by Jerome Grapel…
With the NCAA basketball tournament — “March Madness” — in full swing, this essay becomes timely. Using the abuse of young boys by an iconic football coach at Penn State University, Jerry Sandusky, as a vehicle, it gives voice to my outrage at the “Big Lie” the collegiate sports industry is.
As I write on November 12, 2011, the minimalist quality of this essay’s title is more than enough to convey its subject matter. If you are not aware of the recent events at Penn State University, I suggest you crawl back under your rock in the Gobi Desert and resume whatever function your bodily presence in the eco-system fulfills. Perhaps there are some ants out there ready to eat you, so run along and carry on. As for the rest of you, listen up:
Although the events in question are not related, Penn State has undergone a catharsis similar to what happened at Virginia Tech University when one of its students went on a murderous rampage that killed more than 30 innocent people (see essay, “Virginia Tech”). In each case, a cataclysmic event has changed the university forever, giving it an identity or new “persona” it had not been associated with before. It is now the year 1 AS at Penn State University, meaning “After Sodomy”.
I am not here to tell you who is guilty, innocent, more guilty, less innocent, whose head should roll, whose legacy has become what, or how the university should proceed into the future. All you have to do is turn on your TV-radio-computer-huckleberry-blueberry-Ipod-pad-notebook-twittering-facebook device, at any moment in time, to get all the information you could possibly digest on this subject from people much closer to its essence than I am. I would not be writing this essay unless I could come at it from an angle nobody else is touching upon.
There is a guilty party here that is getting off unscathed. It is an entity that is not criminally responsible, but has played a substantial role in creating the conditions which led so many people to turn their heads and allow such an unspeakable thing to happen not just once, but repetitively. Down through the years, I’ve taken to calling this entity “Big Media” in these essays.
Big Media is most responsible for making top tier collegiate athletics, primarily football and basketball, into the multi-billion dollar cash cow it has become. They are the driving force behind this industry (for more, see essay “Mikey’s Canine Adventure”). Much more than the universities themselves, they call the shots, create the ambiance, manipulate the scheduling, the calendar, the events, the competitive format and dictate what is necessary to make this a rotund business for their coffers. Obviously, there must be some collusion with the universities, but Big Media is the chest pounding gorilla in the room. Its needs must be met if the collegiate sports industry is to thrive, if everyone is to get their slice of the pizza. Make no mistake about it — Big Media gets the biggest slice of all and the 80 million dollars Penn State allegedly makes from its football program is an appetizer compared to it.
When somebody says Penn State football or Joe Paterno is Penn State, that is just a myth created by Big Media’s rapacious need to make collegiate football the uber rentable business it is. Penn State or any other athletic factory across this land, in case you’ve forgotten, is a seat of higher education. If Penn State ceased to exist, there’d be no football team. But the reverse is not true — Penn State could do away with football this very moment and the university would go on with its primary task of educating young men and women (though judging from the behavior of its student body, one has to wonder how well they are doing that). The loss of revenue or public relations value a university’s athletic program generates is not a fundamental element for its existence — and if it is, that university should not exist. But for Big Media, the income generated by collegiate sports is primordial, and they are the ones most responsible for making it financially healthy and growth oriented.
Let me give you some recent examples of how Big Media constructs this industry.
In the last decade or so, another tier of basketball competition, known as “Championship Week”, has been added to the agenda, meaning each conference plays a one and out tournament to decide its automatic representative in the mega-money of the NCAA tournament. From an athletic standpoint, this makes less sense than pulling on Superman’s cape. If you have a ten team conference where all the teams play each other home and away, you’ve already played 18 games against the same competition for something like 3 months in a true blue search for who is the best, worst, and everything in between. Nothing could better shake out the quality of the teams than that — but Big Media comes along and says to the schools, hey, we’ll give you this nice sum of money if you’ll have a “championship” tournament at such and such time and place, so we can put it on TV. And the collegiate whores take the money and play an unnecessary competition in a neutral arena filled with empty seats watching anonymous teams the average citizen never knew existed before. Why? So Big Media can sell some advertising on a telecast it knows enough people in a nation of 310 million inhabitants will watch so it can be a profitable endeavor.
A similar thing can be seen in collegiate football, where almost all the games are played on Saturday. But that is not enough for Big Media. You can now watch a televised college football game almost every night of the week, usually played by 2 of those who? schools in a venue that looks like a high school field on steroids with enough wide open spaces in the grandstand to graze goats on. If you think the schools themselves came up with this idea, you are probably still fooled by guys in drag.
And that is not even mentioning the uncountable bowl games created for mediocre teams catering to some lunch bucket guy as he gets tired enough to fall asleep before the next work day.
If these kinds of things are a complete fabrication of Big Media, even the decisions left to the universities will find its final arbiter in Big Media. Whether it be a playoff in football, adding more teams to the NCAA tournament, or whatever, nothing will be done without Big Media saying, yeah, we can do it like that, or, hey, we need it to be like this, or no, not like that, if you want the big money from us it has to be like this.
Big Media is where the real money is. Big Media is the sugar daddy of big time collegiate sports.
A financial enterprise of such huge dimensions has just about done away with the romantic notion of “student athletes”. In order for televised sports to be successful, 2 conditions must exist: 1) The athletes must be good enough to watch and 2) the teams must be competitive, all of them, from top to bottom. If hundreds of schools are to meet these requirements, the pool of athletic talent must grow with it. This athletic talent does exist, but not in the form of college ready students. Any university competing for the spoils of this profitable industry cannot overlook athletic talent that is not student talent. If you do, you’ll soon be out of the game.
Regardless of the alleged integrity of the Penn State football program under Joe Paterno (and I’d guess it is not much different from most of the athletic factories amongst our universities), it is a prime player in a lucrative farce that presents itself as something it isn’t. Whether Penn State is less or more sincere than its opponents with its athletic program is not that relevant. They are all willing participants in an industry based on fallacious assumptions, an industry that is now “too big to fail”.
Certainly, Big Media is not responsible for the intellectual quality of the “student-athlete”, or for how the educational institutions participating in this whole fandango go about stocking their teams. Nor are they responsible for Jerry Sandusky and his “fondness” for young boys. Big Media was not an accessory to any cover up. Big Media feeds and survives on only 2 things: 1) Money and 2) more money.
But they’ve created this Frankenstein nobody at Penn State wanted to damage. My God, one of our iconic coaches sodomizing young boys! Just shut up, we’ll take care of it, it’ll all blow over and Penn State football and “Joe Pa” and that wonderful nittany lion logo will not be tarnished. We cannot let that happen, there’s too much at stake.
So now Big Media self righteously sits and pontificates about this whole sordid affair. But the cover up would not have happened without their fundamental role in creating a morally vapid system. They could care less how much student is left in the athlete, as long as their money tree keeps producing fruit. And it does. The collegiate athletics money tree has turned into a grove of money trees, something so lucrative that a pederast was allowed to operate for decades, knowingly, so that the grove could stay at its optimal health.
Big Media must take some responsibility for all this.