Saturday, September 14, 2013
There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.
- James Orchard Halliwell
By now you’ve probably heard about the Sports Illustrated report on the Oklahoma State football program. SI spoke with various sources including former players. Going back to the early 2000’s and as recently as 2011, OSU players were allegedly recruited and rewarded with cash, passing grades, drugs and sex. Perhaps not coincidentally, during this time OSU has had more talented players and their football program has risen from mediocre to exceptional.
I used to live in Oklahoma and would always root for OSU vs. OU. They were the underdog, not unlike my Texas Tech Red Raiders relative to the University of Texas. People in Oklahoma and Texas are passionate about sports, especially football. And when it comes to high school and college football, the passion can become an obsessive-compulsive disorder. The same can be said for other regions of the country. Having lived in the Southeast, I can confirm that they are the most passionate about college football. With all due respect to OU-Texas, Michigan-Ohio State and countless other intra or inter state rivalries; nothing comes close to Alabama-Auburn. Even Clemson-South Carolina, Georgia-Florida and any LSU game are crazier than anything you’ll see outside of the South.
But make no mistake, Oklahomans take their football seriously. Seriously enough to welcome Texas players by the dozens into their schools. Oklahoma high schools produce some great talent. Just not enough to fill OU and OSU rosters. Going back to the 1940’s OU made the commitment to build a national championship caliber football program. They were successful and ultimately were inspired to build a university that the football program could be proud of. And OU is now a great university. Likewise, OSU is a great university. But they have always been behind OU when it came to football. While their overall sports programs outshined OU, football is all that really matters in Oklahoma. OU was the bully and OSU the bullied.
Eventually, if they are determined to keep showing up, those who are bullied fight back. In the world of big-time college football how can a perennial underdog fight back? Hiring a good coach is a step in the right direction. Having a rich donor like Boone Pickens is even better. But coaches and facilities don’t win games. Players do. And if you are an OSU, or a Texas Tech, or a Baylor, or a Vanderbilt; how do you compete for talent up against traditional powerhouse programs? At some point, you start taking too many kids who can’t do even the most basic college course work. You take kids who want to be paid for their services. You take kids who like to party, a lot. All programs, including the so-called powerhouse programs have some of these kids. Unfortunately, for some programs, and OSU may be one of those, you can end up with too many of “those kids”.
Most individuals or groups that are in a competitive situation will tend to migrate toward actions and behaviors that get results even when those actions and behaviors are against the rules or are just plain unethical. Some years back we saw it in sports with steroids. Nobody really liked the idea of using steroids, but when you are competing against people who are using them and gaining advantage, you use them. Schools and coaches would prefer to have players who are capable of doing college level course work, but when the competition is taking the best athletes available including those who can’t read, you use them too. Great player who likes to party? We need more great players. So we’ll party? One does what one has to do.
And it goes on everywhere. From corporations competing for profits to local churches competing for members. From beauty pageants to how we drive on the highway. From resumes to “value proposition” sales spins. Most of us do what we have to do as long as it works and we don’t get caught. We tend to grade ourselves on the curve of “this is what we have to do in order to compete” and integrity as an absolute value is replaced by something we call winning.