CBS Sports unfurled the first part of a series on cheating in college football today.
Using SMU's death penalty as a jumping-off point, big-time football in 2011 looks as dirty as ever. Almost half of the current Football Bowl Subdivision schools (55) have committed a major violation in football since 1987. There have been 72 cases involving major violations, averaging three major cases per year. The "leaders" in that category are Texas Tech and Alabama, each suffering major penalties on three separate occasions.
In the previous 24 years (1963-1987), there were 89 major cases. Narrow the focus to the decade of the 1980s, when there were 54 such cases in only 10 years. That's 55 percent more per year than the 1987-2011 sampling. While many years can separate a violation and a championship, the numbers are connected by a common pursuit -- the pressure to win at the top level. Not surprisingly, 41 of those 55 schools since 1987 are from BCS conferences (based on 2010 alignment).
So ... a question: are there more violations being committed nowadays than in the 1960s and 1970s, when the "major violations" were at a minimum? Or are we just doing a better job of ferreting them out? I've read enough Dan Jenkins to believe that things were incredibly, defiantly dirty in the 1960s and 1970s. And while there are still too many shady undertakings these days, I think increased media vigilance and, well, the Internet, are the reasons they're coming to light.
I'm all for swift, severe punishment and whatever other punitive measures you can take to tamp down the cheating (easy for me to say, since my school's still on the "no major violations in football" list), but I just cannot co-sign "big-time football in 2011 looks as dirty as ever." I think it has dramatically improved from 25, 35 or even 45 years ago. It hasn't improved enough, obviously, but I'm always a believer that framing the argument correctly is the first step toward actually coming up with a solution.