by | CBSSports.com

Action needed with college football's integrity on the line

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First of all, let me tell you how thrilled I am about my new home at CBSSports.com. I had 27 great years with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but I am really excited about this opportunity to expand my work with the CBS family.

Accordingly, I was hoping our maiden voyage together would be a smooth, mostly positive one. But it will not. That's because college football, the game we love, is in a bad place right now.

Stanley McClover, a former Auburn player, says he was given money during college. (AP)  
Stanley McClover, a former Auburn player, says he was given money during college. (AP)  
Let's just take the first three months of this year. This will be quick because, unfortunately, you already know these stories by heart:

 Jim Tressel's emails, the coverup, Ohio State's Tat Five and the NCAA's inexplicable decision to let them play in the Sugar Bowl.

 The Fiesta Bowl Financial Fiasco, which gave big-time ammunition to the critics of the BCS system. (By the way, the Fiesta Bowl will NOT be kicked out of the BCS, in my opinion.)

  Cameron Newton (regardless of which side you took on the issue, the media barrage that revealed that Cecil Newton had shopped his kid was not good for the game).

 Willie Lyles, who got $25,000 from Oregon for "recruiting services" and was alleged (by a former Texas A&M assistant) to be shopping Patrick Peterson, who went to LSU. The price to beat? That would be $80,000 (allegedly).

 Auburn's HBO Four with the (alleged) $100 handshakes, book bags of money and one (alleged) assistant coach who delivered an envelope full of cash to a current football player.

Had enough? It's only April 4, and we're already fed up. Not too long ago I shared this opinion with an official from a major conference and now I'll share it with you: College football has reached a tipping point on its integrity scale, and it is past time for the adults to step up and lead.

Do you think it is just a coincidence that all of these stories have come out this year? Do you think it is a coincidence that media outlets as diverse as HBO and PBS (Frontline) are taking a hard look at college athletics in general and college football in particular? It's not a coincidence. For a while now, serious media outlets have wondered if they should be spending less of their resources on games and more on taking a serious look at a system that appears to be way overdue for a radical overhaul. In other words, you're going to see a lot more of these stories.

So what to do? I don't think college football fixes itself by working on the margins. Five recommendations:

1. Find a way for the top 60 to 70 schools that play major college football to work independently from the NCAA. The sport has become too big to be managed within in the limitations of the NCAA framework. If a way cannot be found to accommodate these schools then they should leave the NCAA and form their own organization and make their own rules.

2. Create a commissioner of college football. My CBS colleague Tim Brando has been saying this for years, and he's right. Somebody needs to be in charge for the good of the entire sport. On cases like Cam Newton and the Ohio State Five, the commissioner has the last word. He or she will have zero tolerance for cheating (and there is a difference between cheating and breaking the rules). Only a strong commissioner, backed up by the presidents, can bring the risk-reward for cheating back into balance.

3. Freshmen will be declared ineligible. There is a whole host of pathologies that are created by a recruiting process that tells 18-year-old children they are stars and should be treated (and paid) like one. Until 1972, freshmen were not eligible to play. There was a reason for that. Most are not mature enough, emotionally or academically, to commit to big-time college football. It's simple. If you make your grades as a freshman and prove that you can handle college life, then you get to play as a sophomore. Would this be tough to do with only 85 scholarships? Yep. But it's for the greater good. This will never happen, but it would address a lot of ills.

4. Football scholarships become five-year commitments by the school. In exchange for giving up freshman eligibility, the student athlete will get a five-year guaranteed scholarship if he stays in good academic standing and doesn't get in trouble with the law. The one-year scholarship is a bad deal for the students. Red-shirting is eliminated. And one other thing: No oversigning. No gray-shirting. You sign a kid and he gets a scholarship. Period.

5. Change the scholarship to include the full cost of attendance. The top academic scholarships include a stipend for incidental living expenses based on the location of the campus. Athletic scholarships should do the same. This stipend of several thousand dollars (plus a Pell Grant that can be as much as $5,500) takes the argument off the table that athletes from poor backgrounds do not have spending money. The NCAA has a Student Opportunity fund of more than $50 million available to help students in need (clothes, trips home in an emergency, etc.).

As for the belief that athletes should share in the millions they generate for the school, that's another argument for another day. I don't see how you can pay college football players and comply with Title IX, which, last time I checked, was the law of the land.

These are just five suggestions to fix college football. What are yours?


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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