Based on the limited information available about the upcoming HBO special Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, this is apparently the path taken by the cable giant.
In the first of a planned three-part series on the state of college sports Gumbel and his co-hosts will delve into the controversy over whether college athletes should be paid for their participation. In promotional videos on the HBO site, Gumbel very clearly says that they should.
According to a variety of media sources, correspondents for the series have contacted several former college football players to get their perspective on the topic. Most credible reports indicate that players were questioned about potential extra benefits they may have received either during the recruiting process or while they were on campus.
At this point only two players have been positively identified as appearing on the HBO show: former Auburn offensive lineman Troy Reddick and ex Alabama wide receiver Tyrone Prothro. Widely circulated rumors indicated that former Auburn defensive lineman Stanley McClover was intereviewed for the show and alleged improper benefits, but there is no mention of McClover’s participation in the promos currently airing.
Other former Auburn players also reported attempts by HBO to contact them, often via Facebook, and at least one indicated that the producers asked leading questions.
From every indication the HBO special is less about investigative journalism or providing shocking (or potentially damaging) allegations to light and more about questioning the very manner in which the NCAA does business. In the promos, Gumbel and his co-hosts appear less concerned with the issue of benefits and more focused on why athletes should or should not receive them. That is certainly a timely and viable topic and one that deserves attention.
While we reserve judgement on the content and intent of the interviews until the show has aired, we do have one question: Why Auburn?
Consdering there are 119 colleges that participate in college football at the Division 1 level, why would HBO focus on at least one and possibly two players from Auburn in building this report?
Consider that Auburn has not even been accused of major football recruiting violations since the 1970s. Also consider Auburn has not even been accused of providing improper benefits since 1990 (the Tigers were placed on probation in 1992).
If you’re looking for stories about snow, why start in Orlando? If you’re going to start digging for pay-for-play or recruiting dirt, why would you start with a college that hasn’t even been accused of a football recruiting or player benefit violation in more than 20 years?
There are numerous programs with more recent, documented instances of violating NCAA rules. No team has more penalties over the last decade and a half than arch rival Alabama. USC just suffered severe sanctions for violations. Oklahoma, Florida State and Michigan, among others, all have far more recent instances of reported violations. Wouldn’t it make more sense for HBO to start there?
Is HBO’s apparent focus on Auburn because the Tigers are the BCS national champions and the hottest name of the 2010 season? Is it because hysterical and often inaccurate reporting on Cam Newton’s recruitment at Mississippi State generated acres of headlines?
A second question also arises. Why would HBO concentrate on players who seemingly had NFL potential but did not succeed at the next level? Why not focus on all the former players who did find professional success and have no personal stake or possible axe to grind?
It seems Real Sports may have adopted a position and sought out those who support it, rather than examining the issue objectively and honestly. In that respect it is reminiscent of the recent CNN/SI report on the number of criminals in college athletic programs. That highly sensationalized report ignored pertinent facts that didn’t support its cause. There was no real story there.
True journalism consists of presenting the facts as they are, not as you wish them to be. Hopefully HBO kept this in mind during the production of Real Sports.
The special airs March 30 on HBO and will be repeated at various times during the month of April.