[This Commentary originally appeared in the October 18, 1990 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel.]
Sure I wanted Notre Dame to score on that last second touchdown pass. Just like a lot of other people, I was disappointed when the receiver dropped the ball. Yet, something else occurred on that particular Saturday which upset me even more.
College football bashing seems to be a regular event among the more erudite columnists. Many people complain the big money business of NCAA football runs counter to the spirit of the educational university. Certainly, we can’t encourage putting bucks ahead of books. But a solid education must include sportsmanship and fellowship, not just the ancient texts.
Colleges prepare young adults for the future. Classroom learning trains the pupil from a technical or theoretical standpoint. Extracurricular activities enhance self-discipline and show the undergraduate how to work with other people. Both of these essential exercises provide invaluable lessons which we carry with us for a lifetime.
Yet one vital part of a full education appears lacking. Today, we have given in to a vast grey unknown. Too many questions have blended what used to be the black and white distinctness of morality. As a result, institutions of higher learning have avoided any attempt to teach ethics.
We cannot place full blame on university presidents, though. Much of the problem lies in the hands of the public at large. We have too often quickly questioned traditional morality as being anything from close-minded to discriminatory. While some questions are always valid, society’s cynicism of authority – a legacy we inherited from the 60’s generation – has severely weakened the moral code upon which we built our nation.
Humanism – once a legitimate American trait – has been replaced by materialism. In business, destroying established companies (and the communities linked to them) for a quick profit has supplanted steady long-term growth. In the sports arena, winning at any cost now apparently takes precedence over the ruggedly honest spirit of athletics.
That Colorado accepted an admittedly illegitimate victory riles me, as it should anyone who has played the game. Few things in life (outside of a life-threatening situation) merit cheating. Rules define the game. To win outside those rules – whether or not due to an honest mistake – produces a hollow triumph.
“We don’t apologize for this victory in no way, shape or form,” squirmed Colorado coach Bill McCartney, accidently proving the gridiron doesn’t require good grammar. The gall of the man – and his sponsoring institution – to even consider the outcome of the game a victory. It’s about as much a victory as the Soviet Union’s 1972 Olympic basketball gold medal.
Has Colorado no honor? Has Colorado no scruples? Has Colorado no ethics?
Just what does Mr. McCartney and the Colorado administration hope to teach their student-athletes? Their actions betray a “winning is everything” philosophy which would even tarnish the valor of Vince Lombardi.
We must never put the outcome of a sporting event above the rules of good sportsmanship. Imagine the real life consequences should Mr. McCartney’s players invoke his excuses some years after graduation.
“Oops! So the bank erred $2,000 in my favor. I won’t apologize for the fact that I spent the money. I won’t give it back, either.”
“Oops! So the insurance company paid me $5,000 on my policy when the damage was only $500. I won’t apologize for their mistake. Besides, they don’t need the money as much as I do.”
“Oops! So I took all your expensive stereo equipment and you didn’t notice until after the statute of limitations expired. I won’t apologize in any way, shape or form for your lack of attention.”
Kinda makes you think twice before hiring a Colorado football player to handle your corporation’s finances. If their coach teaches them it’s OK to accept a tarnished victory, what does their accounting teacher teach them?
Ethics – the rules of good conduct – should not differ with the situation. Dishonesty on the football field hurts just as bad as any other form of dishonesty. Our society – should it wish to remain whole – must not turn the other way when confronted with subterfuge.
Quite simply, Bill McCartney and Colorado are wrong. They are wrong to hide behind the strict interpretation of NCAA rules. They, like Cornell did 50 years ago, should forfeit their stale victory. Otherwise, they will merit only a “win” today, but an awful stain that will mark them forever.
[What is this and why is here? See Interested in Discovering My Time Machine? for more details.]