Lord Acton once famously stated, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Those who wish to correct the problems of public corruption would do well to heed these words.
Take college football coaches. As someone who follows both the University of Arkansas and Ohio State, this last year has seen the effects of corruption in head coaches. So how is it fixed? The current solution is to fire the bum and hire someone else. But consider the situation into which the new guy is hired. Especially in the case of Ohio State, fans and boosters are wholly emotionally incapable of handling even a single loss — triply so in the case of the Michigan game. I say this with a great deal of experience, having grown up in and around Columbus. The new guy is expected immediately to turn the program around. Boosters, alumni, and the AD are second-guessing every decision. Every wins results in near-deification. Every loss there’s a call for his head. Corruption is simply inevitable in this environment. This doesn’t absolve the man of his corruption; he always had the option to make the right moral choice. His position as second only to God, combined with such intense pressure to produce, make any excess and any vice seem excusable. For a time, they are. Eventually he crosses an invisible bridge too far, and he falls from favor. Hard. The AD or the NCAA makes a big show of keeping the game clean, and the cycle continues. They fire the bum and hire a new guy — into the same set of pressures that led to the corruption of the last guy. So it goes.
What’s the answer? Hire only the most moral men you can find? That was Jim Tressel, until his own fall. So was Joe Paterno. Hire fallen men and they will act true to their sinful nature. I have a radical idea that comes straight from Lord Acton’s dictum: Take away their power.
It’s not such a hard concept, really. Stop treating coaches like demigods. Stop making college football the national civic idolatry. Require all college athletes to meet the same academic standards for entrance as anyone else, and require that they make their grades (and not their tutors for them — my alma mater is a major football school and I’ve seen it). If the NCAA won’t enforce standards, withdraw from it and establish a league where “scholar-athlete” doesn’t have to be in quotes. As long as wins are the most important goal of the institution, integrity takes a back seat. When football becomes merely a lighthearted periodic diversion — as it ought to be — there will simply be no incentive to cheat, lie, or be corrupt in any way. Until that time, don’t be surprised when the “great coaches” fall from grace every year.
Oh, and this works in other spheres of life as well. Don’t like the three-year election cycle of a President who can foist despotic policies on you? Put him back on the leash the Constitution gave to his office. Campaign finance reform usually only succeeds in restricting First Amendment rights to free speech, association, and petitioning government for redress of grievances. As long as the President is more or less an elected king, half of the country will be miserable half of the time. Why not dust off the Tenth Amendment and restore local governance? That way there is simply little reason for Presidential elections to last three years and cost $2 billion.
Or we could keep things just the way they are and wondering why there’s so much corruption.