Why Is it Notable That Michigan Football Players Work Hard?

Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez under fire

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
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    It's amazing that in a country full of family values moralizers with secret mistresses and liberal do-gooders who preach helping the indigent as long as it isn't in their backyard, there's still nothing as sanctimonious as college sports. Time and time again they act like college sports is somehow associated with academics and molding young men instead of profits for universities and coaches on the backs of 19-year-olds.

    This week's scandal involves the University of Michigan (of which, in the spirit of full disclosure, I am a graduate) and the Detroit Free Press' report quoting players saying that they're forced to work on football-related activities for more than the NCAA's prescribed amount each week.

    I'm shocked, SHOCKED to find out there's gambling going on in this casino! 

    This isn't a new thing, it's not limited to Michigan and, really, it's hard to figure out how anyone could be either surprised or enraged by this unless they were operating under some sepia-toned, romanticized notion of what college sports are all about.  

    Did Michigan require, implicitly or explicitly, players spending more time on football than the 20 weekly hours allowed by the NCAA? Absolutely. What's unclear in the initial report is how you're drawing a line between what's "mandatory" and what's "I want to play for the Michigan football team so I'll do whatever I have to do." As well reported and written as the Freep's article is, there's very little that makes it clear the line was crossed.

    The 20-hour rule is written in such a way that any work that's done by players is totally permissable so long as it fits a very broad definition of voluntary. In an environment where those who work the hardest benefit the most, few players are going to stop at the bare minimum because that's not the nature of athletes and because everyone else around you is doing the extra work. In other words, the entire enterprise is voluntary and any player who didn't like it was free to pick up their bag and go home.  

    None of the above precludes the possibility that Rodriguez broke the letter of the law, but why should that upset anyone more than the fact that the spirit of the law is treated like a joke in the first place? If there were something particularly noble about college sports, the spirit would matter just as much as the letter. But there isn't anything nobler about it than any other business, no matter how hard the defenders of the flame like to claim otherwise.

    That's the wonderous sanctimony of college sports, at least in Division 1, in blazing color. It's all about winning, it has nothing to do with anything else and those still outraged by that should either get used to it or find other hobbies.   

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.