The Church and the NCAA Death Penalty


This morning the sports world is all abuzz about cheating allegations in NCAA football.  Perhaps  I should say all abuzz with new cheating allegations, since hardly a week goes by when there aren’t some new allegations of cheating.  However, what makes these one so interesting is they seem to have occurred on a massive, level.  Are as tawdry as any allegations in the past and involve a school, Miami, with a history of past violations. You can read more of the details at ESPN.com, or SI.com.

The most interesting aspect of this case, to me, is that it has raised the spectre of the NCAA imposing the “death penalty” on Miami.  The “death penalty,”  so called because  it involves as complete ban on competition for at least one year period, has been used five times, with the most notable example being the Southern Methodist University  football program in 1987/88.  A penalty that the program is only beginning to recover from now.

Now all of this still has to play out, but one of the comments being made at this point is, in effect, if they apply the “death penalty” to Miami, it’s the end of college football as we know it.  To which I say, “College football is dead, long live College football.”  If this goes trough there is undoubtedly a good possibility that college football as a big dollar, television driven sport will suffer. This would likely favour the football factory schools.  Yet I think that  while undoubtedly some schools would lose teams, in general people would still want to go out and cheer for their school.

On the plus side, this might bring more focus on making sure that athletes that scholarships also get educations.  As well, there would conceivably be less pressure on coaches and players to  play when injured.  Maybe, for example,  there would be less emphasis on linemen building themselves up to well over the 300lb mark and then fighting the rest of their lives to get the weight under control (I know they are working on this in some places).  In short, in some schools it will still all be about the money and prestige, but perhaps it more schools it will be about the players and the game itself.

Now you may wonder, where does the Church fit into all of this.  It fits in, to the extent that it is in the same situation as the NCAA.  While debating what to do with the Miami, among other schools, one big question facing the NCAA is whether or not it wants to preserve its structure as it is or whether or not it’s willing to let that structure to be torn down in order that a different structure be built in its place.  Perhaps even to the extent of dissolving itself and allowing a new structure to be put in place(though I doubt this would ever happen)

Likewise, many churches are finding themselves.  Now some are indeed involved in scandal, and to deny that is to deny that the message of grace and forgiveness that we preach is a message that we need to respond to before we can expect anyone else to be willing to respond to it.  However, I’m thinking more of the structures that have come to define the church.  Some, I’m sure would wish that we get rid of structures entirely, however, no structure means utter chaos, and there is enough chaos in our lives and our world without our unnecessarily adding to it.

However, we do spend a whole lot of time trying to preserve the structures that we do have.  Instead of allowing parishes to die, for example, we look for ways to keep them on life support as long as possible.  Rather than a palliative approach, we instead try all means necessary to keep alive.  We say that new life cannot occur until death has come, while at the same time doing all we can to keep the patient breathing for as long as possible.  My question for those advocating this approach is, why would anybody want to be involved  in something new, when it’s connected to something that spent several years dying a slow, agonizing death.

Likewise, when we look to start something new we scout out a locations, try and find a building of some sort and start a new church.   We plug thousands into plant and equipment and immediately find ourselves struggling to meet budgets.  However, we’re so often, so entrenched in our current congregation/parish, conference/synod/diocese patterns that we are unable to envision anything else.  Perhaps it’s time to impose the “death penalty,” on our churches and wait and see what new things arise out of them. Maybe then  we can say “the churches are dead, long live the Church.”

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