(Note: This opinion piece doesn't reflect the views of all CGB editors and moderators. This opinion piece represents my personal feelings on tonight's BCS National Championship game. Please be reasonable and rational in the comments. Thanks.)
On one side, you have the Auburn Tigers and the unbelievably exciting Cam Newton, but a team that screams all sorts of shady. FBI investigations, booster money, the SEC looking the other way until after their prized national title game guarantees them the cash flow they desire. I know red flags when I see them.
On the other side, you have the Oregon Ducks. Their high-octane offense. The up-tempo pace. The crazy-loooking uniforms. The Duck doing his pushups. Their cheerleaders, my god their cheerleaders. And of course there's that Pac-10 pride thing to consider.
And I'll have no compunction to root for them tonight. Why is that?
Because while they don't represent anything maliciously wrong with football, they represent a different and pernicious sort of wrong, the type that has been slowly ruining college athletics to the point of no return.
Oregon is producing a professional product in an amateur environment. Top-of-the-line equipment, facilities, and the most active booster in all of college football to boot. While I know everyone partakes in it, even Cal, no one takes it to the degree Phil Knight does at his alma mater. Knight his literally bought the Ducks a path to the national championship, all while at the same time turning Oregon Athletics into their own personal kingdom. The University of Nike indeed.
In short, the will of one private individual is now lording over a public institution. Does that sound like something to strive for?
Let's take a look at the intriguing and slightly horrifying feature Sports Illustrated Michael Rosenberg wrote on Knight. There are all sorts of great money quotes that seems more fit for a Dubai engineering project.
- A six-story, 130,000 square-foot football operations center.
- In the new $41 million athletic center (a total that TRIPLES the amount of money traditional football powerhouses like Michigan and Miami are spending on similar buildings), there will be "a room of bronze athlete-award statues commissioned by a Spanish artist whose sculptures are featured at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland"
- In that same center, there will also be "a three-story-high etched steel mosaic of Albert Einstein ... constructed entirely of photos of Oregon Ducks athletes". I'm sure when Einstein was pondering questions of relativity and time, he was thinking about what Jeff Maehl would look like plastered on his moustache a century into the future.
- And finally (file this under the "this isn't creepy at all" category), "In the second- and third-floor women's bathrooms, facing the stalls is a larger-than-life mirror etching of Knight."
You're kind of expecting the final money quote to be "At the top of the new center, in Phil Knight's throne room, is a bar of his finest vintage liquors, which he will pour into the Coaches Trophy on a daily basis, and drink from it before diving into his vault after Oregon wins the National Championship." The Roman Empire would've been proud of the way Oregon Athletics has sold their soul to the modern day Louis XIV of capitalism for the sake of being the best.
In the long run, it becomes harder and harder to take college football seriously when the teams that win the most are dependent on the best football their sugar daddies can buy, rather than it being based on a fair and equal playing field for all competitors. Say what you will about the NFL, but at the start of every season almost every team can say that they have a legitimate shot to win the title. I used to long for the days of empires in sport. Then I grew up and realized how much it sucked to watch unless you were the victor and not the vanquished. At some point, there should be some sort of hard cap to ensure that competitive balance is restored.
With every passing year, the hubris of the rich grows larger--not just the big conferences looking down on the mid-majors, but the big schools IN the big conferences (Florida/Alabama in the SEC, Texas in the Big 12, Ohio State in the Big Ten, USC in the Pac-10, with Oregon and Auburn soon to join them), as they scoff upon the feet of the mid-major and the teams that struggle beneath them. If Oregon wins, expect their fans to become that new breed of obnoxious. It smacks of old-school monarchism--didn't we overthrow the British to get rid of people like this?
If you have a hard time seeing my dread of what's going on in Eugene, just compare Oregon to us. We've had to wait seven years (SEVEN YEARS) to get the facilities that have held Cal football back from the top of the conference thanks to treesitters, poor outreach by our department, idiot yuppies on the Hills, lawsuits upon lawsuits upon lawsuits. We've probably had to cut varsity sports like baseball (baseball! the national pasttime!) because of those delays. We've lost out on key recruits because other programs pointed toward shitbuckets being lowered from the mighty Oaks, and Oregon has profited from our struggles at the very moment we should be breaking through.
(In short, we do things the right way and we get bent over. Unike most schools, we put education first and athletics second. Noble concept, huh? Dig that?)
Meanwhile, Uncle Phil decides he wants to build more stuff for his precious program, so he leases some land and does it himself. The Oregon Athletic Department doesn't really know what's going on (seriously, they don't), and they're so terrified of losing Knight's support, they let him do as he pleases. And that's how something like Matthew Knight Arena, a building that looks nicer than most NBA arenas, is built. This is a college program?
UO President Richard Lariviere recently warned the State Board of Higher Education that the "negative consequences" to fundraising would be "really, really profound" if it did not immediately approve Knight's private control of construction of the new athletic office building, the Oregonian reported. After the "some of the starkest ever" warnings about Knight's power, the state board quickly voted yes, according to the paper.
Knight's power at the UO and in Oregon only appears to be growing. He told the Oregonian last month that he backs a UO plan to create a board of trustees similar to Auburn's with the power to raise tuition. But he hasn't given the Legislature an explicit threat that he'll cut UO contributions unless the plan is approved, yet.
Last year, Knight became one of the state's top political power brokers with more than $600,000 in contributions to Republicans and to oppose taxes on the rich. While the nation suffers record unemployment, Nike's third world sweatshops are humming with the corporation's stock up 40 percent in the last three years.
(In the issue of fairness, let's not ignore Bobby Lowder of Auburn, who sounds a lot like a college football version of Clay Davis. It's the battle of boosters!)
Sorry. None of this is palatable for me. People scoff at the non-revenue sports, but at least I know those sports are relatively clean--I don't think I'll be watching a Spike The Dollars documentary on the Cal volleyball team anytime soon. College football and college basketball are filled with the seediest of types, the types that probably turned Gary Franklin's game toxic and put Oregon and Auburn in our national championship game. Kudos to all y'alls. You beat the game.
Here's what I'm rooting for tonight. Lots of points as expected--a 49-47 contest or something along those lines. Auburn defenders getting legitimately injured in the third quarter so Oregon fans can boo them. Chip Kelly to awkwardly flirt with Erin Andrews like a pimply-faced teenager. A few references to stolen laptops and domestic violence. Kirk Herbstreit to talk about how Cal held the mighty Oregon offense to 15 points. All of that would make my night right there.
What would make year? I'll hope for the title to be stripped from the championship winner, due to random NCAA rules investigations of some improprieties or cash transfers or something illegal of the sort, because nothing smells right about this national championship matchup.
Hey, it may not be pretty for those who enjoy the majesty of college football, but it'd be a step in the right direction. The whole system is rotten, and it's time to start tearing it down piece-by-piece.
Assholes may finish first, but it's going to come with a price. And down the line, it's coming.