Now that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has tried and sentenced Bill Belichick and the Pats, I'm asking a few questions. What -- if any -- influence does this have on the college game? How does this fit into the cheating scheme of things and what if anything can be done to prevent this from happening again?
I'm sure it is a total coincidence that on Monday, Georgia coach Mark Richt closed practices for the first time in his seven-year tenure. The Bulldogs play Alabama and Nick Saban this Saturday. Saban, a former Belichick assistant, was accused of stealing signals from the Patriots while serving as head coach with the Miami Dolphins last year. I'm sure there is no relation to Richt's actions and Saban's history.
|You don't suppose Georgia having a closed practice has anything to do with Nick Saban? (AP)|
These episodes are symptomatic of the cheating mania that's sweeping the nation. False tax returns. Cheat sheets at universities. Cheating in politics so sophisticated that attack ads are, as Forrest Gump said, "like peas and carrots."
Sure, cheating is to gain a competitive advantage and to line pockets, but there's more to it. Dr. William Guild, a social psychologist in Austin, Texas, points out that cheating is a compulsive need for control. They go over the edge whether or not it's needed.
Cheating in sports takes different paths. During the Cold War, the East Germans systematically gave their swimmers and runners drugs. They lapped the field, setting records each year. It got so bad that one Communist country sent out a transgendered runner who posed as a she, but actually was a he, and then made mincemeat of the female competition.
College football is a mixed bag. Former Georgia coach Wally Butts and Alabama's Bear Bryant were accused by the Saturday Evening Post of "fixing" a game between the Dogs and Tide. Alabama won that game 35-0. The 1963 trial turned into a circus with a parade of witnesses, including Bryant and two of his players who shot holes in the allegations.
By any standard, the info was the kind of stuff you can get from "just watching" and is useless against an opponent.
Joe Namath later asked how could the game be fixed when he called most of the plays? To prove his point, Bryant got up to draw X's and O's on a board to show the jury the real world of coaching and all the rest of it. Jurors' eyes glazed over and had no clue what the man was saying. Butts won a judgment of $3 million, eventually cut to $400,000 or so.
Then there's "good natured" cheating among buddies. In 1971, Texas coach Darrell Royal accused Oklahoma's Barry Switzer and his staff of sending a spy -- a grad student who took notes -- to closed practices at Memorial Stadium. Switzer said it didn't happen, but in his book Bootlegger's Boy, he fessed up. The game ended in a 6-6 tie.
That same year Florida was playing Miami and was ahead 45-8 with 1:20 to go. John Reaves started the game needing 345 passing yards to break the NCAA career passing record held by Stanford's Jim Plunkett. Reaves was 14 yards short. Miami had the ball. Florida's players talked Dickey into letting Miami score.
In what became known as "The Florida Flop," UF players opened the gates and Miami scored. UF recovered Miami's onside kick, and Reaves broke the record with a 15-yard pass to Carlos Alvarez and finished his career with 7,549 yards. Reaves was carried off the field, and the jubilant Gators stormed the east end zone of the Orange Bowl, jumping into a pool used for Dolphins mascot Flipper during NFL games.
Is that cheating? Maybe it's more like an intentional foul.