NCAA violations. Criminal behavior. Off the field scandals. No real problem. They're just kids. And everybody does it.
It's a common catchphrase. More often heard from supporters of programs who've recently found their collective hands caught in the cookie jar. With USC struggling to endure two very bad weeks off the field, Trojan sycophants have trotted out this tired refrain again and again. And some so-called impartial college football commentators in the blogosphere would like us to believe that the incidents of criminality and wrongdoing we've seen in the recent past (included the alleged incidents affecting USC) happen at all major programs. They do so, perhaps, in the hopes of deflecting attention, and culpability, from their embattled program.
This sentiment is reflected in a recent article on CFR as follows:
In fairness, CFR just starts with this premise before raising another issue, speculating that a Gentlemen's Agreement exists between coaches that keeps some scandalous, rule breaking behavior away from the light of day. Does such an agreement exist? I don't know. It may well.
But, is the premise accurate? Does every program really do it? And does every program share equally in the blame?
I don't think so.
Before you think me naive, of course, many programs, coaches and players occasionally do the wrong thing. And it's naive indeed to believe that no programs ever get their hands dirty, or, worse, to blindly profess that your own team is immune from such behavior. Even at schools with the best of intentions, the highest standards, and the most rigorous discipline, bad things will happen from time to time.
But, experience and commonsense tells us that bad things happen at some schools more than others. And some programs have been downright notorious for their systematic and repeated misconduct. The infamous Miami program under Erickson, and others, come to mind. And it's not just a conspiracy between coaches, reporters and the NCAA that makes it appear as though some schools are more blameworthy than others. It's because some schools are more blameworthy than others. Whether it's knowing involvement in NCAA violations or simply fostering a chaotic environment devoid of genuine discipline, some schools push (and push through) the boundaries more than others. And some teams, the ones that weed out troublemakers early, enforce their rules consistently, and demand that players stay away from situations which could lead to trouble, those teams have less problems.
And, as a result, there is no moral equivalence between programs. Repeated patterns of misconduct cannot and should not be excused as just another day at the office. They should be recognized for what they are: sometimes a random event attributable to the devices of young men, but sometimes the foreseeable product of a program that doesn't take the steps necessary to keep its ship from sailing off course. Sometimes it's just what you'd expect from a "players' coach" and an environment where players who assault people are allowed to suit up for the next game.
This isn't just about bashing USC, though I believe they richly deserve the national attention they have earned through an impressive pattern of misconduct since Pete Carroll took the reigns. It's also about demanding that our own program keep its house in order.
But, any way you look at it, some schools do it more than others. And, for that, they deserve our attention and scorn.
I think we know this. And, just like the parent whose precocious child tries to explain away his or her drug use, or other malfeasance, by saying: "But, Mom, all the kids do it", we know better. They all don't do it, at least not all the same. And those who think otherwise are deluding themselves.