Temptations Unresisted

The Alabama football program, and other Alabama sports programs, have been put on three years’ probation for giving student-athletes improper benefits in the form of free textbooks. It is not clear whether the students sold the free textbooks to other students, but in any case the benefits received amounted to thousands of dollars for some individuals.

The NCAA student-athlete program depends on universities and student-athletes who self-police and self-report. If the institution and the individual can’t resist temptation, then situations like that at Alabama are inevitable. Moreover, all of the pressures of major college sports like football and basketball makes the temptations all the more alluring. Programs are trying to recruit blue-chip athletes who, in many cases, have been coddled and lionized for years already and who expect to go on to make millions of dollars in pro sports. Programs want winning seasons to fill large, debt-financed stadiums and arenas with boosters who will contribute handsomely to the school and to get lucrative bowl bids and NCAA Tournament invitations. Coaches who win are rewarded with enormous annual salaries and bonuses; coaches who have losing seasons are castigated and then cast aside.

Big-time college athletic programs are like reformed drug users. The temptation to engage in prohibited conduct to lure the stud athletes and fill the stadiums and athletic department coffers is always lurking there, under the surface, at war with the knowledge that if such conduct occurs it may lead to ruin. Alabama couldn’t resist the temptation, and now it has paid the price.

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