Next year Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll will be inducted into the University of Southern California’s hall of fame to memorialize his time at the helm of the Trojans football program. When the news came out earlier this week it brought out a predictable response from a lot of people.
In case you’re like me and pay very little attention to college football, Carroll was involved in a controversy at USC before coming to the Seahawks. To recap, Carroll and other USC officials were found guilty of violating NCAA regulations by giving running back Reggie Bush improper gifts: including a home in the San Diego area for members of his family to live in.
If you believe that “student athletes” should not be compensated for their time and efforts in enriching their universities I strongly suggest you skip the rest of this article. Good people can disagree and I wouldn’t want to alienate you over a controversial subject.
Anyway, Pete Carroll’s enshrinement has excavated a lot of skeletons from his time at USC. Some people have taken to calling him “Cheat Carroll” and say that he should be banned from coaching football at any level due to the controversy at USC.
I’m not going to defend what Carroll or Reggie Bush did. They broke the rules. That much is clear and unnegotiable. I am going to say that as long as we’re going around throwing blame at people we need to look at the broader context of what happened and the corrupt culture of the NCAA in general.
In Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 classic film Apocalypse Now based on the novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, the main character, Captain Benjamin Willard narrates the terrifying and violent story of a boat journeying up a river in Vietnam. His mission is to kill a deranged U.S. Army Colonel played brilliantly by Marlon Brando before he got too fat to do anything but sit and wheeze. Along the way Willard becomes disenchanted with the war and the double standards that were applied to behavior of the armed forces. At one point he opines that condemning Colonel Kurtz for murder in the middle of the Vietnam War was like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500.
That’s exactly how I feel about the media’s narrative on Pete Carroll’s time at USC. Did he break the rules? Yes. However, he was working in a system that is corrupt to the core: I guarantee that every single major college program that was recruiting Reggie Bush made offers of gifts that were improper. The only difference that sets Carroll’s Trojans apart is that they got caught doing it.
How bankrupt is the NCAA’s system? Recently former North Carolina basketball star Rashad McCants claimed that while he was at school there tutors hired by the athletic department did all of his coursework for him. He is now suing the university for ten million dollars for their failure to give him a proper education.
If you think that North Carolina is alone in this scandal you’re deluding yourself. Colleges routinely allow their “student athletes” to graduate with a useless piece of paper after shuffling them through a series of worthless courses designed to keep athletes academically eligible so that they can continue enriching themselves off the hard work and athleticism that the “student athletes” provide.
Pete Carroll is one of dozens of NFL coaches who cut their teeth in NCAA programs, and I guarantee that every single one of them made decisions that violated their personal code of ethics when it came to recruiting prospects. I don’t blame the coaches. I don’t blame the players. I blame the universities who are the heart of the problem. “Student athletes” often work 40 to 50 hours a week between practice, conditioning, games, travel and media engagements. For their trouble they are not paid anything. Not a dime. Not a nickle. Not a cent. The retort forming in your mind may sound something like “oh but they’re getting an education for free,” but if you paid any attention to McCants’ story that is clearly not the case.
I’m not defending what Pete Carroll did, but if we’re going to play the high-and-mighty blame game we should be pointing our fingers at the schools.
The NCAA is as bloated as Marlon Brando at the end of his career. So the next time you hear about Pete Carroll’s cheating scandal keep in mind that what he did was no different than what hundreds of other college coaches are doing as we speak, and at the end of the day they’re bishops at best in a cruel chess game that feeds itself on the sweat of athletes and offers nothing but platitudes about fair play and hard work in return.