One of the Liars sent me this link under the subject line “meanwhile on the Tour de Cheats,” prompting me to post something I have been meaning to get to for weeks: the vile, corrupt, dishonest, and disgusting nature of the NCAA and whether the ugly taint of the NCAA should touch fans watching March Madness or college football.
But first, the Tour. Yes, it sucks that Contador joins the long list of cycling doping idiots* (but some praise to Andy Schleck for saying the right thing when told he now gets first place honors: “There is no reason to be happy now. First of all I feel sad for Alberto. I always believed in his innocence. I battled with Contador in that race and I lost.”). And it takes a certain kind of renewed faith and willful innocence to watch the Tour every year, hopeful this is the year the race is completely clean. Baseball certainly required a similar renewed faith and willful innocence after the Sosa-McQwire-Bonds era and the Majors and the fans are better for it. Maybe, hopefully, insha’allah, this is the year cycling completes its Otto-like cleanse…because it is a tremendous thing to watch. The athleticism, the gorgeousness of France, the strategy…all of it is hard to resist, every single year.
As for the NCAA, if you’ve missed the recent campaign by Joe Nocera of the NYTimes, its worth the 20-30 minutes to read through this, this, this, and this. The short version: the NCAA operates in a way completely antithetical to the core values of this country. No due process, guilty until proven innocent, no restoration for wrongs committed by the authorities, and no limit to the authorities’ reach and power. The NCAA is a perfect example of power and money corrupting absolutely. And every time I put on college hoops now, I feel compelled to seek forgiveness.
To take just one example, consider this from one of the Nocera columns linked above: Let’s put aside the question of why college athletes usually have to sit out a year when they transfer, even though coaches can switch schools at the drop of a hat. That’s a column for another day. Let’s focus instead on O’Brien’s plight. How can a student who has graduated from one institution be prevented from participating in an extracurricular activity at a different school? How can a miffed coach’s pique control the activities of a student who doesn’t even play for him anymore? Can a music teacher who is angry at a violin student prevent him from playing in another school’s orchestra? The very idea is absurd. Why is it any less absurd when the student is an athlete? Why is it any less wrong? Yet that is precisely what the N.C.A.A.’s rules make possible.
So what connects the Tour and the NCAA? The Tour de France (and cycling generally) appears to be trying to cleanse itself of doping. While plenty of people have accused the different cycling federations of turning a blind eye or even aiding and abetting top cyclists, the overall direction is towards a cleaner sport, much like baseball eventually evolved. The stand-out problems now are cheaters like Contador. The NCAA, however, is the stand-out problem. The NCAA is not getting better, its getting worse – more powerful, more corrupt, more entrenched.
Yes, I’ll still watch March Madness and will probably watch college hoops this evening. But as I read more and more about the NCAA, I find it less and less appealing. The Tour could have a clean year this year if every individual rider refrains from cheating. I don’t see the NCAA reforming anytime soon, but it needs to…because eventually its all going to fall apart.
*yes, its possible Contador is innocent and I hope he is. At least he has been able to appeal the rulings against him and the process – if not perfect — is fairly transparent.