Collegiate football coaches long have known how to make the best strategic use of the penalties for rule-breaking on and off the playing field. One old unwritten rule of coaching that needs to be booted once and for all in light of the academic-irregularities scandal that has marred the coming college football season is: "They'll fire you for losing before they'll fire you for cheating."
The kind of sideline signals that the game needs more of as college football opens its 12th decade this fall were coming from Syracuse University coach Frank Maloney last week. Concerned that the "moral decay" in college football seems to be getting worse, Coach Maloney decried the soft penalties given five Pacific 10 Conference schools, including powerful Southern California, for academic violations. As Coach Maloney put it, "Some schools don't seem to care if they're put on probation for a year. So they can't win their conference title or go to a bowl game, but they still appear on national television, they still win games, and meanwhile their [athletic] program is being expanded."
Coach Maloney's solution would be to stiffen the penalties. Coaches who cheat should be dismissed. Players who receive credit for courses they don't take should be banned. Schools that falsify grades and, in effect, pay athletes to keep them in school should be penalized financially. College presidents should get together and restructure the rules.
Such steps and more coaches and school administrators determined to play by the rules are what college football needs most to be the all-American sport it's supposed to be.