Three Cheers for Integrity--and Three More for Naivete

Every so often, I am enormously cheered to see something happen to attest to the infinite capacity of the human being for self-deception.

I like to see guys going down after the Loch Ness Monster. Fat people entering the Boston Marathon. Drunks trying to climb the Matterhorn. I’m relieved to see people believe Rambo is getting everything straightened out over in Southeast Asia, and I can’t help applauding guys who bet and raise into pat hands or play pool with guys carrying their own cues.

I used to love guys who went into matches with Joe Louis saying, “I think I can get him with the left.” I get teary-eyed when I think of Pickett’s Charge and get goose pimples when I think of Custer ordering a new hat the day before the battle and confiding to his orderly, “They don’t fool me, they’re bluffing.”

I’m a sucker for lost causes, is what I am. Don Quixote is one of my all-time favorite characters in fiction. I’m crazy about guys who say, “You can’t do this to me--I’m an American citizen,” and King Canute is one of my heroes.


That’s why I was so heartened to read the brave statements coming out of that convocation on “integrity” the other day down in New Orleans, where 200 or so college presidents and chancellors got together with their athletic directors to put away once and forever the demon of illegal activities in collegiate athletics.

Knighthood is still in flower. Their lances are firmly fixed and tilting at the windmills of corruption everywhere.

I think they voted 436-0 against sin. They vowed to take back their institutions from the hired Hessians of athletics and restore academe to its rightful place in the hierarchy of our colleges and universities.

I love guys who don’t know when they’re overmatched.


The thing is, I don’t know why these guys had to go clear down to New Orleans at this time of year to draw up their resolutions and take their unanimous stand against violations of their standards and codes. They could just as well have used the ones college presidents have been drawing up since the days Pudge Heffelfinger was dismantling the Harvard varsity in ought-six or George Gipp was shooting craps behind the Oliver Hotel in South Bend.

If there’s one thing this society doesn’t need, it’s another sanity code for college football. It’s like the spawning run of the salmon. One comes around every few spins of the globe with predictable regularity--and results.

They’ve got a new wrinkle this time. They’ve revived capital punishment. The good professors have discovered something the rest of the world knew a long time ago: The honor system doesn’t work. Profits are without honor.

Their remedy this time is a blockbuster, a piece of legislation instantly dubbed by the press as “the Death Penalty,” I guess because of its severity but also because it bears with it the seeds of death for the collegiate sport as we know it.


It’s a world-class example of overkill. They’re going to make the schools caught twice with their standards down drop football--or whatever the sport--for two years while they go stand in a corner.

These cops aren’t going to raid the building, they’re going to burn it down. They’re not throwing the baby out with the bath water, they’re drowning him in it first. It reminds me, in a way, of the observation made many years ago by the late Red Sanders, then the football coach at UCLA, when another convocation on integrity decided that some conference outlaws could play their senior players only half a season. “These Solomons really did cut the baby in half,” Red drawled.

Do these guys really suppose that the University of Southern California is going to get out of football for two years because, say, some coach scalps bowl tickets for the players? Come on, fellows, be serious!

Do these guys think they’re going to get Notre Dame to drop football because of some infraction by some unpaid bird dog or overzealous alumnus?


Do they think the Southeastern Conference is going to start suiting up students? That Nebraska is going to start going to bowl games with a lot of guys who can’t see without glasses?

Do they think they’re going to turn the L.A. Coliseum into a flowerpot, the Rose Bowl into an interesting ruin?

Do they think they’re going to dismantle a system that provides employment for hundreds of thousands every autumn?

Do they think the NCAA is going to stop being a farm system for the NFL? The Super Bowl is going to be Yale-Harvard?


It’s not that it’s not a lovely idea. But, professors, Frank Merriwell is dead. Education is in disrepute. Why do you need to learn the principal parts of the verb to be or how many times 5 goes into 20 when you can make more money than the chairman of the board of Exxon just by catching a football?

The world is run by ABC, CBS and the 11 o’clock news, not by standards. You can’t put this genie back in the bottle.

You’re riding into the jaws of death. That’s what I love about you. But this is one death penalty that should be abolished. Because I’m not sure whose death it will cause. It sounds more like a suicide pact to me.