If I said the words scandal, heated competition, and popularity polls, what would you think of first? Politics? American Idol? Possible, but I’m talking about something that’s much more intense than politics and a hell of a lot more exciting than glorified karaoke. I’m talking college football.

What I did there is called “free association”…you read words and try to decipher what they might mean, even if you’re way off. It’s appropriate here because it’s the same method the NCAA uses when they look at their rulebook. Rules are up for interpretation. Just ask the various programs on the latest violation radar…Auburn, Ohio State, Miami, and all the schools whose fans misspell signs on College Gameday (you know who you are. Actually, you probably don’t.)

Scandals and immoral behavior are no strangers to college athletics. There’s been so much cheating and cover ups, they should give Schwarzenegger the Heisman. But things seem to be getting way out of control.

Last year, Cam Newton’s dad tried to get paid for his son’s talent, an obvious violation. But the Auburn star supposedly knew nothing about it…so the NCAA slightly modified the old “tree falling in a forest” question and let him play. Ohio State players sold memorabilia for tattoos, a major no-no. Yet they were allowed to take their new ink and play in a bowl game, a decision more laughable than a sorority girl thinking the Chinese symbol on her arm means “knowledge”.

And of course Miami. Good Lord. We all knew that program was crooked, but damn. I’ve seen cleaner Greyhound Station restrooms. The latest scandal is…some ponzi scheme dude got his feelings hurt when the players he paid didn’t huddle up and blitz his accusers. So now he’s telling authorities that over six years, he provided 72 players with cash, jewelry, and sex parties. Although it’s refreshing that someone has finally given a better meaning to “fantasy football”, it’s still a big fat disappointment.

The NCAA says they’re investigating, which is the equivalent of telling your mom you were at the library. Possible, but not really. Authorities say that Miami may very well get the death penalty. They’re most likely not serious, since the university has yet to hire Casey Anthony’s lawyers. Truth is, authorities will talk a big game, then slap the Hurricanes on the wrist. Maybe give them a warning and downgrade them to the Tropical Storms, but that’s it. Just when you thought nothing could be more hilarious than Geno Torretta’s post-Heisman career.

Stories like these exist because college football has gotten quite serious. To some fans, it’s religion. For instance, an irate Alabama fan poisoned the famous oak trees at Auburn’s Toomer’s Corner earlier this year. If that’s religion, then first place in the nutball church poll no longer belongs to snake handlers. Some say the guy’s just a normal, intense Alabamian who went too far, which is like saying he’s a man who loves to make meth and then dump the bathtub on his neighbor’s lawn.

If you think about it, nothing in college football seems to make sense anymore. The Pac-10 now has 12 teams, as does the Big 10. The Big 12 now has 10 teams. The confusing formula has probably spilled over to normal college life too. The Freshman 15 is now the Freshman 20. Three hours credit is now worth four. And the average salary for graduates is…well, let’s not get depressing.

Furthermore, Louisiana Tech is now in the Western Athletic Conference, and TCU in Fort Worth is now in the Mountain West Conference. The last time Louisiana was considered the West, it was on Napoleon’s Clearance Rack. And if you ever think you see a mountain in Fort Worth, you should seriously stop licking horned frogs.

All of it is enough to give me a headache the size of the Florida/Furman point spread.

Thankfully, it’s not all bad. To be sure, there are some wonderful and notable things about college football. For example…
Joe Paterno is still coaching, a feat predicted only by his very first team, the Mayans.

Alabama fans helped Auburn in trying to save their trees, and Auburn fans helped Bama fans affected by this spring’s tornadoes. Sportsmanship like that seems to be more rare than Nick Saban staying in one city for more than 3 years.

Notre Dame is allowing star receiver Michael Floyd to play after his third DUI, putting that “forgiveness” doctrine into serious practice. Three DUIs, Michael? Here’s a hint: don’t run your straight-line sobriety test like a post pattern. Moron.

Ole Miss changed its live mascot from the old Johnny Rebel to the less offensive Black Bear. It’s a move that causes many to ask…why not just the Bears? Are black bears indigenous to Mississippi, or is the school simply overcompensating? If Irish-Americans ever asked Notre Dame to change their mascot, maybe we’d see the sport’s first ever Ginger Bears.

The Georgia/Florida game will no longer carry the name “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party”, probably after getting a cease and desist letter from Charlie Sheen’s liver. That doesn’t make sense, I admit, since his liver is not outdoors. But just wait.

Traditional rivalry game trophies include the Apple Cup, the Old Oaken Bucket, the Golden Egg, and Paul Bunyan’s axe. It’s nice to see schools save money on prizes by raiding the walls at Cracker Barrel. By the end of the year, Army and Navy may play for a triangle peg game and a big rocking chair.

It’s too early to predict anything, of course. We do know there won’t be a playoff, so someone’s sure to go home angry at the end of the season once again. Fans won’t see a playoff anytime soon…unless we persuade the decision makers with nice cash incentives. Smart money says that Auburn, Ohio State, and Miami know a few guys who can make that happen. Let the games begin!