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LSU-Oregon a stark reminder of scandals
The list is long and unseemly.
A now-infamous recruiter (Willie Lyles) and his unsavory ties to Oregon and LSU. A booster (Nevin Shapiro) and The U. Terrelle Pryor, Jim Tressel and tattoos all blemishing Ohio State. Reggie Bush and Southern Cal. On and on it goes.
Even the not-really-sordid things feel ugly and off. Texas A&M bolting from the Big 12, talk of which teams the SEC might add, ruminations on the fate of the Big 12 and growth potentials of the Big 10 and Pac-12 . . . the slow-motion, back-room drama of which conferences might crumble, change, shift.
Since Auburn won the national championship game eight months ago, college football has been coated more in grime than in anything having to do with actual games. The focus has been on fiascos rather than the field.
Say all of this shows a boatload of bad behavior that must be rooted out, one program, expose and violation at a time. Say the attack needs to start at the top — on the NCAA itself and a culture of amateurism that's well past its prime. Say the kids breaking the rules are the bad guys here, or say they're young victims at the mercy of con men, millionaire coaches and a silly system. Say Lyles and his ilk must be exposed, or that exposing them misses the broader point and the bigger players.
Say what you will. But agree on this: The start of the season, the opening slate of football games at college campuses across America, is supposed to be free of such drama, if only for a day. Right?
And, yet, this Saturday, the drama still defines the day. Look no further than the showcase game that should jump-start the season — a game between two great teams that should at least partially unburden college football of its baggage.
Instead, No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 4 LSU seems to many less like a fresh start and more of a cheaters bowl — one of many to come in the months ahead. Yes, Lyles' connection to both schools lingers, but that barely moves the needle these days.
Lyles, if you’ll remember, is the Houston-based recruiter who’s been linked to Oregon, LSU and other schools. But it was with Oregon that he went rogue, claiming head coach Chip Kelly paid him $25,000 to direct recruits toward the Ducks — and then asking him to retroactively put together a scouting report to throw the NCAA off the scent.
Perhaps a great football game could have been enough to ignore these lingering allegations, or Lyles' connection to LSU — which Lyles also claims paid him for similar services — or the general wink-wink nature of the game behind the game many believe Lyles’ relationship with Oregon and LSU underscores.
So, what happens a few weeks before kickoff? A melee outside a bar involving LSU players, including the starting quarterback, leads to an investigation, arrests, felony charges and more muck America must wade through on the way to enjoying some football.
"Other arrests could be made in this case that are just as serious as the two already made," Michael Bienvenu, the attorney for the four injured men, told The Associated Press. "This isn't over."
Of course it's not. Never is, is it?
Which takes us to Saturday, when instead of LSU-Oregon maybe getting us past the ugliness, it will be — particularly given Jefferson's absence because of suspension — another stark reminder that the game, right now, feels soiled.
Right now, the Top 25 is a who's who of unsavory drama. Oregon (No. 3) and LSU (No. 4) are just the opening act. No. 5 Boise State stands accused of violations after last season. No. 6 Florida State is just now recovering from a 2007 cheating scandal that cost it scholarships.
No. 8 Texas A&M only walked away from the Big 12 just as the season is about to get under way. And let's not forget No. 12 South Carolina rolling out a star QB who's been suspended five times, No. 18 Ohio State's Tressel-mania, No. 20 Mississippi State at the forefront of raising questions about No. 23 Auburn's recruitment of Cam Newton and, of course, No. 25 USC's bowl ineligibility.
That's almost half the Top 25, and there are more examples if you care to look. To say nothing of schools and conferences trying to figure out what they're going to look like next year — or if they'll be there to look at all.
There are beautiful traditions in college football — those big and small, of storied winners and perennial losers. There's the Grove at Ole Miss. The Border War in Kansas City between Kansas and Mizzou.
There's the Red River Rivalry, there's the Iron Bowl, there's so much to love it's hard to keep straight.
But there's also all this other stuff, and to start the season we get a game that's a perfect representation of the current football zeitgeist: No. 3 vs. No. 4 swarming with allegations, self-interested bad actors, embarrassing investigations that have nothing to do with football and, still, national title hopes riding strong.
Of course, the best game of the weekend is as much about the turmoil in the game right now as it is about all the things to love about it. We've entered a phase in which the system, blame whom you want, seems to produce as much filth as fantastic football.
Here's hoping the football part that kicks off this week will make the filth a little easier to wade through until somebody figures out how to actually clean up this mess.
You can follow Bill Reiter on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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