Hockey, Soccer, AU

Among the things that I find hard to understand is why anyone would watch hockey, why they have a World Cup Soccer Tournament, and why Auburn -- the all-time leader in athletics impropriety in the South -- being accused of cheating is a surprise.

I have been to one professional hockey game. It is not a hard game to understand. I am sure it is a hard game to play. I've never tried to ice skate, and I suspect it would be next to impossible for me to do it. Now, couple that task with trying to slap a small, fast-moving object with a boat paddle. I have hard enough time hitting a golf ball that's perfectly still while I'm planted on terra firma.

And there's one other primary factor of difficulty in hockey. Opponents are trying to take your head off.

Sounds exciting, doesn't it. It's not. Because the object is to propel the puck into a small net that is guarded by a man dressed to the size of a sumo wrestler, watching hockey games is like watching fishing: a lot of "action" with not much in the way of results.

I went to one hockey game. The only redeeming quality was at this particular professional game you could buy alcohol in the arena. They sold lots of alcohol.

I watched about 10 minutes of World Cup. I never saw a goal.

Hockey and soccer could both be improved with one minor adjustment. Eliminate the goalie, and don't let anyone – offense or defense – into that little space currently reserved for the goalie. There would be more scores and a greater emphasis on defense by the real players.

Most of the World Cup Games seemed to have scores like 2-1, with the "2" coming after the match was over. The teams had these kick-off events to determine the winner. And in almost every case the winning team was the one whose kicker guessed that the goalie would be one place while he kicked to another. Guess right, win. Guess wrong, lose.

In other words, to decide the World Cup, each team could have sent one representative and they could have just played "Rock, Paper, Scissors."

Maybe, then, the United States team could beat Upper Slobovia.

And then, take Auburn. Please.

Two things came to mind this week with the revelation that Auburn had been giving grades to football players. One of them was not shock.

One was a conversation I had many years ago with the guy in charge of academics for athletes at a Southeastern Conference school (not Alabama). He said there were two SEC schools where academics would never be a problem for the athletics department: Mississippi State and Auburn. He didn't have to elaborate.

The other conversation that came to mind was one I had with a gentleman after I had spoken to a civic club in Birmingham many years ago. He was a professional who had moved into Alabama and had no allegiance to Alabama or Auburn. He told me he had noticed one similarity between Alabama and Auburn fans: both are obsessed with Alabama football. He explained that his friends who were Crimson Tide fans wanted to talk only about Alabama football. And his friends who were Auburn fans wanted to talk only about how much they hated Bama.

I want Alabama to beat Auburn in every sport. But I don't take it beyond athletics. It does our state no good when Auburn, charged with producing veterinarians, can't keep its eagles healthy. When Auburn's engineering school was not accredited, the reputation of the state was damaged. The recent SACS probation of Auburn is concern primarily for Auburn, but, again, is bad for the state.

Indeed, those with or attempting to earn honest Auburn degrees are the ones who should be most concerned with the latest scandal at their school. Just as Tennessee students and alumni should have been most concerned with academic fraud at their university, the cheapening of any degree lessens the value of all.

There is no denying that in this week Alabama followers have been much like the stereotype Auburn fan, more interested in the opponent.

But then came the spin from Auburn, incredibly trying to link its troubles to Alabama.

The blockbuster story in the New York Times was inspired by Warren St. John (not an Alabama alumnus, by the way), who had written a book about Bama fans – and became one in the process.

The Tuscaloosa News, which is part of the New York Times Regional Network, was the impetus for the story. (Talk about the tail wagging the dog.)

Both those theories ignored the fact that it is unrealistic to expect St. John or the Tuscaloosa News to be as knowledgeable about activity in Auburn's sociology department as, oh, say, the DIRECTOR of the program. Yes, that's who actually provided the information.

Many at Auburn seem to be more concerned with the messenger than the message.

One apologist writer for Auburn said the New York Times rushed its story to print because he and other reporters were on the trail. Right. That same reporter had interviewed a football player who had said if a player missed a class he had to get up early in the morning and run laps. I, for one, would have loved to have run laps instead of going to chemistry class when I was in college. And there were only about half as many elements way back then. Auburn football is serious about academics that writer's exhaustive digging had determined.

One other spin from Auburn: Alabama has directed reading programs. That's like Richard Scrushy's defense of inflating profits at HealthSouth being that other companies make a profit. Auburn's latest scandal involved improprieties in a directed reading program.

A directed reading program is a legitimate academic vehicle. And while it may sound easy, reading six books and making reports, done correctly it is a difficult and time-consuming assignment for student and professor. The program wasn't the fault at Auburn. It was the implementation.

I don't have any advice for Auburn. They have a creed, but their many failings make it laughable to others. Maybe another SACS evaluation can get Auburn on the road to academic respectability.

Meanwhile, it's akin to watching hockey or soccer.

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