FARMINGTON – The headlines over the course of the past few days in the outside sports world have been, for lack of a better term, interesting.
There are other adjectives I could use here, but that would mean you’d probably stop reading this, and I feel the need to vent. And I want you to come along.
In the past week, I’ve read stories about several nationally known collegiate athletic programs deciding to flee their current conferences and head to supposedly greener pastures.
In the past several months, we’ve read stories of college athletes abandoning their current schools in favor of other schools, again to supposedly greener pastures.
And there’s more to come, on both fronts.
The recent conundrum between the US-based PGA Tour and its dealings with the breakaway LIV Golf and the DP World Tour, which ended last month with a merger between the factions, has caused fans and media to question their allegiances to larger corporations and how they do business.
Or has it?
I’ve been trying to find the selective outrage which often comes with businesses making questionable business decisions. I’ve been searching for the selective outrage which often comes with athletes stepping away from their roles as simply athletes to do things or say things which fall outside the role of being an athlete.
And I’m just not seeing it.
The Pac-12 Conference, which is on the verge of losing several schools in the coming year, may be a thing of the past within the next three to five years.
With news last week that the University of Colorado, along with Arizona State, the University of Arizona and the University of Utah are all headed to the Big-12 Conference, while USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington have opted to flee the Pac-12 and head to the Big Ten Conference, there is serious doubt that one of the most influential conferences in college sports may seek to exist in a short amount of time.
We, as fans of sports, whether it be for the means of escape from the “real world” or for more important reasons, have chosen to be outraged over very selective things.
We get outraged when athletes speak their minds. We get outraged when teams choose to do business with factions that don’t sit well with our collective ideas and ideologies.
For crying out loud, we get outraged over the color of a beer can and a movie about a doll.
So when the very fabric of college sports, which many fans take seriously enough to buy merchandise and spend money to travel so they can attend games, is about to be altered significantly, where is the outrage?
“People have just learned how to not trust anyone anymore,” said Chuck Hayes, a syndicated radio talk show host and USC graduate. “It’s all running downhill now and sports is the next thing to go down that road.”
Professional sports may be the next slippery slope, according to Hayes.
Leagues like the NBA, which are involved in international marketing campaigns with nations where human rights violations are well-documented.
Other professional sports organizations, like the PGA Tour as well as the UFC and the English Premier League, which is commonly understood to be the most popular football league in the world, have been heavily invested and funded by international outfits which conflict with many of our national ideals.
Grant Liberty, an English-based human rights organization, cites in recent reports an effort referred to as “sportswashing,” which has emerged with Saudi Arabia investing significantly in sports like boxing, golf, football, tennis, horse racing, motor sports and professional wrestling to divert attention from human rights abuses.
While reported figures offer insight into the magnitude of these deals, undisclosed amounts remain hidden, potentially underestimating the true extent of investment.
“We’re already seeing it, with the NBA dealing with China,” Hayes said. “And for these businesses to make these deals, it’s always been that way. Someone is always going to feel left out while someone else makes the money.”
Collegiate sports, which remained largely unchanged for more than a century, has experienced unprecedented change over the past couple of years with much of that change coming in the form of name, image and likeness (NIL) deals.
In June 2021, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the NCAA could not limit education-related payments to student-athletes. What followed were slews of endorsement announcements, from Nike deals to local restaurant and car dealership partnerships as well as signings with agents and ad campaigns through social media platforms.
“I think it comes down to societal differences nowadays compared to what it used to be,” said Aztec High School head football coach Hank Strauss. “There’s not the tradition there used to be. Kids get into trouble, and they can simply go somewhere else and play there.”
But again, where is the outrage?
When Deion Sanders met with players just days after being hired as the new head football coach at the University of Colorado last December, Sanders told members of his roster that they could – and should – seek playing time elsewhere.
“It's gonna be change,” Sanders said. “So I want you all to get ready to go ahead and jump in that (transfer) portal and do what whatever you're gonna get.”
Whether Sanders proves to be a genius with those words or leads the Buffaloes to a New Year’s Day bowl game, the implication is that the college football standard we as fans have been accustomed to for decades now, simply doesn’t exist.
Strauss, entering his second season as head coach of the Aztec Tigers, has some experience dealing with players and coaches at the collegiate level. Following his playing career at Aztec, Strauss went on to play college football at both Cabrillo College in California and Chadron State College in Nebraska. After that, Strauss served as an assistant coach at both the high school and college levels before returning to Aztec as an assistant in 2019.
“(Sanders) is going to burn it down simply to create his brand,” Strauss said. “How many of those kids had a father who played there in the past? So the tradition of college sports is gone and it’s very possible that the school bit off a lot more than they could chew.”
We choose our outrage selectively. What we can control, we’ll fight for to the bitter end it seems. When it comes to the things we think we don’t have a say in, we’ll shrug our shoulders and move on.
But we do have a say. We’re reminded of that with so-called fan boycotts and social media posts where fans express their displeasure with a team or a player, be it by burning a jersey of a player or protesting outside a stadium.
“But if you worry about every entitlement that comes these players way, it’s going to drive you crazy,” Hayes said. “The athletes and the schools and the elites all got their money and they don’t care.”
Maybe the silence is a regional thing. Maybe you’re not affected by what happens to the Pac-12 Conference or what happens on the PGA Tour or whatever professional sports organization you follow.
But the shift in the way sports conducts business these days – if it continues – will inevitably cross over to a place or a school or a team you do care about. By that time, your selective outrage or apathy may come too late to make a difference.
By then, most likely there will be something else to be angry about.