In big-time college sports, they take lack of integrity from amateur to pro

‘Tis the season to be jolly, so let’s have a giggle or two over big-time college sports.

What a joke.

We’ll dedicate our belly laughs to Joe McKnight’s Land Rover, only the most recent chuckle. Yuk yuk.

We can toss in Brian Kelly’s coaching departure from Cincinnati to Notre Dame, leaving an undefeated team to play in a major bowl with a bad taste in its mouth.


How about the rub-it-in play at the end of the USC-UCLA football game this year? Got a wound? Call in Pete Carroll’s salt-pouring specialists. Ha ha.

Then there is Ben Howland’s basketball Bruins. He is the Old Mother Hubbard of the Pacific 10 Conference this season. The cupboard is bare because UCLA, like many other schools, has become mostly a farm system for the pros. What would Kevin Love be now? A junior? How about a soon-to-be three-time All-American?

And the most hysterically funny of all. NCAA investigations.

Joe McKnight and his car? Get in line. There’s quite a backup in the possible-rules-violation line.

We are still waiting for answers to alleged past indiscretions, and the image is becoming clearer all the time: Reggie Bush being wheeled into a news conference, on his lunch break from the rest home for the elderly where he lives. O.J, Mayo in slippers and a cane, a resident of the same home, pushing Reggie’s wheelchair. A man in a sport coat with an NCAA logo on the pocket, intoning: “After a thorough investigation, we have found no wrongdoing. . . . “

We will solve global warming faster than the NCAA will figure out whether Bush and Mayo got extra stuff. If the NCAA ran Ford, we’d still be driving Model Ts.

The exercise in response to all this is simple.

The next time you are watching TV, or are at some dinner function, or sitting in your backyard with your neighbor, and somebody starts talking about the character-building attributes of big-time college sports and how wholesome and amateur and refreshing it is, compared with the pros, fall to your knees and make gagging sounds.

The pros are greedy, win-at-all-costs organizations that do everything they can to get an edge and don’t deny that for one minute. Not pretty, but honest.

Colleges try to create the image in their big-time sports -- football and men’s basketball -- of coaches lecturing students, who have horn-rimmed glasses and arms full of chemistry textbooks, on the doctrine of teamwork, fair play and sportsmanship.

Character counts, we are told.

Then we see the keepers of that doctrine go for the long bomb against UCLA when the game is over and when a couple of handoffs would have not only sufficed, but would have sent the message that winning is even sweeter when it is achieved with class and sportsmanship.

And then we see another keeper of that doctrine, the University of Notre Dame -- which not only keeps it but flaunts it -- making so sure it gets its new football coach that Brian Kelly is pried out of Cincinnati with speed reminiscent of the Colts leaving Baltimore under cover of darkness.

If you are a fan or alum of Notre Dame, you want your team to win more. But at what cost and at what loss of perspective?

Was there not one priest in authority, with one moment to pause in his daily theological readings or in his morning sermon on goodness and holy behavior, to demand that Notre Dame do the right thing by insisting Kelly stay with his team for the bowl game?

This would all be helped by the NCAA making rules that decree that no coach can change schools until after his season is done, or limit recruiting pressures that seem to drive this. At last look, the NCAA had 4.27 million rules, but nothing on an area that really matters.

Without really meaning to, a writer at the New York Times captured nicely what is going on in big-time college sports. Wrote Richard Sandimor: “If Brian Kelly resuscitates the Notre Dame football program, he will make NBC very happy.”

Money begets winning. More winning begets more money.

Another writer, Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer, wrote: “Almost no coach in quasi-amateur college sports finishes what he starts.”

Funny, these are the same coaches who preach loyalty and the need to play to the end, to sacrifice the parts for the betterment of the whole. Maybe they mean that their student-players should do what they say, not what they do.

None of this is going to change. Nor is this rant designed to bring any.

It may turn out that McKnight bought the car with proceeds from the sale of the novel he has been secretly writing in English class; that Kelly has spent his early days at Notre Dame lighting candles for world peace at the Grotto.

Maybe Carroll will tell his team before its bowl game that the rub-it-in pass against UCLA was wrong and they should all remember it and learn from it. Maybe Howland will land three star recruits who will announce publicly they are staying for four years.

Maybe the NCAA will announce soon its findings in the Bush-Mayo case and admit it hasn’t done a very good job of timely sleuth work.

And maybe hell will freeze over.