New school is old school: Not much has changed on the NCAA gridiron

Writing ‘‘The College Football Problem’’ conjured up many of those ghosts from the past that are still present.

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Rick Telander’s book “The College Football Problem”

Rick Telander’s book “The College Football Problem”


I wrote a book in 1989 that was re-released last week by Skyhorse Publishing.

Previously, the book was called ‘‘The Hundred Yard Lie: The Corruption of College Football and What We Can Do to Stop It.’’

I added parts, updated things, wrote new prefaces to each chapter and asked Rick Reilly to write the main introduction, which he kindly did. Now the book is titled ‘‘The College Football Problem: How Money and Power Corrupted the Game and How We Can Fix That.’’

Basically, it’s a new book, so it had to have a new name. But a bunch of it is the same.

And this is where it gets interesting.

I watched a lot of college games on TV Saturday, and I’ll be darned if things from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s — stuff that sparked my compulsion to write ‘‘The Hundred Yard Lie’’ in the first place — didn’t rise and grab me by the throat like ghosts from a coffin.

That book documented the hypocrisy of a violent, money-laden sport that pays only the bosses and surrounding capitalists while the workers get nothing. Amateurs, they call those workers, players who are old enough to vote and go to war. Here’s your scholarship. All you get. Now, play ball!

Funny, but in the new book I describe my late-1990s interview with apologetic, finally retired longtime NCAA director Walter Byers, who admitted that most things about the NCAA and big-time football have their sad parallel in the ‘‘plantation mentality.’’

Wow. Even I, in the midst of my rebellious outrage, didn’t have the stones to conjure the slavery comparison. But the man who wrote the blueprint did. So be it.

What I saw Saturday, though, was such a kick back to the old days that everything from my original research came flooding back.

Here were games being played in the midst of a pandemic that had shut down so many normal activities nationwide that simply going to class on college campuses was banned at many schools.

But onward college football! Onward money!

The Power Five conferences that backed down before the season for safety reasons have all started again, even as players and staff get sick with COVID-19 and are forced to quarantine.

There was No. 1-ranked Clemson playing Boston College without star quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who contracted the coronavirus and must sit out three weeks. Bye-bye, Lawrence showdown with Notre Dame!

Illinois is missing starting quarterback Brandon Peters, out with COVID-19, along with 13 other members of the program.

Wisconsin is without its top two quarterbacks because of the virus, along with 20 other cases in the program, and had to cancel its games against Nebraska and Purdue.

Maybe COVID-19 generally doesn’t hurt young people as much as older, less-healthy people, but is that any reason to play on through the mess? While the entire world tries to get a handle on this runaway virus? Nor do we know the long-term effects.

There was Northwestern beating Iowa 21-20 in a terrific comeback from 17 points down. Yay, Cats!

But what I kept seeing on the sidelines were the two longest-tenured coaches in the Big Ten, Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and NU’s Pat Fitzgerald, who make over $10 million between them, pretty much equally divided, though there has been a slight bit of ‘‘pandemic reduction’’ in their pay. Sure, they handled themselves well. But so did their unpaid workers. For $10 million less.

Then there was the Missouri-Florida game in which Gators coach Dan Mullen ($6.1 million) went ballistic at the end of the first half, sparking an ugly midfield brawl between both teams. He thought it was kind of funny, showing up for the postgame interview in a Darth Vader costume.

Yes, it was Halloween, but less certain Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz ($4 million) said, ‘‘It’s kind of an ugly scene for college football, and I’m not proud of it.’’

One of the chapters in my book, titled ‘‘Your Coach Is the Greatest Teacher You’ll Ever Have,’’ recounts big-time coach failings from Pop Warner (devious) to Frank Kush (brutal) to Barry Switzer (criminal element) to Dennis Erickson (lying) to Joe Paterno (pedophile on staff). I suppose Mullen might be knocking on that door.

The failings don’t really happen with X’s and O’s. It’s the moral failings that linger. Coaches will justify their huge salaries by saying they’re ‘‘teaching young men to become men.’’

Like Nick Saban and his halftime Aflac insurance ad. Yessir.

An old book seems new as hell.

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