaches are free to avoid the potential penalties by moving onto other jobs with virtual impunity while the kids are made to suffer through probation and other punitive measures. Playing with the big boys goes well beyond what happens on the field. Money has made that risk well worth it.