Money is too Controlling in Division I Athletics

The Super Bowl is history. The football season is officially over. And the good old boys (former reporters or politicians) who I have coffee with each week can’t understand the attention, adulation and arrogance given to – or exhibited by – some of those who play the sport, from high school to the National Football League.

We began with the video clip shown last week on the local sports programs of Seantrel Henderson in front of a wall of lockers in a New York television studio with jerseys from six colleges and universities. He walked down the line, said a word or two about each school and then made his choice: the University of Southern California. This made-for-television event was carried live on cable by CBS (college sports) and, according to a Star Tribune report, after he made the choice, “Seantrel Henderson” was the No. 5 trending topic on Twitter.

We acknowledged that the 6-8, 330-pound offensive tackle from Cretin-Derham Hall was a heckuva football player, Parade Magazine’s national high school player of the year. But a live broadcast, a theater-like production, the breathless expectation reserved for picking a pope?

We concluded that the sports media, and perhaps more than a few fans, had lost their sense of proportion, perspective and propriety. The young man hasn’t played a down on a college football field or attended a single class.

To his credit, Henderson told the New York producers that one reason he chose USC is it offers small class sizes, although he sounded less than convincing.  He was standing there with his parents and girlfriend, looking a little awkward as he held up a jersey and put on a USC hat that didn’t fit.

The reason for all the hype and hoopla, we concluded, is the money that controls the major sports of football and basketball in Division I athletics. It’s becoming less and less about student athletes than it is about wanna-be professionals. The problem is two-fold: it puts real pressure on the young athletes and promotes the feeling of being special, beyond the usual rules and conventions governing behavior.

You can’t blame Seantrel Henderson for this, or about wanting someday to cash in. But let’s not pretend this is the same football program as the ones at St. Olaf, St. John’s or St. Thomas, where the gridiron stars play in relative anonymity and still have to put their studies first.

Sixteen St. Thomas football players recently were named to the MIAC All-Academic Team, the most of any school in the conference. St. Thomas had three players make both the first-team all conference football and academic honors: Ben Wartman, Zach Sturm and Fritz Waldvogel.

“Honors like these are tangible reminders of the quality and overall commitment to excel in every facet of the student-athlete experience,” said Coach Glenn Caruso.

Perhaps if Vikings left tackle Bryant McKinnie had a little more of the student and a little less of the athlete experience in college, he might understand why folks are a little upset that he missed the Pro Bowl because he didn’t attend practices.

He did not apologize for his behavior, claiming too much had been made of the situation. My coffee club buddies could have used the $20,000 he threw away because he couldn’t be bothered.