When we look back on how college athletics fared in 2011, we will remember it much more for the disgraces -- Jerry Sandusky and Bernie Fine at the top of that list -- than some of the good stories -- UConn's Kemba Walker and BYU's Jimmer Fredette.
Looking back on the year that was is one of the most cliché things that any news outlet can do, but college sports truly warrant a look back due to the large amount of newsworthy events over the course of the past year.
Most would love to look back at this past year of college athletics and think of only Walker leading the Huskies on an improbable run through the Big East and NCAA tournaments or Rutgers' Eric LeGrand defying the odds to lead his team onto the field after a nasty on-field injury left him paralyzed from the neck down.
But when I think back on 2011, I'll think of the demise of Joe Paterno and Penn State football; the way college administrators lied and schemed their ways to bigger paydays in conference realignment; more and more scandals like the ones at Ohio State and Miami; and of course the lack of true resolution in college football without a playoff.
Penn State Scandal Rocks College Football
The scandal to rock Penn State is not only the biggest to shake college athletics in years, but is one of the biggest sports scandals of all time. Most are already familiar with what generally happened, but the scandal centered around former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky sexually molesting young boys on the Penn State campus and the university doing nothing to stop him.
The length list of charges against Sandusky, including raping a 10-year old boy in 2002 in a Penn State locker room, led to the dismissals of longtime coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier.
The whole situation was badly mishandled by the university -- especially from a public relations standpoint -- and was widely criticized by national media. Many were glued to their televisions in shock as Penn State students protested and rioted when Paterno was fired, despite the strong rationale behind firing a coach that neglected to go to the authorities with child molestation allegations.
For years university officials had tried to push out the 85-year-old coach, but it was impossible ever to imagine Paterno getting fired in the manner he was.
Penn State will now face possible NCAA and Big 10 sanctions, as it searches for a coach to replace the legendary Paterno. The school's rumored top choice, Mike Munchak, has already turned down the opportunity, which could be the beginning of a bad trend.
It's doubtful that the university will face any serious sanctions because of the Sandusky scandal, but that hasn't stopped some from hoping it will. Even without sanctions, there will likely be a dark cloud over Happy Valley for a long time.
The Sham of Conference Realignment
The conference realignment carousel has been going for years, but seemed to really gear up in 2011. Across the country, we saw high-level college administrators try to do everything in their power to move to other conferences for a potential bigger slice of a cash pie -- even if their student-athletes suffered due to longer travel times.
The amount of conference realignment moves in 2011 is staggering, but to give a brief review of the most important moves:
ACC: Added Pittsburgh and Syracuse
Big 12: Lost Texas A&M and Missouri; added TCU and West Virginia
Big East: Lost Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and TCU; added Boise State, Houston, San Diego State, SMU, and UCF
SEC: Added Texas A&M and Missouri
Even the mildest of sports fans can see the absurdity of some of those moves. Missouri playing in the Deep South-centric SEC? Or how about Boise State and San Diego State traveling to New Jersey and Connecticut to play in the Big East?
The insane moves will undoubtedly result in more travel time and less potential study time for the student-athletes, but it's pretty apparent that no one actually cares, no matter how much they might say otherwise.
College athletics is 100 percent about money -- specifically money from television deals -- and every university president, board of trustees and athletic director made that abundantly clear in 2011. Who cares about long-standing rivalries when you can make a couple of extra million dollars a year?
That's not even factoring in that Texas and Oklahoma almost bailed for the Pac-12 and the Big East was on the verge of death multiple times over the course of the year.
I can understand that college athletics is a business, but then it's time to drop the charade. Cut the boring sports that no one cares about -- here's looking at you, women's field hockey -- and just reinvest all of that television money in the big revenue sports of football and basketball.
If that's all we care about and that's the reason why these college administrators are making these moves, then let's just end the game of the importance of student-athletes and acknowledge them for what they are: a huge revenue source for universities and the NCAA.
Ohio State, Miami Scandals Show Underbelly of College Athletics
Scandals at Ohio State and Miami continued the trend of big-name programs getting in trouble with the NCAA. Ohio State got in trouble for covering up its players trading memorabilia and autographs for free tattoos and cash, which resulted in a one-year bowl ban and small loss of scholarships.
Yahoo Sports reported this summer on a former Miami booster Nevin Shapiro allegedly providing multiple gifts to past and current Miami football players, including alcohol, women, parties and more. The NCAA has yet to rule on the situation, but there is no question The U will face sanctions.
Those programs join USC, North Carolina, and others that have recently gotten caught cheating and subsequently received slaps on the wrist from the NCAA. Either the NCAA needs to start getting stricter with penalties or it needs to just acknowledge that cheating is rampant and allow it to happen.
I've talked to numerous college sports experts, coaches, reporters, and others over the past few years and almost all unanimously agree that there is a nasty, dirty underbelly to college athletics and it's only getting worse.
There are coaches and boosters buying recruits with cash and gifts. There are coaches and boosters paying current players with cash and gifts. More likely than not, one of your favorite college players is either being paid or has been offered money in the past.
We pretend to be shocked any time a new college athletics scandal goes public, but outside of the sickening Penn State situation, there is no scandal that should shock anyone at this point. The only issue is that the NCAA has gotten less and less strict with its penalties after it received backlash for giving the death penalty to SMU's football program in 1987.
The NCAA hasn't issued a death penalty to another major program since SMU, despite some schools doing significantly worse things than what SMU got in trouble for.
It started as guys thinking they were doing the right thing to help these kids out, Thaddeus Matula, director of critically acclaimed ESPN 30 for 30 documentary Pony Excess told the International Business Times. To let them have fun in the big city or to go out for pizza and then it got out of control.
But what you had at SMU pales in comparison to other NCAA football scandals in that all the money changing hands wasn't all that much. It's blown out of proportion because they got the death penalty.
It took more than 20 years for SMU football to truly regain its footing after being banned from television and bowl games for two years. For that, Matula doesn't wish the death penalty on any other program, but it's clear that the NCAA needs to do something about the blatant cheating going on at its schools.
A one-year bowl ban and small reduction of scholarships isn't going to stop Ohio State from pushing the boundaries or covering up infractions in the future. But a multi-year bowl ban and reduction of scholarships for the next five years could send a message.
Otherwise big-time schools will continue to allow cheating to go on because the rewards are fantastic and the risks/penalties are minimal.
The Need for a Playoff in College Football
There is clearly a lot wrong with college football, but one of the biggest issues is the lack of a playoff. It doesn't matter if it is a Plus-One or a 16-team playoff, there simply needs to be a playoff in college football in 2012.
Ignoring all of the college football scandals in 2011 is impossible to do, but there has been quite a bit of excitement with the sport. But the sport's conference championships yet again meant nothing because no conference champion ended up in the national championship game.
With a Plus-One playoff format fans wouldn't have to see a retread of LSU versus Alabama. Instead fans would see semifinal matchups of LSU versus Stanford and Alabama versus Oklahoma State, which would do a much better job of determining a true national champion.
Even better would be Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson's 16-team playoff model. A large playoff such as Thompson's would add a ton of importance to each conference championship game and allow teams under the radar to have a shot at a national championship.
A 16-team model like Thompson's would generate as much as three times the amount the current Bowl Championship Series generates, but yet it still faces major opposition.
Big 10 commissioner Jim Delany has strongly fought any sort of college football playoff, despite playoff support from the ACC, Big 12, and SEC. The Big 10 is assumed to fear its crown jewel, the Rose Bowl, becoming overshadowed by some sort of playoff, but that fear is largely misplaced.
Playoff proponents, including Yahoo's Dan Wetzel, believe that it's becoming more and more likely that college football will get a playoff, but I still have my doubts.
It makes perfect sense for college football to have a playoff, which is why it won't happen. If anything has been apparent this past year, it is that the NCAA is an incompetent organization that loves to shift blame and rarely makes decisions in the best interest of its student-athletes.
The NCAA has little power to prosecute member organizations for cheating or for ruining traditions through realignment, but yet continues to have a say in manners like a playoff system. It would greatly enhance the game - is there anyone who doesn't enjoy college basketball's March Madness - but color me skeptical on whether it will ever actually happen.