It is the morning of the Lord’s Day and my mind ought to aim elsewhere, hence I’m feeling a little sheepish about this blog. But last night’s ESPN 30-30 documentary about SMU, called “Pony Excess,” is still on my mind.
I’m a relative newcomer to SMU, but have quickly become a fan. I had read, when I first came to campus a year and a half ago, of the excesses of the ’80s and the so-called death penalty. As I got acquainted with campus, I bumped into people here and there who were witnesses of this great tragedy.
So, I watched, last night, feeling the pathos, especially for all the people affected by the NCAA judgment who had nothing to do with causing the problems. Whatever else may be wrong with college athletics (especially football), I hope the NCAA never, ever, makes such a draconian decision again.
Fortunately, “Pony Excess” ended on a hopeful note. The Mustangs are winning again. I’m confident that the program is run with integrity. I’ve been privileged to chat with a few of the people who appeared in last night’s program. SMU has a good team, from the coaches to the administration and, while nobody’s perfect and we can find fault with any system, I’d bet that SMU’s football program is as clean or cleaner than any in the land.
But the story told last night missed one important piece – the role of United Methodist bishops in helping to right the SMU ship. In the wake of the scandal, a football coach, an athletic director and a university president resigned. The documentary made an allusion or two to the school’s board of governors. A very important part of the story attaches to the overhaul of the school’s governance structures.
Southern Methodist University belongs to the South Central Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church. In terms of how the school runs day-to-day or how professors teach their courses or what kind of students come to SMU (all kinds), this fact means little. I am employed at SMU because of this church relationship and I hope the presence of religious life organizations makes the school better than it would be without us. But that’s not the point here.
The bishops had a significant hand in helping to reorganize the school’s governance. No more figurehead board while the good ole’ boys pulled the strings from the back room. And yes, the Christian commitment to equity, integrity and transparency did, in fact, guide the values that helped to put SMU organizationally back on the road toward a vision of its better corporate self. The church – through its episcopal leaders – stepped in and did the right thing. And today’s SMU is much the better for it.
None of this was mentioned in last night’s documentary. Just a sentence or two in the narrative of the aftermath of the death penalty, in the changes that took place, would have satisfied me.
Since religion is one of those topics that we’re not supposed to discuss in polite company and because religion has been relegated to the realm of private opinion, I understand why people don’t think of it as having anything to do with matters like college sports. But it did. And it does. And we should notice.