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College football has lost a little more of its integrity as season's start nears

For years, you have admired Mike the Tiger from LSU. You have grinned at Ralphie the buffalo at Colorado. You have cheered at the sight of Tiger the eagle at Auburn.

Now, it is time for a brand new mascot.

Introducing Nevin the Sleazebag, a new tradition at the University of Miami.

He's short, he's stuffed, and he's a con artist. And instead of running through the smoke, he will drag his team through the muck.

Over the seasons, you have seen the throwing of the flaming spear at FSU. You have seen the touching of the rock at Clemson. You have appreciated the legend of the Masked Rider at Texas Tech.

Now, we should have a brand new mythology.

It's called "the tattooing of the quarterback" at Ohio State.

After all, nothing says integrity like the word "integrity" stenciled on a player's neck.

Ah, tradition. It is much of the reason that many of us are drawn to college football. Every school has its own mythology, its own flavor. You cannot talk for long about Notre Dame before Touchdown Jesus enters the conversation, and you cannot discuss Tennessee without the checkerboard end zones, and you cannot think about Stanford without that delightful Tree.

There is the Old Oaken Bucket and the Little Brown Jug and Floyd of Rosedale, which is really a bronzed pig.

Soon, perhaps we can expect the Laminated Cheat Sheet provided by Butch Davis' babysitter at the University of North Carolina.

Ah, cheating.

In college football, some traditions never change.

It has been the messiest of offseasons for college football, a sport where greed has been perfected and scandal has been redefined. There have been so many headlines about so many shortcuts from so many big-name schools. It is as if some schools reviewed all of the sport's previous scandals and decided to turn up the volume.

So here we are, about to unleash another college season.

And, somehow, it seems as if college football has lost a little more of its integrity along the way.

Certainly, the scandals cannot help. We are no longer talking about free shoes at Foot Locker or illegal contact during recruiting. We are talking about strippers and prostitutes and a coach (Jim Tressel) who turned his head. At USC, we are talking about a house and an unreturned Heisman. We are talking about con men running wild, trying to Win One for the Ponzi.

Look, I don't know of a bigger sucker for college football tradition than I am. I buy in, okay? Except for the constant reshowings of the movie Rudy, I love the lore, and I admire the legends. I know all about Bear Bryant's hat and Knute Rockne's speech and Woody Hayes' right cross.

I know that Peruna, the Shetland pony that is SMU's mascot, once kicked the Fordham mascot (a ram) in the head and killed it. I know about Rock Chalk Jayhawk and Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer and Wooo Pig Souie. I know about the FSU war chant and the Florida chomp and the Mississippi State cowbells, and I have heard Rocky Top played so many times by the Tennessee band that I am prepared for the Sooner Schooner to run over my head. Which, I guess, is the point.

If there has ever been an offseason to remind you that running out of bounds is a tradition, too, it is this one.

No, it isn't just the players. How about the conference-jumping that continues? Next time someone tells you how important rivalries are, point out how Texas A&M is prepared to leave them all behind to join the SEC. Because of the chances that A&M-Vanderbilt might be big? No, because of the cash.

So what are we left with? Colorado, which is roughly 1,000 miles from the Pacific Ocean, is now in the Pac-12. A&M, which is roughly 730 miles from Atlanta, might join the SEC. What's next? UCF in the Mountain West?

Here's another tradition in college football. Every time someone brings up the possibility of playing for a national championship instead of, well, arguing about it, the defense is to point out that the bowls have been very, very good for college football.

Yeah? How about the Fiesta Bowl? There was so much corruption around the Fiesta Bowl that even BCS officials pondered whether to end its affiliation. Except for the ugly sports coat, it's hard to tell John Junker, the deposed Fiesta Bowl head, from Nevin Shapiro.

Hypocrisy? Yeah, that's a tradition, too.

Always, there have been warts on college football. Most of us know that. I've written more scandal stories (Auburn, Florida, FSU, Miami, Alabama, Georgia) than I care to count.

Somehow, this feels worse. This feels like a $20 handshake has turned into $100. This feels like an entire sport is behind on the scoreboard.

Soon, a new season begins, and once again, we will try to believe in college football again. If somehow it could be worked out that Mike the Tiger is Nevin Shapiro's new cellmate, it would help.

Boolah, boolah.

College football has lost a little more of its integrity as season's start nears 08/29/11 [Last modified: Monday, August 29, 2011 9:50pm]
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