This is your brain; this is your brain on college football. Any questions?

Americans sure are a conflicted lot.

Perhaps it's our Puritan heritage mixed with a healthy dose of risk taking.  After all, it requires a special type to flee religious persecution and immediately begin executing witches (good times!).

We've been battling our demons ever since.

Take sex, for instance.  In 2004, we Americans collectively blew a gasket after seeing Janet Jackson's nipple during the Super Bowl. At the same time, the pornography industry outearned Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Apple,and Netflix combined.  Gambling is another of our favorites.  According to this research from Fairleigh Dickinson University, 53% of Americans oppose betting on college and pro sports, but 62% of these same Americans have gambled at a casino at least once.

The list goes on and on.  Pick any topic, and it's likely Americans will have conflicted themselves in some manner.

Perhaps the biggest joke of them all is college athletics.  Education and college athletics may be allowed on the same bus (or chartered jet), but education has to sit in the back.

This week, we were again reminded of this reality.  Everyone's favorite grandfather in a sweater vest, Jim Tressel, resigned from Ohio State University.

There are some who have ridiculed Tressel, but really, he's just a reflection of the various incentives that exist in today's college football.  In this world, if your star quarterback shows up with a new ride, just admire the tinted windows and text him some Bible verses.  Your chances of going to a BCS bowl game (and keeping your wife accustomed to her current lifestyle) are enhanced.

Others are blaming the corrupt system (rich with slavery metaphors), but which part of the system do you attack?  Take your pick:

  • The Bowl Championship Series (BCS)
  • Hypocritical university presidents who butcher the meaning of the phrase student athlete
  • Sleazy athletic directors
  • TV networks like ESPN that pay hundreds of millions to conferences for the rights to air games
  • Greedy coaches who jump ship at the next big opportunity
  • Agents who befriend players
  • Apparel and beverage companies who sponsor athletic teams
  • Players' ethics (or lack thereof)
  • Boosters who act like whores

Then there's you and me--the fans.  None of these straw men would exist if we weren't so damn addicted to the crack pipe that is college football.  If ESPN did not believe for one second that it couldn't feed millions of fat couch potatoes the TV ads that come with this crack, the network would not pay such outrageous sums for broadcast rights.  If the beverage companies did not believe they could help you wash down your crack with some tasty sugar water, they wouldn't care either.  And once the money works itself into the system--like it or not--there's incentive to keep you on the crack--forever.  Mock drafts? Crack.  Bowl games?  Crack.  Websites devoted to ranking high school football players?  Crackity crackity crack.

Is there a way to solve our drug problem?  Not really, but that doesn't stop some from trying.  Like any raging drug debate, you've got your legalizers and moralizers.  One one hand, we have the pay-the-players crowd, who insist that if we only paid college athletes or privatized college football, things would work themselves out.  It's not true.  First, good luck getting this proposal past the Title IX proponents.  Try telling the UConn women's basketball team they shouldn't be paid.  Second, most athletic departments lose money overall.  So you either have to come up with more money to pay everyone equally (if you agree with the Title IXers) or just pay football players.  Under either scenario, the rest of the athletic departments across the country will need more cash.  This means more fundraising and more legislative tax dollars being shoveled into institutions.  Right now, given state budgets, that's not a recipe for success.

The other proposal is even more ridiculous.  It's what I call the return-to-educational-Eden theory.  In this world view, we simply decide we don't like evil, we turn back the clock, and we insist that every institution turns into an Ivy League school.  We ban all the money, get rid of the scholarships, and return to a time in which things were pure and all women were virgins.  You see plenty of academics make this argument.  I don't blame them.  I'd be jealous too if I'd spent nine years of my life getting a Ph.D. just to watch some guy with a bachelor's degree in communications make four times my salary coaching football.  It just won't work, however.  You can't just say "NO."  There's already too much money being made by too many people to put that cat back into the bag.  The cat has claws, and these claws justify the inflated salaries of athletic directors and university presidents all across the land.

In the end, what do drug addicts do?  Unless they work out with Tim Tebow (in which case they won't have time for drugs), they'll simply look for that weekly Saturday fix.  You know the one I'm talking about.  It's the one in which the leaves are changing color, it's a cool fall day, and your alma mater (or perhaps your father's or wife's or brother's) is on TV about to play their rival.  You're either headed to the tailgate or your couch for some cold ones.  You smile.  The world seems somehow brighter.  The game hasn't started, so you've got that nervous excitement coursing through your veins.  It's the feeling you and I wish we could bottle and take as an elixir everyday for the rest of our lives.

So what the coach is gaming the system?  So what if 40% of the players won't graduate?  So what if the athletic director treats the words student athlete either as dirty or as gospel depending on the company he happens to keep at the time of kickoff?  I am a junky.  I need my fix.

Still, l'll make sure I show my concern during the next violations scandal.  That would be the proper and Puritan thing to do.  If I'm lucky, I'll even find some witches like Jim Tressel to burn at the stake.

I’m glad we had this talk.  Now, vaya con Dios, Brah.

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