Joseph Goodman: What’s the source of college football’s continuing corruption? Undeterred fans and their money

Drugs, sex, scandals, academic fraud, cover-ups, $500 handshakes, pay-for-play schemes and middle-men schemers, and on and on — college football is a runaway train at this point.

If we’ve learned anything this week from the brilliant reporting by and Yahoo! Sports, it’s that there’s no stopping the corruption of college football. And the NCAA — even if it wanted to clean things up (which it doesn’t) — is powerless to even try.

Highlights of the investigations:

• Comically, a player at Oklahoma State allegedly was paid to go fishing.

• At Alabama, a former-player-turned-money-runner apparently sent an email to an agent with the subject field, “D.J. Fluker Invoice.”

It is as disturbing as it is unavoidable as it is commonplace. At this point, cheating is embedded into the genetic code of college football. There is no separating the two. College football and corruption are the same things and are inseparable — water and rain, sound and music, cheese and nachos. To clean up college football would be to kill college football.

And so we endure the despicable:

• At Florida a few years ago, a player text-messaged an ex-girlfriend, “Time to die,” and was allowed to remain on the team.

• At Miami, a rogue booster and convicted criminal claims to have paid for a young woman to abort the child of a football player.

• There is a statue of Cam Newton outside Auburn’s stadium for winning a Heisman Trophy. Before Newton led Auburn to a national championship, his father shopped him to the highest bidder. Before that, Newton was at Florida, where he stole the laptop computer of a fellow student, but was allowed to remain enrolled in the school.

• Currently at Texas A&M, the most popular player in the sport openly taunts the world with hand gestures suggesting he pulled one over on the NCAA and got away with trading his autographs for cash.

And now Johnny Manziel is being celebrated for his antics. Time magazine put him on its cover as the poster boy for why college athletes should be paid … as if that would actually fix anything.

No, that only invites more corruption. If you allow the stars to profit off their likeness as if they were professionals, then it’s not hard to envision the entire thing slipping off the cliff and into the sea.

You get the impression that back-alley dealing and malfeasance is so interwoven into the fabric of college football that to suddenly remove those things at this point not only would ruin the sport, but also would potentially destroy some universities as we know them.

Seriously, what would the University of Alabama be without its football? Like Wall Street during the economic crisis, college football is too big to fail. And so the locomotive keeps barreling down the tracks.

In a way, the infrastructure built around the sport is almost like the framework of America’s ongoing and ridiculous “war on drugs.” The sad truth is that our leaders don’t want to stop the illegal sale and consumption of illicit drugs in this country. From cops to lawyers to judges to the prison system, the “war on drugs” employs too many people to suddenly end.

The same logic and argument can be applied to fast food and smoking. Are these things key contributing factors to poor health in the United States? Yes. Then why doesn’t the government ban them? Because cancer, heart disease and diabetes prop up a major sector of our economy.

Now, in no way is college football like a drug cartel, massive coronary failure or the proliferation of cancer cells in our bodies. That’s not the point here. The point is that there isn’t a compelling financial incentive to truly clean up any of these things.

The only way college football will ever change is if that change makes money for the universities.

For example, college football isn’t ditching the BCS system to level the playing field and give everyone a chance at winning the national championship. No, that’s not it at all. College football is switching to a faux-playoff system because college football is going to make obscene amounts of money by doing it.

And that brings us to the root of the problem.

Why is the apple core rotten? That’s the crucial question at the heart of the matter. Why is college football so messed up?

A system that not only encourages corruption but also thrives off it is not the problem. Universities, hypocritical sausage factories of spin though they may be, are not the problem. Money is not the problem. The problem at the beating heart of college football is you. And the problem is me.

Fans of the game are fueling this insane and backward beast that college football has become. It’s bad, but we don’t care. Give us more. That quarter pounder with cheese is cheap and tasty. That menthol cigarette goes down smooth. The BCS system exploits the poor, but the rich love it. Every Saturday in the fall is an excuse to party.

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