It kind of pains me to write this column, because I feel I've always been an optimistic, "glass half full"-type of guy, choosing to look at the bright side of things.
Like many of you, I first became interested in sports as a youngster, initially participating actively, then, as the years went by, becoming more of a spectator.
These days, even I - the Cockeyed Optimist - have to search to find the "fun and games" in sporting events - which, after all, is what sports are supposed to be all about.
In the 21st Century, sports has become big business, and not just at the level of the professional sports leagues. No, only a fool would think that Division I athletics, or FBS, or whatever they call it now, is anything but a big business. Sure, the NCAA is officially in charge of university athletic programs, and they sanctimoniously refer to the "student-athletes" in those programs.
But let's face it - each day it gets more and more difficult to find actual game stories on the sports page because of all the other "sports-related" news on those pages - news about recruiting violations, steroid and other drug use, cheating of all types (including extra-marital type cheating), sexual abuse, bounties for injuring the other team's athletes, spying on the other team, or stealing their signals, and on and on and on it goes. And I haven't even mentioned such things as mega-million dollar salaries, free agency, the salary cap, "protected status," flagrant fouls and player fights, and fan injuries.
I just think the whole thing has gone way too far. And like most things that have strayed far from their original intent, the biggest question is "How do we get it back to what it used to be?"
In the world of sports, we need to have people who actually have the guts to enforce the rules as they are written, not allowing "exceptions" with a knowing wink.
In colleges, wealthy alumni and other supporters need to be "put in their place" by someone with the authority to do so. And that place is NOT doling out money and other benefits to college athletes in exchange for who knows what? College athletes need to receive a SMALL stipend while they're in college to get along. Most don't have the time to take a part-time job, which would be the ideal solution, because they have to spend an inordinate number of hours practicing, watching game video, and traveling to games. Personally I don't see anything wrong with some additional money, in addition to free tuition and room and board. I mean these guys and gals are responsible for bringing millions of dollars to their respective universities (the "big time" programs, anyway). Of course, there would have to be a reasonable maximum amount of financial help the athlete could receive.
Another area which could be changed for the better, I think, is reducing the amount of television exposure some of the college athletes get. I mean, I like ESPN Sports Center as much as the next guy, but ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN 3, ESPNU ... come on. And please, ESPN, when you show the basketball highlights, focus on the nice defensive play or 15 foot jump shot. Any kid growing up today would think that their only alternatives with the ball are throwing up a 3-point attempt or slamming it, if they're able - and the more spectacular the dunk the better - "I'll be on Sports Center!"
Less coverage of the NFL Draft and other such "events" would also help to de-emphasize sports in our culture.
If ESPN or other sports networks have to fill their air time, how about more footage and stories of the days when sports actually was "just fun and games?"
It's my feeling that if some or all of these changes (and/or others) take place, professional sports will be less important. This in turn should "trickle down" to the collegiate ranks, then to High School, Middle School and Little League.
Let the kids have fun. Teach 'em fundamentals and good sportsmanship, then let 'em play.