BRAD LOCKE: Football underbelly sure to bring questions

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

A week from today, media and fans who are desperate for even a slice of succulent pigskin news will descend on Hoover, Ala., for the annual SEC football media days extravaganza.
It’s a big deal.
It’s always a big deal, but there could be some added tension to the affair this time. The past year has seen one discouraging story after another roll across the college football news wire, from Cam Newton’s rogue father to Ohio State’s rogue ex-coach to Oregon’s rogue recruiting tactics – heck, I’ve lost track of all the dirty deeds reported upon in recent months.
There’s always been corruption in college football, but I can’t remember a time when this much corruption came to light in such a short time span.
As a result, all sorts of hot-button issues will be on tap in Hoover. You can count on seeing plenty of stories related to recruiting practices, monitoring players, corrupt BCS bowl officials, etc. That could make for some interesting comments from coaches and players alike.
I foresee stories about off-field issues far outstripping stories about what has happened and what could happen on the field. And yet, these three days usher in the preseason and bring us all within cheering distance of autumn Saturdays. It’s when predictions and hopes run rampant, as teams begin gearing up for August camp.
The unpleasant question is this: Will the season provide catharsis for the disillusioned among us, or will it be too difficult to enjoy the exploits of the top teams and players given all that has transpired?
Remember when Terrelle Pryor was the next big thing, the nation’s No. 1 recruit? He’s now made a most ungraceful exit from Ohio State and the college game. Remember Reggie Bush and his transcendent career at USC? Officially, the NCAA does not.
A suspicious eye
Fair or not, the best teams and best players will be viewed with an increasing degree of suspicion, and that’s natural. It’s like what happened to baseball once we all caught on to the steroid epidemic. Baseball has always been my favorite sport, but it’s gotten a lot harder to enjoy thanks to guys like Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens and a host of others.
Sure, Albert Pujols is amazing, Jose Bautista is thrilling, and Justin Verlander is electric. But always in the back of one’s mind is that niggling suspicion that reality does not match perception.
The fall of baseball has coincided with my growth as an adult, and that, coupled with my vocation, has forced me to view sports through a lens of detachment. As a fan, it’s mere entertainment to me. As a journalist, it’s a means to an end (the end being my paycheck).
Like any writer worth his salt, my passion for writing far exceeds my passion for whatever it is I’m covering. That gap has grown, however, thanks to the increasing exposure of sports’ filthy underbelly.
Passion among your average fan still runs strong, because when it comes to their team, fans tend to assume the best. Their coach, their players, their program would never engage in sordid activity. They do things the right way.
That might be naive, but it’s also encouraging. Fans – real fans, not the fair-weather or bandwagon kind – are a resilient sort who will stick by their team even in the most turbulent of times.
And not every program is dirty. The most cynical among my peers might not agree with that notion, but to assume total corruption is probably just as naive as assuming total uprightness.
As far as MSU fans are concerned, I sense there is a lingering worry regarding the Cam Newton saga. While MSU has not had its integrity impugned during this affair, more revelations could come to light.
Other than that, Bulldog fans can look forward to this season with an unclouded mind. The success of 2010 has raised hopes to levels not seen in years, and if a few things break in its favor, MSU could become one of this fall’s feel-good stories.
Goodness knows we need more of those.
brad.locke@journalinc.com.

SEC MEETING SCHEDULE
Wednesday, July 20: Arkansas (Coach
Bobby Patrino, players Knile Davis, Jarious
Wright and Tenarius Wright). Florida

(Coach Will Muschamp, players John
Brantley, William Green and Deonte
Thompson). South Carolina (Coach Steve
Spurrier, players Alshon Jeffery, Marcus
Lattimore and Travian Robertson). Mississippi
State (Coach Dan Mullen, players
Vick Ballard, Fletcher Cox and Chris Relf).

Thursday, July 21: Kentucky (Coach Joker
Phillips, players Stuart Hines, Danny Trevathan
and Morgan Newton). Georgia
(Coach Mark Richt, players Brandon
Boykin, Ben Jones and Aaron Murray).
Auburn (Coach Gene Chizik, players Emory
Blake, Nosa Equae and Phillip
Lutzenkirchen. Tennessee (Coach Derek
Dooley, players Malik Jackson, Tauren
Poole, Dallas Thomas.

Friday, July 22: Alabama (Coach Nick
Saban, players Mark Barron, Dont’a Hightower
and Trent Richardson. Vanderbilt
(coach James Franklin, players Casey Hayward,
Chris Marve and Larry Smith. Ole
Miss (Coach Houston Nutt, players Brandon
Bolden, Kentrell Lockett and Bradley
Sowell. LSU (Coach Les Miles, players
Ryan Baker, Jordan Jefferson and Russell
Shepard).