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Our Cowboys aren't the OK-State Cowboys

Sep 13, 2013 - By Chris Peck

But issues raised in Oklahoma are worth considering everywhere

On a long drive home the other night, I switched over to sports radio and heard an out-of-left-field reference to the University of Wyoming.

It was the Freddie Coleman show on ESPN radio. The talk was about the developing scandal within Oklahoma State's football program.

If you follow sports, you know about what's alleged.

A long investigation by Sports Illustrated magazine has uncovered a decade of college football abuses at OSU - coaches paying players to make big hits, professors passing players in classes where they did no work, boosters giving phantom jobs to players in the summer, and coeds sleeping with recruits to get them excited about coming to OSU.

Not a pretty picture.

But a guest on ESPN radio says it could happen anywhere.

"I'll bet if you looked at the University of Wyoming you could find stuff like this," said the guy on ESPN.

What?

Did he know something?

Was his dissing the Pokes?

Or was his point simply that every college program, even one in a small state far from the big-money conferences, has to do what it can to attract talent and keep players in school.

There is no reason to connect Wyoming football to the Oklahoma State troubles, even both their teams are called the Cowboys.

It was a stretch -- a leap being made by a guy who is paid radio announcer for Oklahoma State who was, quite frankly, grasping at straws to excuse what appears to be a major, messy scandal.

But the reference to UW does raise an interesting set of questions.

First, is the whole system of college athletics twisted and out of whack?

Second, why do people care so much in the first place about their college teams?

Third, if college sports really aren't about scholarship but about winning, who cares if players are paid anyway?

These are disconcerting thoughts at this time of the year.

For a huge swath of mankind, and many women as well, college football season is a happy break from life's struggles.

My cousin, James Peck, is an avid Cowboy fan. He travels to away games, grows hoarse shouting out unprintable insults to the opposing team, celebrates touchdowns and wins in awe-inspiring ways.

Yeah, he went UW.

But he's 50 years old now, doesn't live in Laramie, and has a family, responsible job, and many other interests.

But Cowboy football for him, and a legion of others, is about something important.

It's a bit of Wyoming pride.

It's about being part of the Wyoming tribe.

It's about sharing something relatively safe and fun with other people.

And honestly, most fans of the Cowboys or any other college team, really aren't concerned about the behind-the-scene maneuvers.

That athletes sometimes get into college without the best grades, or that they don't go to class that much, or that they sometimes aren't yet the most mature citizens -- all of that really disappears when it's game time.

You want to be there, cheering and sharing with others, for your team, mythical as it might be.

College football conjures up memories and images that touch us in deep ways.

Maybe you met your wife in college, and went to some games.

Maybe you where there when your team scored an upset, outdid itself against all odds.

Maybe you know a kid, or the story of a kid, who overcame big odds to even get to college sports.

Or maybe it's just the fun of tailgating with family and friends.

The bottom line is that most fans, to be honest, aren't all that worried about players being paid, or going to class, or having a fake job to make some money.

That's not to excuse the behavior nor exonerate schools that bend the rules.

Indeed, the University of Wyoming just this week suspended Jalen Clairborne, one of its best receivers, for violating team rules. So it's not like every players gets a pass on bad decisions.

And, the case of Oklahoma State should be a moment when the bigwigs of college sport actually consider a better way to run college athletics.

Like giving good players a stipend.

Or letting them have a 10-year window when they can come back and finish up their degrees.

Or offering much better counseling on behavior and relationships.

Fans would go for that. In Laramie or anywhere.

But when the weekend comes, and the Cowboys run onto the field against the Northern Colorado Bears this Saturday at War Memorial Stadium, precious few fans will be giving Oklahoma State's indiscretions a second thought.

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