Cheating pervasive in college athletics

When I first heard the news about potential recruiting violations at Oregon, I immediately thought of the movie Blue Chips, which I had just caught a few days earlier on HBO.

For the uninitiated, Blue Chips is a story about blatant violations in college recruiting.

Basketball coach Pete Bell (played by a basketball-kicking, Bob-Knight-impersonating Nick Nolte) had built a winning program by following the rules, but sees his success falter when he can’t seem to land top recruits anymore.

Big-time players are heading to the schools that are providing them with cars and cash in exchange for their letter of intent. Bell eventually abandons his morals and gets into the dirty recruiting game in the name of winning.

When I heard Oregon had paid scout Will Lyles $25,000 for recruiting services, I wasn’t even surprised.

Whether within the rules or not, the Oregon situation is a stark reminder that the mechanism of college recruiting is corrupt at multiple levels.

Like in Blue Chips, current big-time college sports are infested with a culture of cheating.

It’s seen as the only way to the top.

This past season saw the Cam Newton saga, the North Carolina suspensions, the Terrelle Pryor incident and now the possible shady actions in Eugene, Ore. (Note: Oregon still has a chance to prove its innocence, but the Ducks are sure smelling like another water-dwelling creature right now.)

Top-performing programs seemingly have to break the rules to retain their status.

Many basketball and football programs that have won a national championship in the last decade have either committed violations at some point (USC is the gold standard here) or have prompted whispers about violations.

Because it’s assumed that everybody is doing it, it’s no longer a shock when we hear about the next incident or the next school being investigated by the NCAA.

The worst thing is that this culture of cheating has become so accepted in the last 20 years.

Sure, the NCAA will drop the sanctions hammer every so often, but it must lack either the capacity or the will to legitimately regulate college recruiting. (I’m betting the latter.)

I’m not saying every coach is dirty or kids don’t have legitimate reasons for taking benefits, especially when schools are getting filthy rich off their athletic skills and images.

I’m not offering a solution to the problem because I don’t have one.

But the root of the problem is in the culture, where cheating has been allowed to seep into and adulterate what was once a pure game.

Texas coach Mack Brown offered interesting insight into this topic during a press conference in 2008.

“You’re always going to have violations by schools … because some coaches are going to cheat,” Brown said. “That’s the way they’ve made their living. You’re always going to have some families that buy into that and you’re always going to have a certain level of families that look you right in the face and lie to you.”

Brown said he asked Penn State coach Joe Paterno what to do with recruits that were seeking extra incentive. JoePa’s solution?

“Stay away from them.”

As we’ve seen over and over again, easier said than done.

I used to be a sports purist.

As a young kid, I always preferred college sports because there were no contract disputes and it wasn’t constantly referred to as a “business.”

Young men and women were playing for their schools, for pride and that’s all — or so I thought. Turns out at the highest levels, college athletics is as much a business as the pro game is, and a dirtier one at that.

The best line in Blue Chips is delivered when Bell finds out one of his favorite players, Tony, shaved points in a game the previous season.

Bell comes face-to-face with Tony and hollers, “You took the only pure thing in your life, and you corrupted it, for what? For what?”

Since Bell had also cheated by this point in the movie, he is asking himself the question as much as he is asking Tony. For what?

For the money. For the Ws. For the glory.

Not for the game.

“Middle Ground” runs Tuesdays. To comment on this article, visit or e-mail Josh at

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