Letter From thenLower Rightnby John Shelton ReednBad SportsnFootball season once again, and a profoundlyndepressing time of year it is.nSundays are all right—football’s anninteresting game and the NFL plays itnsuperbly. It’s Saturday afternoon thatnalways makes me blue. Being a goodncitizen, I cheer for our team, of course,nbut we really have no business playingnClemson, much less beating them.nWhen I started writing these lettersnawhile back, I said that they wouldn’tnnecessarily reflect “the Southern viewpoint,”neven when there might be suchna thing. Well, when it comes to big-timencollege sports there is a Southern viewpoint,nit’s perfectly clear what it is, and Indon’t share it.nLook, I know I’m out of step, and Indo hate to be a walking cliche. Fewnthings are more banal than professorsnwringing their hands about the scandalnof college athletics. There’s not evennmuch point in it. Most Southerners carenmore about sports than about anythingnelse that goes on in our colleges; innmany schools, even the students feelnthat way. It hasn’t escaped the attentionnof on-the-make college presidents thatnfielding winning teams in the “moneynsports” (football and men’s basketball)npays off in public and alumni support.nFew Southerners would agree with Columbianhistorian James Shenton, whonsaid that he found his university’s recordnlosing streak reassuring because it suggestednto the world that Columbia’snpriorities were in order. We like winnersndown here, maybe because we got anbellyflill of losing a century and anquarter ago.nBut we really have lost our sense ofnproportion—so much so that I teeternon the edge of being embarrassed fornthe South. I mean no unmerited disrespectnfor Southern higher education.n44/CHRONICLESnCORRESPONDENCEnbut few lists of top colleges and universitiesnoverrepresent our region: one, however,nis the list of schools that raise thenmost money for athletics, where half thenentries are Southern. Just so, publishingnhas never been a Southern specialty,nbut 19 of the 24 universities that publishednsports magazines in 1982 were innthe South. There was an outcry awhilenback when the attorney general ofnGeorgia removed the state troopers whonhad traditionally escorted University ofnGeorgia football coach Vince Dooleynon and off the field, and when thenpresident of the University of Alabamanhired a football coach with an unimpressivenwin-loss record he receivedndeath threats.nAll this may sound like good cleannfun, but I don’t think it’s accidental thatn12 out of 22 colleges under NCAAnsanctions in the fall of 1987 were in thenSouth; for violations having to do withnfootball, it was 8 out of 11. The truth isnthat to field nationally-ranked teams innthe money sports requires highly-skilled,nhighly-paid, highly-recruited mercenaries,nboth athletes and coaches. To enlistnthem and to keep them happy andnworking requires more than a littlencorruption.nStories are legion, and there are newnones each year. One of my favoritesninvolves the avid booster at Texas (getnthis) Christian University who sequesteredna recmit in a motel room to keepnhim away from the competition untilnsigning time and arranged for prostitutesnto entertain him. A friend whonknows about these things says TexasnChristian is unusual only in using professionals.nPerhaps that’s why, whennnailed on this and several other counts,nTCU had the barefaced audacity toncomplain that the penalties imposed bynthe NCAA were too severe. (TCU, bynthe way, is the alma mater of ShakenTiller and Billy Clyde Puckett in DannJenkins’ novels Semi-Tough and LifenIts Ownself—and I once thought Jenkinsnwas exaggerating.)nAnother recent example, less colorfulnbut perhaps even more telling,ncomes from the University of Virginia.nnnRecruiters there, being smarter thannyour average TCU booster, did annend-run around NCAA regulations.nFinding that the athletic departmentnhad used its full quota of basketballnscholarships, they offered a hot youngnblue-chipper a football scholarship instead,nwith the understanding that henwould be allowed to “change hisnmind” about what sport he wished tonplay once he was enrolled at Charlottesville.nNow I ask you: is this honorable?nIs this gentlemanly? Is this buildingncharacter? Is this what Mr.nJefferson had in mind?nI pick on Virginia not because it’snthe worst but because it’s one of thenbest, one of the few major state universitiesnfor which there ever was muchnhope. When you find a school thatnseems to have things in perspectiven(Rice is one example, and Emorynseems to be another) it is either privatenor poor. But even some private universitiesnwith aspirations to academic respectabilitynbend to the cultural wind.nAfter Tulane’s most recent scandal,nfor example, it had a chance to do thenright thing. A committee was set up tonlook at the athletic program, and itncould have called for the school tonreturn sport to its proper place as annextracurricular activity slightly less importantnthan debate. The trusteesnwould have been unhappy, though,nand no aggregation known to man isnmore pusillanimous than a facultyncommittee, so of course they blew it.nTulane is still going head to head withnAlabama and Auburn.nWake Forest also competes withnmuch larger and less selective colleges;npeople used to alter the road signsnaround here to read things like “Interstaten85 / Wake Forest 0.” Wake couldnhave taken pride in having no studentsnwith SAT’s lower than their bodynweights—but, no, they recently hiredna football coach who used to be atnNorth Carolina, where he recruited anplayer (now in the NFL) whose SATnscores were the lowest ever recordednfor an entering freshman.nMaybe it helps to be a little dim ifn