An interesting poll came out Tuesday that should not warm the hearts of SEC fans everywhere.
Coaches do not believe cheating is rampant in college football. But if there’s cheating going on, you know who is guilty.
“Out of the 130 FBS schools in FBS, I would say, in the SEC, 80 percent [knowingly cheat],” a coach said. “Everywhere else, about 20 percent.”
The poll was conducted by CBS Sports, which granted anonymity to respondents. About 25 FBS coaches weighed in.
One said that players get up to $500 by wandering the parking lot after games and getting cash handshakes from admiring tailgaters.
And I guarantee SEC fans think the poll is garbage. As a born-and-bred Southerner, I’d like to agree.
I’d like to write it off as sour grapes, Yankee elitism, Saban envy, whatever. But as a born-and-bred Southerner, I know better.
That’s not to say cheating alters the nation’s balance of football power. The SEC would still rule thanks to tradition, facilities, recruiting base and passion.
But that passion is harder to contain down South. The medical term is Harvey Updyke disease.
Updyke is the Alabama fan who got upset over Auburn’s national title run in 2010. To get back at Cam Newton, he poisoned the hallowed trees at Toomer’s Corner.
I’m not saying all fans are Harvey Updykes. The vast majority would never peel off a $100 bill for a recruit, much less kill a defenseless tree.
They are also convinced every SEC school (save Vandy) cheats except their own.
And no doubt, Updyke disease isn’t limited to the SEC.
“Everybody’s got their issues,” Vandy coach Derek Mason said at SEC Media Days.
He didn’t think any SEC schools intentionally cheat, which means he hasn’t been reading any news out of Mississippi lately.
But in general, Mason is probably right. State-sponsored cheating waned about the time Terry Bowden became head coach at Auburn in 1993.
In an AP interview eight years later, Bowden said he inherited system where boosters were paying players $12,000 to $15,000 to sign.
Bowden was told just to shake the boosters’ hands and say, “Thank you. I appreciate how much you love Auburn.”
Bowden said he ended the program. But fans’ love for Auburn or any SEC school is deep and eternal.
What’s changed is how it’s expressed. A big reason is money.
Florida hired former coach Charley Pell for $45,000 a year. The average salary of SEC coaches is now $4.3 million.
As Hugh Freeze is discovering, it would be idiotic to risk that for even a latter-day Herschel Walker. And I’m still naive enough to believe most coaches want to play by the rules.
Today’s cheating is more diffuse. Coaches don’t condone it and maintain deniability, but street agents pay recruits through third parties.
“There is that deal in the SEC and ACC where they’re funneling money through …churches,” one anonymous coach said.
Since college football is a religion in the South, I guess that makes sense.
I am certain some worshippers would pay the altar boy $15,000 if he could bench 500 pounds and run a 4.5 40-yard dash.
I remember a couple of them from a trip to Mississippi State in the early 1990s. We were on an airport shuttle and they started talking about how thrilled they were with their new coach, the infamous Jackie Sherrill.
“I don’t care what he does,” one fan said, “as long as we win.”
It was a classic case of Updyke disease.
Thousands of cash handshakes later, there is no cure in sight.