“I’ve got it figured out,” said the voice at the other end of the phone early on Monday morning as I watched the downpour outside my window. As usual, Dee from Atlanta didn’t bother to identify himself. As usual, it didn’t matter.
“Got what figured out?” I asked wearily, knowing that I was likely to hear a solution to something that most of the rest of the world had not even realized was a problem.
“What Gordon Gee is really up to.”
“I’m not convinced that Gordon Gee knows what Gordon Gee is up to.”
“Just listen and I’ll walk you through it. We know he supports athletics, right?”
“Says he does.”
“OK,” Dee continued, “and we know Gee has been around big-time programs at Colorado and Ohio State.”
“Speaking of Ohio State,” I interjected, “did you read that the judge who is going to hear Maurice Clarett’s lawsuit is Woody Hayes’ son?”
“I know. That’s truly scary.”
“What, that Ohio State would have so much influence over the courts in Columbus?”
“No, that Woody Hayes had a son. And you interrupted me.”
“My bad. Please continue.”
“Anyway, I figure Gee must have abolished the athletic department so it will be easier to funnel money to the players.”
“It’s the only thing that makes sense.”
“You’re not listening. Gee says Vanderbilt can compete in the SEC. Here’s how they do it. They’re starting an in-house payroll operation, making the money trail harder to follow, but meanwhile making it look like they’re bringing about some great reform.”
“The modified Ivy League model, I think he called it,” I offered.
“Modified equals money-fied,” replied Dee. “It’s brilliant.”
“You’ve obviously taken off your shoes and thought about this.”
“This has to be the explanation. And they told the coaches to pretend they hadn’t been told about any of this to help sell the fake.”
“Going back to your earlier point, since when does anything Vanderbilt does have to make sense?”
“See, that’s why you’re a glass-half-empty guy, while I see the glass as half- full.”
“In this case, I think you’re a brain-half-full guy. You’ve been reading too many stories about Auburn football lately.”
“Well, if payrolls worked at Auburn,” said Dee, alluding to revelations last week that Tiger boosters had organized tens of thousands of dollars in slush money for football players, “I don’t see why it can’t work for my boys at Vanderbilt. They’ve got a $600 million endowment to play with.”
“It doesn’t just take money,” I reminded him. “Auburn’s deal took real brass. I mean, they had the pipeline going even after they were already on probation.”
“And the best part is, they had an assistant coach keeping all the books for them. I don’t think even Barry Switzer ever got that organized.”
“Well, that just shows what you can do when you have a car dealer running the university instead of an academic.”
“I notice that Terry Bowden has been strangely quiet,” said Dee of the former Auburn coach, whose voice was heard on tape explaining how the payroll scheme had worked.
“Sure. He’s covered because he says he put a stop to it when he found out.”
“Probably the reason Bobby Lowder canned him in the first place.”
“So now he gets to enjoy how Auburn has stepped in their mess.”
“Well, not if he has to give back his $620,000 for blabbing about the payola.”
“You gotta admire a school that would make a coach sign an agreement that says he’ll forfeit his severance pay if he ever tells about any of the cheating there. Your boys at SMU back in the day would have admired that one.”
“Well aren’t you Mr. Glass House, coming from Baylor,” Dee retorted.
“I know. It’s sad.”
“What, that the good Baptists kill basketball players and portray them as drug dealers, or that your boys got caught?”
“The second one, obviously,” I said. “I say all college football and basketball tickets should contain a disclaimer officially acknowledging that cheating is a part of the game.”
“It sure would simplify things for the NCAA.”
“But that’s what proves Baylor doesn’t really belong in the Big 12. They can’t even cheat with the big boys.”
“As an SMU alum, I’m going to take a moment to feel smugly superior.”
“I’ve been reduced to getting the same attitude from Texas Aggies, and those people can’t even build a bonfire without killing half the student body.”
“I feel your pain. On the other hand, at least you didn’t lose last weekend to Northern Illinois.” Dee began to laugh wickedly.
“Well,” I said, “the MAC is pretty good this year. Northern Ill also beat Maryland. Bowling Green almost beat Ohio State.”
“Oh please. This was Alabama, where the most powerful man in the state is still the Bayuh. This is a national catastrophe for them.”
“I wonder if Mike Price bought a couple of table dances to celebrate.”
“Or if they had to put up roadblocks in Mobile to keep ’Bama fans from driving their RVs into the bay like lemmings. Imagine if I’d had the Kool-Aid concession after the ballgame.”
“Once again, you’re thriving on the misery of others.”
“Don’t blame me. It’s God’s fault for making me a Vanderbilt fan.”
“I know. God didn’t even do that to Job.”
“You haven’t said anything about your Vols.” I knew that describing them as “your” Vols to Dee, who generally refers to UT fans as “those people,” would be like saying “your boy Saddam” to George Bush.
There was an awkward silence.
“Remembering my mother’s advice, I’m trying to think of something nice to say.”
“Well, don’t set a precedent on my account. I had figured Florida to win by two touchdowns. You have to admit, it was an impressive win for the Vols.”
“Depressive for me.”
“You might even call it a statement win,” I persisted.
“Yeah, the statement is that Ron Zook is a pinhead.”
“It’s not often you can manage to get booed by your home crowd when you’re ahead. You’ve got to give that to him.”
“I’ll console myself with therapy tonight.”
“How many beers does your therapy involve?”
“Shut up. My therapy is to get on an Alabama fan Web site, pose as a Big Orange booster and announce that I’ve just bought my Nokia Sugar Bowl tickets.”
“Alabama can’t go anyway. They’re on double-secret, almost-NCAA-death-penalty probation.”
“All the more reason to whack the beehive, if you ask me. Remind me to mention on the Web site that this was their bowl game.”
“That’s truly mean-spirited. I love it.”
“I’m feeling better already.”
How It Looks from the La-Z-Boy
Steelers 24, Titans 17
Panthers 17, Falcons 13
Colts 23, Saints 20
Tennessee 27, South Carolina 13
Georgia Tech 24, Vanderbilt 13
Alabama 28, Arkansas 24
Florida 27, Kentucky 17
LSU 31, Mississippi State 13
Ole Miss 33, Texas Tech 24