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Cheering for the Enemy

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Being a sports fan is weird. It can bring up several conflicting emotions, and I tried to work through those this week.

Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

I've always thought of sports as a respite from life. You turn on the TV Saturday morning because it's another 11 a.m. kickoff (thanks, Obama) and don't think about anything for three hours except, "Why didn't I order more buffalo wings?" and "JUST GIVE IT TO MELVIN, YOU IDIOTS!" You go to the bar after work on Tuesday night and catch the big Wisconsin-Michigan State basketball game, and all you talk about with your friends is basketball.

I'm finding it harder and harder to separate sports and life. The unconscionable decision of Ray Rice to put his hands on his fiancee and the deplorable handling of the aftermath by the NFL, the Ravens and the Atlantic City District Attorney's Office makes me want to retch (writer's note: As I was writing this, news broke that the NFL was sent the video from inside the elevator back in April. I can't even form coherent thoughts on that). The NCAA trying to sneak the reduction of Penn State's sanctions through the news cycle no more than 30 minutes after the Ravens fired Ray Rice? Abominable.

Since this is a college sports site, I want to focus on the NCAA for a second. Allow me to preface this with a disclaimer for any and all Penn State fans that read this, and I know there are tons of you out there. As a somewhat biased observer (I grew up in Pennsylvania and have many friends that went to Penn State), I am happy for this year's iteration of Penn State football. These kids were all younger than 5 when Jerry Sandusky last coached a college football game for PSU. Why should they be punished with bowl bans? I hope Penn State makes a bowl -- at this rate, they may be the only team in the Big Ten that does -- and the players remember it for the rest of their lives.

Penn State being allowed to play in a bowl game a few years before the NCAA's punishment said it could doesn't bother me at all. What bothers me is the NCAA, quite clearly, making it all up as it goes along. Take this quote for example:

By the way, this isn't just me talking. I spoke with several coaches and former NCAA officials who question the organization's ability to remain relevant. The consensus: It can happen, but only if the NCAA is willing to make fundamental changes to the way it does business.

Right now, the NCAA has too many coats of bureaucratic paint. Its size has contributed to its inability to react quickly. Imagine a battleship trying to turn around in the Panama Canal. That's the NCAA.

It wasn't created for these times and these issues. It initially was the byproduct of then-President Theodore Roosevelt's concerns about the violent nature of a budding sport called football. As college athletics grew, so did the NCAA, evolving from a mom-and-pop organization to a dictatorship of sorts in the Walter Byers era to an overweight and sometimes clumsily ineffective regulatory body.

That must be from a recent piece blasting the NCAA, right? Well, it was written in 2010, so I guess this depends on your definition of "recent."

The NCAA is making it hard for me to cheer for my alma mater. There are so many issues that it's handling poorly, it is taking away the enjoyment of watching the Badgers play sports. They are, here listed in the style of a rapper putting his beefs in order on a diss track: unionization of players, players getting paid for their likenesses, concussions, archaic transfer rules, poor graduation rates, compensation beyond an athletic scholarship, year-to-year scholarships, sexual and physical assaults not proportionately punished or prevented and... I could go on.

My friends, all graduates of the University of Wisconsin, and I have been discussing the moral issues presented by following sports all week via email and text message. We are finding it extremely difficult to see a positive ending for the NCAA. Change is coming slowly, but it might be too late.

Despite growing up in Pennsylvania, I have been a Badger fan my entire life (thanks, Dad!). I have been going to games since I was little. I was at the Shoe Box game; I was at Barry Alvarez's last game; I've been to Pasadena, Orlando, Colorado Springs, Minneapolis, State College, East Lansing, Chicago and Iowa City for Badger sporting events. Wisconsin is engrained in me. I don't want to stop loving Wisconsin sports because the NCAA is the worst.

I've been struggling to reconcile my sports fandom with my fandom of being a decent person, and it has been difficult. I will always love my university (where I got my diploma in just a shade under a decade) and the state of Wisconsin (where my dad is from, where half of my family lives, where I met my best friends and my wife), but I want to love the sports teams therein just as unequivocally. It's becoming harder and harder to do so with the specter of the NCAA hanging over competition.