Chocolate Soufflé and Other Sporting Concoctions


I think today’s number of posts has been close to a Catholic Sensibility record. I haven’t finished writing my magazine column yet (don’t tell my editor!) but there have been so many fascinating stories to catch up on.

I was catching a bit of espn this morning, getting my dislike of major college athletics, especially football and men’s basketball, reinforced. Then I found this Zenit link describing a publication from the Pontifical Council for the Laity: The World of Sport Today: Field of Christian Mission.Can we have a mission to major college athletics, please? Please?Some of those sporting gentlemen from the University of Miami engaged in more on-field thuggery this past weekend. The replays on the tube were pretty vicious: helmet (in hand) to head (without helmet) contact, stomping, kicking. The NCAA shows the spine of a flatworm in handing down penalties. After all, this was only Miami’s third footbrawl in their last seven games.

One of the espn guys said he thought the two universities should be made to forfeit their upcoming games and reimburse their opponent schools for lost revenue. That sounds about right to me. But you know the NCAA would never do that to a Division I-A football program. If it’s lacrosse, though, no problem to shut down an entire season.

Local sportwriter Joe Posnanski nailed it in a recent column when the “lack of institutional control” label was slapped on the University of Kansas last week. Lots of big-time problems for big-time sports. A university, if it knows it’s heading for official punishment, will sometimes try to inflict its own penance ahead of NCAA sanctions in an attempt to lessen the hammer blow. Sort of like saying ten Hail Marys before you head into the confessional.

The KU men had the solution: strip away scholarships in women’s basketball.

The one exception was (women’s basketball coach Bonnie) Henrickson, which was odd because she was the one coach who got a raw deal. Last year, Kansas’ self-imposed penalties included taking away two scholarships from women’s basketball and limiting the number of coaches who could go on the road. The school came down hard even though Henrickson was a new coach and had absolutely nothing to do with the previous follies. Kansas also did this even while taking away no scholarships from men’s basketball and just one from men’s football.

As it turned out, the previous women’s basketball coaches had not done much wrong. The NCAA report went out of its way to call the penalties thrown down on Henrickson “wholly disproportionate.” Now, Kansas officials explain this was all just a big misunderstanding having to do with a confusing timeline, late-breaking men’s basketball news and a lack of cooperation from former women’s basketball coaches.

Posnanski’s other money quote:

You might want to act as if this hurt a bit. Heck, I don’t care if it’s just an act. Behind closed doors and with your buddies at the bar, you can whoop it up and raise your glass to the NCAA punishment, which was lighter than chocolate soufflé.

In public, though, you might want to at least pretend you learned something.

(The coaches) reminded of a child who gets spanked, turns to the parent and says, “That didn’t hurt.” The only thing the coaches didn’t do was stick out their tongues.

Ice hockey suffered from a Slapshot image for decades, especially through the 70’s and 80’s. NHL muckety-mucks finally got serious about the damage caused by team brawls. In 1994, serious rules with serious six-figure fines were set down for teams that emptied benches to fight. Unlike baseball, the NHL has not had a bench-emptying tussle in twelve years. You might not have known that, eh? That’s how long it takes to wipe away a bad image.

If the NCAA were serious about brawling, they could come up with some nice escalating sanctions for teams involved in fighting. For football, loss of five scholarships for the first incident. Ten for the second. Twenty-five for the third. No need for a months-long investigation and hardly any time for a prayer. That hockey is at least a half-generation ahead of them in team control leads me to think they’re not really serious about it.

But I’m thinking that the NCAA itself is the organization that has lost institutional control. The Division III solution is elegant. Athletic scholarships are given based on financial need or academic ability. Colleges should get out of the sport-for-money racket. Those UM players would make a fine minor league football team. Or is it bush league?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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