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September’s $90-million-dollar man

Remember the 1970s action series featuring Steve Austin (AKA Lee Majors) as the Six-Million-Dollar man, with bionic limbs and superhuman power allowing him to run up to 60 MPH? The Dallas Cowboys made Ezekiel Elliott, the former Ohio State player, the $90 million-dollar man this month.

Elliott’s deal influenced by his 40-day holdout from training camp isn’t a bad one given that Jerry Jones, owner of the Cowboys, can afford the tab that guarantees the running back a minimum of $50 million over six-years. Forbes magazine consistently ranks the Dallas Cowboys with a net worth over $5 billion, as the most valuable professional franchise in the world. In fact, the NFL is so rich that half of the franchises listed among the top 50 are American football teams. The other half represents a scattering of MLB, NBA, and Premier League soccer teams (such as Manchester United, Real Madrid, and Barcelona). All of the franchises in the top 50 are worth at least $2 billion.

The fascination with football in Tiffin, Ohio rivals any American city from Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Athens, Georgia to Boston or just about anywhere in the continental states — including Dallas, home of that $90-million-dollar man. There is so much inherently good in supporting football, ranging from road trips to Notre Dame and Ohio State to cheering with Calvert’s Seneca Sue or ringing the bell after a Columbian score.

There is so much inherently bad, too. In Mobile, Alabama a few weeks ago, a 17-year-old teen shot nine fans inside a stadium while another high school game in Cincinnati was called shortly after a player head-butted an official.

In Tiffin, there’s also a lot of football fans following volleyball with keen anticipation for the Columbian-Calvert matchup ending the regular season in mid-October. Soon after football and volleyball ends, many high school seniors will be visiting prospective colleges with a few seeking an athletic scholarship. Money fuels the potential for corruption and big-time college sports have forever been under the radar to curtail cases of fraud or bribery. The most recent FBI crackdown on college basketball and the Varsity Blues Admissions’ scam is hitting the sentencing phase. It’s ironic that Chuck Person, a former NBA player (1987 Rookie of the Year) and assistant coach at Auburn received no prison time for accepting $91,500 in bribes to steer recruits to particular basketball programs while celebrity actress Felicity Hoffman is to serve 14 days for her role in paying to have her daughter’s SAT score embellished.

Both bribery scandals were connected to Division I colleges. Incidentally, a study of NCAA Division I major infraction cases between 1953 and 2014 revealed 83% were related to football and basketball. However, there are 10 times — if not 50 times — as many minor violations throughout all levels of college sports such as a coach pocket-dialing a recruit outside a permissible contact period or a team traveling with an ineligible player due to a delay in filing paperwork. Although the Ohio State football program had its share of trouble following a 2010 incident when Terrelle Pryor and other players sold their memorabilia, the $90-million-dollar man didn’t step on campus until years later.

The felonious crimes painting college athletics as a playground for potential corruption are actually a reflection of the macrocosm of society where only a fraction of bad behavior deemed media-worthy are featured widely enough to influence public perception. The notorious point-shaving scandals in collegiate basketball between the 1950s-90s tarnished the NCAA’s reputation for providing an uncompromised system of fair play; however, the number of total cases can barely be counted on two hands. Similarly, the small percentage of bribes floating through the admission offices of Ivy league schools last year and the few dozen basketball departments at D-I power institutions involved in the latest corruption scandal have perpetuated a negative image of college sports as a money-hungry machine. Despite the attention on big time scandals in college sports, the ratings for college football are though the roof this September with no slow-down in sight.

There is also plenty, plenty of good in college football and college sports. Hats off to the University of Alabama experimenting with a loyalty app designed to keep students in the stadium seats longer by incentivizing them with upgrades and increased access to SEC playoff games. Maybe the app and some type of incentive would work to keep students in the seats longer at Frost-Kalnow and Hoernemann stadiums, home of the Tiffin Dragons and Heidelberg Student Princes.

Another novel idea is to see if the $90-million-dollar man, void of any true super-human power, is earning his paycheck with the Cowboys over the next few Sundays. So far, Dallas is 3-1 and the $90-million-dollar man ranks fourth in the NFL in average rushing yards. I wonder if Elliott could out-run Caster Semenya, the mid-distance South African runner and Olympic champion who is missing the world championships in Doha, Qatar this week since refusing injection treatments to lower her natural testosterone level. Whether addressing salaries among NFL players or gender equality among world class athletes, the concept of equity is rationalized in a scientific equation instead of a social issue which automatically draws the line between a winner and loser if there is no parity. Guess Elliot wins and Semenya, unfortunately, loses.

Stay tuned next month for more interesting sport stories from around the globe, around the country, around the state, and right here in Tiffin, Ohio.

Bonnie Tiell is a professor of sports management at Tiffin University.

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