College Sports Takes A Few Hits

Pat Forde, a national college sports columnist for ESPN.com, speaks with Michele Norris about some of the embarrassing stories coming out in college sports.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

It was supposed to be a great week for the NCAA. Final Four basketball games start tomorrow, but college sports took a few blows this week. And the allegations of foul play went beyond basketball. The Ohio State football coach will sit out five games for helping to cover up NCAA violations. The CEO of the Fiesta Bowl was fired for financial misdealings.

Also this week, a profile on HBO's Real Sports allege widespread corruption on almost all levels of big-time college athletics. That includes claims from former Auburn football players, four of them, that they were paid by boosters.

Pat Forde is national college sports columnist for ESPN.com and he is already down in Houston for the Final Four and he joins us on the line from there now. Welcome to the program.

Mr. PAT FORDE (National College Sports Columnist, ESPN.com): Thank you. Glad to be with you.

BLOCK: Let's begin, if we can, with the allegations by the four Auburn players. The school quickly denied everything but it sounds like the story will not go away. It seems like it has legs.

Mr. FORDE: Oh, absolutely. I mean, you know, these are on the record, on camera, by name interviews where these guys are alleging they were paid fairly systematically by boosters and coaches, you know, in exchange for either commitments of for making big plays in big games. And, you know, given what -the microscope that Auburn already has been under, going back to the Cameron Newton investigation during the football season, I think that this will only intensify the scrutiny on Auburn.

BLOCK: And while we're talking about football, we mentioned the problems of the Fiesta Bowl. It's now in danger of being dumped from the bowl championship series after this rather embarrassing episode. We should say here that the BCS is a separate organization from the NCAA, but in the end, could the Fiesta Bowl get dumped? What does this mean for other bowls?

Mr. FORDE: Yeah, absolutely. You know, the BCS is its own strange cartel that operates somewhat independently of the NCAA, but it is a college sport that's sanctioned by the NCAA college football. And, you know, I think that it's a very serious crack in the BCS foundation. I mean, I think there have already been a lot of problems with the way the BCS conducts itself.

And then just the fact that it is the de facto championship mechanism for college football, it's a very unpopular one, I think, with most of the fans out there. Now, if they believe in addition to it being an illogical one it's also a corrupt one, there may finally be a movement to disband the BCS.

BLOCK: You know, Mr. Forde, these college athletic programs are big money making enterprises and I'm wondering here if that's part of the problem, that in the pursuit of cash, along with the pursuit of victory, if it creates all kinds of unseemly incentives?

Mr. FORDE: Oh, certainly, there's no doubt about it. I mean, you know, the fact is college football is a huge moneymaker, and a certain number of programs in college basketball and a few others. They, overall, most schools lose money on college sports, but you can make tens of millions on the two big glamour sports if you're very successful in running it, you know, in a profitable manner. And there's no doubt that that's the driving force behind most of what you see going on.

Salaries for coaches have risen astronomically. The amount of money that's spent on facilities for athletics is probably extremely out of whack compared to what's spent on academic pursuits. If you want to compare salaries between athletic figures and academic figures, I think that would be an unpopular thing on most campuses as well.

BLOCK: We'll have to leave it there, Pat. We'll have to leave it there. That's Pat Forde, he's a national college sports columnist for EPSN.com.

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