TRANSLATING SPORTS: College Football Casting Couch Edition
SMASH, THE NEWSROOM, Oklahoma State, Alabama, Tennessee, Brent Musburger, Kirk Herbstreit, Eminem, Keith Olbermann, OLBERMANN, Sochi Olympics, Harvey Fierstein, Jimmy Fallon, Justin Timberlake, LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON
College Football is a competitive enterprise, despite the NCAA's insistence that it is just an amateur activity (which we touched upon in our College Football Edition). Recruiting is often called "the lifeblood of college sports;" and the business of predicting which school 16-18 year old boys will choose, has become almost as big as the games themselves; just type "College Football Recruiting" into Google and see how many different websites you get.
So, it should come as no surprise that certain individuals, with a vested interest in the situation, might be willing to do things beyond the boundaries of taste and legality to get what they want; this is, effectively, the College Football version of the Casting Couch. This week we were hit with not one, but two stories about athletic departments abusing the couch, so to speak, and if you don't want to sound completely out of the loop when your sports-fan friends are discussing them, you Need to Know the basics.
While in entertainment the casting couch often involves various, lascivious acts done in exchange for an actor getting a role, in college sports, it often involves gifts, in the form of money, meals, and cars (all illegal per the NCAA), in exchange for a high school kid picking a specific school to spend the next four-ish years. The two acts, while looking to achieve similar outcomes, generally don't have overlapping modus operandi; or do they?
On Monday, Sports Illustrated (SI) released an overview of a five-part article, which they have release in parts all week, which alleges that the typical sports "Casting Couch" model, might have merged with the entertainment version at Oklahoma State University from 2001-2011. In addition to the legendary "$500 Handshakes" given to recruits and "student"-athletes, the fourth article claims that a small group, inside the recruitment hostess organization, performed sexual acts with recruits in order to lure them to the school. While these types of organizations have been around since the 60's, and the vast majority of those involved do not engage in such acts, in 2004, the NCAA made it illegal to use "alcohol, drugs, sex and gambling in recruiting." The accussations in the story include a former assistant coach threatening a player who was hosting a recruit, because he "didn't get [the recruit] laid."
In addition to the payments and hostess allegations, citing independent interviews with 64 former OK State players, SI is also alleging that there was rampant academic fraud and drug use in the program. That being said, after the first two parts of the article were released, various media outlets, most prominently ESPN, began fact-checking the stories in the articles; and if this season of THE NEWSROOM has taught us anything, it is that Sloan and Don need to get together, and you always have to check your sources. So far, ESPN has uncovered a number of inconsistencies that call into question the validity of the entire Sports Illustrated piece.
Whether or not any, some, or all of the allegations in the SI stories turn out to be true, they aren't going away (and neither is the discussion of proper journalistic practices).
If You Ain't Cheatin', You Ain't Tryin'
Two days after SI's OK State story came to light, Yahoo! Sports released a similar story, but instead focused on the improprieties of five football players from three South Eastern Conference (SEC) schools; Alabama, Tennessee, and Mississippi State.The SEC, the most prominent and successful college football conference in recent memory, has long been the butt of jokes that assumed that skirting NCAA rules was accepted, "because it happens everywhere." The Yahoo! Sports article, which used like actual proof and stuff, has bank statements, Western Union stubs, and other receipts to confirm that payments took place.