At 11:30 a.m. ET on Thursday, these were the top headlines on the college football page of this Web site:
• Sources: Auburn sits Blackmon, Sears for 3 games
• Former Volunteers QB Schaeffer eligible at Ole Miss
• Volunteers dismiss one football player, suspend another
• Moss, Moore among suspended Canes for FSU game
• Report: Son of Bonds' surgeon flunked USC steroid test
• Air Force suspends kicker Harrison indefinitely
• Marijuana issue last straw as Utah St. dismisses Davis
• NCAA says bad report cards could cost schools plenty
Welcome to college football 2006. Feel the purity!
That Thursday rap sheet doesn't even mention the biggest bust of the week: the dismissal of Oklahoma starting quarterback Rhett Bomar and starting offensive guard J.D. Quinn for apparently taking a large amount of money for a small amount of work at a Norman auto dealership (that story was in the lead position on the page, complete with photo). This is the same dealership that let running back Adrian Peterson (you might have heard of him) "test-drive" a used Lexus free of charge for weeks before returning it -- a practice that was declared standard operating procedure by the former general manager, and thus not an NCAA violation.
(Here's what I'd like to order at the football drive-through: a no-show job, free use of a luxury car and a few credits from the Auburn no-attendance sociology courses exposed recently by The New York Times. Then I'd complain about college athletes not being paid while driving away.)
So it has been a stellar summer for the Young Men of Great Character -- sorry, lapsed into coachspeak -- whom we cheer with blind loyalty in the fall.
The sport's current All-Bad-Actor Team would be a pretty fair national championship contender. In the backfield alone, we have quarterback Bomar, running backs Ramonce Taylor (Texas; facing the small matter of being apprehended with 4 pounds of marijuana in his truck), Darren McFadden (Arkansas; who dislocated a toe while brawling outside a Little Rock bar at 4 a.m., undoubtedly on his way to deliver newspapers) and Tyrone Moss (Miami; suspended for undisclosed violation of team policies). At wide receiver, we have Ryan Moore (Miami; see Moss entry), James Hardy (Indiana; facing a domestic battery charge) and Dorien Bryant (Purdue; received a year's probation and five days of trash pickup duty last month after punching someone in the face at a party).
Throw in some steroid issues, some academic washouts and a few other miscellaneous misanthropic acts, and you have an entire starting unit of problem children. Many of them play at some of the biggest powerhouses in the country, and many will miss some of the most important games of September.
Time to rewrite that preseason Top 25.
And, while we're at it, time to rewrite the codes of acceptable conduct and consequences for college athletes.
Fact is, people of college age have been doing knuckleheaded things ever since college was invented. That's not going to stop. There is something genetically encoded in the 19-year-old mind that occasionally blocks the flow of common sense and leads to epic bouts of bad judgment. All of us old folks have our idiot stories to tell (and no, I'm not telling any of mine).
But here is the new rule of engagement for rules breakers: It's more likely than ever that the world is going to hear about whatever you're doing wrong. The Internet has made almost everything everyone's business, and damned fast.
So the more stories that are percolating out there about athletes behaving badly, the more pressure there is on schools and coaches to deal with them. Forcefully and decisively. Hence, we have SuspensionMania this week in college football.
Certainly, the final responsibility for going to class, avoiding jail time and not accepting paychecks for jobs un-worked lies with the athletes themselves. There are worse things than having to suck it up and go through life as a college athlete, fellas. Guys your age are dodging roadside bombs in Iraq right now.
But just as certainly, we've seen that athletes continually fail to do the right things. That means schools need to consider being more proactive. Many of them have the reactive part down, as all the disciplinary measures of the week have shown, but they need to rejigger their priorities.
Case in point: Oklahoma.
I know firsthand that the Sooners' compliance office is alive and vigilant and that athletic director Joe Castiglione cares about following the rules. Two years ago, I wrote a story from Norman that contained the name of a women's basketball recruit who was making an official campus visit. I got a call a few days later from Oklahoma's compliance officer, saying the school needed to turn itself in for a secondary violation because that mention publicized her visit.
But I also know this: The OU athletic Web site lists four members of the compliance office, including an administrative assistant. Meanwhile, the 2005 OU football media guide says the program has an equipment coordinator, three assistants, a laundry attendant and 10 student workers.
A quality compliance officer is probably more expensive than a quality equipment guy. But cleaning up this Bomar mess will be a lot more expensive than replacing a pair of shoulder pads.
But that's hardly just an Oklahoma phenomenon. It's everywhere. The 2006 Texas football media guide has the names and faces of 32 students (30 of them female, most of them gorgeous) who serve as recruiting hosts. I couldn't locate the name or face of a single athletic department compliance worker anywhere in the 208-page guide.
If I'm running a compliance office at a major athletic power, and the star (OK, star-ting) quarterback is working at an auto dealership that has a cozy relationship with the athletic department, supplying it with comp cars, I'm already nervous. I want enough people at my disposal to physically check out work arrangements.
I'd dispatch someone to the dealership from time to time to make sure the star (OK, star-ting) quarterback was actually, you know, working. And I'd do the same with as many other athletes as possible -- especially the stars.
People want to give those guys things (houses, reportedly, if you're the parents of Reggie Bush). You'd think the school might want to know about it.
Then again, maybe the school doesn't want to know. Maybe every major athletic power is averting its eyes and holding its breath, hoping it doesn't have to be the next school to drop the disciplinary hammer in what already has been an ugly August.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.