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Manti Te’o, Notre Dame shining light onto greedy, tarnished sport

If Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o doesn’t win the Heisman Trophy, the Heisman Trust should just melt the award and sell it for scrap.

Te’o isn’t just the most outstanding player in the country this season, he’s the heart and soul of everything we want the sport to be, a glimmer of hope amid the scrap yard of moral and educational decay that is college football.

Notre Dame is ranked No.3 this week in the BCS and represents a shining beacon amid the swill. With any luck, the Irish will run the table the rest of the season and play Alabama in the national title game in Miami. College football could use the public relations boost Te’o and his school provides.

Te’o, as a Heisman Trophy winner, and the Irish, in an underdog role against Alabama in the BCS title game, are exactly what college football needs.

It continues to suffer one disgusting story after another — Mississippi State’s indecent proposal to Cam Newton’s father, the lies and arrogance of Jim Tressel, the institutional criminality of Penn State, the fleecing of Miami by a conman, abuse of power by Bobby Petrino.

Compromised by money and power, coaches are a lost cause at this point. Show me a coach with a high moral code and I’ll show you some smoke reflected in a mirror.

Players are different, though. There’s a purity about some collegiate athletes — and I’m talking here about the people interested in receiving an education while playing sports for a university — that cannot be compromised. Tim Tebow was this way and so is Te’o.

We can learn something from these student-athletes and use it to fix major college football. The ultimate goal would be to transform the sport into a breeding ground for American leadership on a massive scale. I realize this is foolhardy given the current climate of the sport — I mean, not that anything is wrong with everyone on a football team majoring in boob-ology — but that’s the dream.

Recent reforms by the NCAA will eventually help to remove some of the disingenuous byproducts of a sport built upon a foundation of unpaid labor, embarrassingly absent admission standards and $2 million coaching contracts. Until then, we have resurgent Notre Dame and Te’o to remind us that, yes, excellent football can be played at a school that values things like an education.

When Te’o led his defense last week in a dominating effort against Oklahoma, it was a win for college football. It was a victory not because Notre Dame is a national brand and the school has thousands and thousands of fans in major television markets. It was a victory because a school that maintains at least some semblance of educational requirements for athletes can indeed not only compete on the same field as a school that does not but also whip that school up and down the field.

The Irish won 30-13 and Te’o had 11 tackles and a game-clinching interception. On the season, he has 72 tackles and five interceptions. He has done more than enough to qualify himself for the Heisman in a year where quality offensive candidates are hard to come by.

Notre Dame’s resurgence has been celebrated in Indianapolis, where the NCAA has received plenty of backlash for its new academic requirements for incoming freshmen. Of course, it’s not like the new requirements are difficult or anything. It’s just that there will actually now be a bare minimum requirement to keep out the dummies.

Currently, there are large numbers of college football players, who, academically, do not belong in college. Some teams’ rosters are made up of a large percentage, sometimes upwards of 30 percent, of JUCO players. When the NCAA’s new academic requirements for incoming freshmen go into effect in 2016, schools of that ilk will either (a) not be able to field teams anymore or (b) be so uncompetitive that a move to a lower division might be inevitable.

Meanwhile, schools like Notre Dame will be poised for prosperous times. If that means more players like Te’o, I’m all for it.


(Not a representation of my ballot if the season ended today.)

1. Manti Te’o, senior linebacker, Notre Dame. 2. Barrett Jones, redshirt-senior center, Alabama. 3. Collin Klein, senior quarterback, Kansas State.

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