The Worst of College Football 2011


When the history book of the 2011 college football season is written, sadly the incredible on-field play will take a backseat to the myriad scandals that took place. The top selection of this list will be of no surprise to anyone, as it would top a countdown of the most disturbing and saddening news in all of the United States this year, let alone college football.

Indeed, 2011 will be remembered with a black cloud lingering over it that must be discussed, much in the same fashion steroids became a prerequisite of any discussion of late 1990s baseball; only, the absolute worse of 2011 greatly outweighs any tainted home run record.

7. Your Annual BCS Stupidity

We can’t have a holiday season without the obligatory idiocy from the Bowl Championship Series. The mantra is reaching broken record status, but maybe, perhaps, somehow this season will tip the scales toward postseason reform — and of course set off a firestorm of debate as to just what reforms constitutes, but that’s an argument for another time.

The argument in favor of the BCS, at least from the BCS itself, is that every game counts. Yet when a title game participant didn’t win its own conference, and gets a do-over against the team that beat it, that tagline is negated. Alabama is probably the second best team in college football; the Tide did take LSU to overtime, after all. But ‘Bama got its shot at No. 1 already, at home, and fell short. The system rewarded losing, not winning — consider UA had two wins vs. teams in the final top 25, compared to four for Oklahoma State.

Meanwhile Virginia Tech, a team with zero defeats of teams in the last top 25, was sent to the Sugar Bowl over Kansas State and Boise State, or even TCU or Southern Miss: all of which defeated more ranked teams than the Hokies.

6. Putting the Fiesta in Fiesta Bowl

Like the BCS needed anymore ammunition against it, in the weeks leading up to and following perhaps the biggest BCS game debacle ever left the system with even more egg on its face. Fiesta Bowl officials were found to have misappropriated funds on lavish golf trips, gifts, even strip club outings.

Not exactly the charity the Football Bowl Association touts — though I’m sure at least one of the strip clubs frequented had a dancer named Charity.

*adjusts tie* Tough crowd.

The Fiesta Bowl scandal combined an unholy trinity of maligned entities: the BCS, the state of Arizona and politicians. Among the “charitable donations” of the organization’s fund was the failed Senate campaign of radio hatemonger J.D. Hayworth.

5. Conference In-Fighting

University athletic programs were left to scramble for the biggest potential piece of the pie as conferences began shifting in the summer of 2010. Backlash from said scrambling came in 2011. It began with the Mountain West’s decision to move the de facto conference title game from Fort Worth to Boise, a thinly veiled punishment for TCU leaving for the Big East (later Big 12).

Then as the Big East began to fracture with Syracuse and Pittsburgh ACC-bound, its remaining members sought parachutes. West Virginia found one, but is embroiled in a legal battle that might leave the Mountaineers on the plane longer than anticipated.

And the WAC isn’t in-fighting so much as just imploding.

4. The Saga of The Pirate, The Scribe, The Ombudsmen & Candidate Craig

Two years ago when Craig James turned ESPN airwaves into his personal bully pulpit from which to chastise his son’s coach, Mike Leach, the accused had no recourse. Leach was attacked on Sportscenter, during the Holiday Bowl, and anywhere else James could get before a camera — and given he was an ESPN employee, that was a lot of places.

When fellow ESPN employee Bruce Feldman ghostwrote Leach’s book, the fired Texas Tech coach finally had a national platform to defend himself. And somehow, James proved untouchable. Feldman was put on a mysterious leave of absence — not a suspension, ESPN PR was quick to point out, shifting blame to the always-easy target of overzealous bloggers. He was just not allowed to work.


The #FreeBruce hash-tag was omnipresent on college football streams through the summer, as one of the best football journalists sat on the sidelines, gagged. Perhaps the most irresponsible of the ESPN defenders was the outlet tabbed to be a fair critic. The Poynter Institute issued an ombudsman piece so insulting to our intelligence given all Feldman has said after the fact, it may as well have come directly from Disney Corp. lawyers.

James was never an internet favorite as a broadcaster. His tendency to boisterously, sometimes even viciously, criticize coaches and players endeared his style to few. But hostility toward him reached a new high, as the #FireCraigJames hash-tag became even more popular than #FreeBruce. It would seem in say, October that James could not be any more disliked.

And then he became a politician.

Well, then.

3. Whiffing on Paying Athletes

During a Pitt-Connecticut mid-week broadcast, legendary head coach Lou Holtz went on a diatribe against paying football players. I’m paraphrasing, but in an outraged tone, Dr. Lou insisted that because athletes owned laptops, Beats headphones and were not shopping from Salvation Army for their clothing, they didn’t need to be paid.

This is a sentiment I find particularly nauseating coming from anyone who made literally millions from student-athletes, and continues to cash paychecks as a TV personality who discusses the sport. It’s time to face facts. College football is a billion dollar industry, and a lot of people — coaches, athletic directors, merchandisers, media types, even the universities who attract students and donations partially due to football — are feasting from that pie.

Everyone but those who actually provide the service, that is. The argument from traditionalists is that a scholarship is sufficient payment. But that was the mentality 60 years ago before schools garnered millions and conferences billions from the athletes. Times have changed, and so should interpretation of what is fair. Had the values on American labor not changed, textile mills have mandatory 80-hour weeks.

The NCAA’s response is so patently absurd, the real conspiracy theorists would be those who think it’s not a conspiracy. College sports’ governing body came up with a proposal so half-assed, the only logical explanation is that its inevitable failure will allow the NCAA to say, “Hey, we tried.”

2. The Nevin Shapiro Scandal

A fair stipend for football players won’t fully curb cheating. That’s a fact. There will always be a bigger carrot to dangle before student-athletes, and Nevin Shapiro’s involvement with Miami football proves it. Shapiro provided Hurricanes with booze, hookers, abortions — the laundry list of charges Shapiro himself rattled off reads like the plot of a particularly sordid crime novel.

That the charges came from Shapiro lends extra credence to them. A man already imprisoned for running a Ponzi scheme, Shapiro would have nothing to gain from lying. Quite the opposite. If ever there’s a time to be forthright, it’s when facing Johnny Law, because the truth will come to light eventually. The easy way saves trouble further down the road, but more on this later.

New Miami head football coach Al Golden was caught off-guard. He had left Temple with sky-high stock and stepped into a situation it would seem he was unaware of. One would need an especially high-powered microscope to see my personal experience with Golden, but in 2010 when writing a feature on his Temple team, Golden was one of the most friendly and classy individuals I have ever interviewed in any sport. Thus, I wasn’t surprised when he immediately went to work to try and scrub some of the grime off his new program, but his only recourse was to suspend players and pass on a bowl bid.

So much of the Miami scandal was nauseating not simply because of all Shapiro is alleged to have done (most alleged by himself, mind you), but also for the firestorm of media childishness it set off. Charles Robinson spent months putting together his story, including fleshing out details via Shapiro. Yet for some reason, Robinson took fire from others in the media. One national columnist in particular became frothy mouthed to the point of leveling personal attacks on Robinson.

It was all so absurd and nauseating, it felt like it couldn’t get much worse than that August week. How tragically wrong we were.

1. Tragedies at Penn State

The black cloud lingering over college football for years to come emanates from the now-ironically named Happy Valley. As allegations of longtime PSU defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky exploiting children to a most horrific degree began to surface, I’m sure my blend of emotions was the same as most of you reading. I was sad. I was shocked. I was confused. I was angry.

The 23-page grand jury deposition detailing every charge against Sandusky haunted me for days, and when I think back on it, those feelings return. How could this be allowed to go on?

Outraged masses sought some kind of retribution, and got it in the forced exit of Joe Paterno headlining a slew of PSU firings. What Paterno knew and didn’t know remains a mystery, and might always be. But one certainty to glean from the tragedy at Penn State is that a football program somehow transcended basic human morality.