The average Russian male consumes 15 liters of vodka per year, which makes you wonder at the extraordinary drinking prowess of your above-average Russian. I can’t remember how many gallons that would be. Suffice it to say that it’s more than enough to pickle all the pigs’ feet you’d ever care to enjoy.
Drinking as if there’s no tomorrow seems endemic in Russia for reasons you can perhaps appreciate if you’ve ever spent a winter in North Dakota, where hockey finishes a dim second as a participant sport. The Soviets, ignorant of human nature as they always were, used to try putting the kibosh on chronic drinking, at least in the workplace, in the name of worker productivity. The workers inevitably prevailed.
There was always some mechanic who could figure out how to make rotgut from the antifreeze in a tractor’s radiator. My personal favorite involved one team of workers who spent months digging a tunnel under their factory (somehow escaping the attention of their Sgt. Schultz-like bosses) that they used to smuggle in bottles of homemade vodka.
Somehow I always think of these Russian diggers when I read about some enterprising new effort by coaches to circumvent the rules in college football recruiting. In the end, the flatfoots of the NCAA are invariably two steps behind the coaches. As soon as the enforcers suppress the trade in one spot, the coaches find a new way to keep open the football equivalent of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
The latest brainstorm involves a “high school” in Miami that managed to make the University of Phoenix look like MIT. The institution, with the impressive-sounding name of University High, is housed in a small office in south Miami. There are no classrooms and no interaction with instructors; students complete their coursework via correspondence.
The founder of University High once was convicted of fraud by the feds for running a similar diploma mill in Arizona. The educator listed as University High’s principal says he’d never heard of the place.
None of this prevented would-be college athletes who lacked the grades to meet NCAA-mandated eligibility requirements from plowing through courses like Ned Ray McWherter used to scour a plate of pasta. (I actually witnessed that once, and, let me tell you, even the Russians would’ve been impressed.) After completing nine classes in seven weeks, one typical student saw his GPA climb from a 2.1 to a 3.0.
University High sent transcripts (which conveniently neglected to mention University High) for at least 28 of these budding scholars to NCAA-member schools. They received scholarships from, among other places, Auburn, Florida, Florida State and Tennessee.
The dozing Schultzes at NCAA headquarters might never have known about any of it had it not been for a report issued by UT. It’s not clear whether coaches at all of the schools attended by the Upgraded 28 had funneled players to the academic alchemists at University High. But coaches—for whom bogus correspondence courses are about as recent a discovery as the polio vaccine—can sniff out such opportunities faster than a newly bathed dog will find carrion to roll in.
I guess this would be the right spot for a rant about how sending athletes through a drive-up diploma window like this is a tacit admission that (a) the student part of student-athlete is something that coaches laugh about when the college presidents and the people who make the lofty-sounding commercials for the NCAA aren’t around; and (b) an education isn’t all that relevant to the future of these kids anyhow.
But I’m beginning to think instead that I just need to make my peace with these people. They’re not going to change. The system is not going to change. As long as there’s big money in college football, college football will be populated with people who circumvent the spirit of college athletics either to gain an advantage or to catch up with those who’ve already gained an ill-gotten advantage.
I’ve moved past anger, but denial is still an option. I can’t decide yet whether it would be better to abandon any remaining pretense about the student-athlete stuff or to try pretending even harder.
Maybe it would be fun to pursue the latter for a while. That’s what the Soviets did. They had Pravda; we have Dick Cheney. Now that Deadeye Dick is becoming radioactive in D.C., maybe Myles Brand could lure him over to the NCAA, where he and Scooter Libby could set up the football equivalent of the White House Iraq Group to convince the public that Diogenes would have ended his search for an honest man once he met a few football recruiters. They could start by recharacterizing University High as a finishing school.
It might work. After all, our own people are a lot more gullible than the Russkies. On the other hand, it’s sobering that the Soviet Union didn’t survive, and your average Russian male is drunker than ever.
How It Looks From the La-Z-BoyTitans 20, Texans 14
Just when we were beginning to wonder how soon fans would begin appearing at the Coliseum with paper bags over their heads, along comes the second game in three weeks that the Titans should actually win.
Lady Vols 100, Everyone Else 61
Not that they ever really went anywhere, but the Tennessee women are back this year with an unusual vengeance.