I hate to be the one to jerk the glass slipper off Cinderella -- but, since no one else seems willing to, I will. I could dance delicately around the facts -- but what would be the point? Wake Forest's football team got to the big ball (aka the Bowl Championship Series Orange Bowl), just they way you would expect: by cheating.
Before I catalog the numerous sins of Wake Forest University's aptly named Demon Deacons, let me give you some background on the puny school and their historically hapless football program. They are no doubt the feel-good story for this year's college football season, for what appeared to be good reason.
Coming into this season Wake had the second-worst winning percentage over the history of Division I-A football, losing 60% of their games all time. By scheduling Kent University a few more times over the last seventy-five years maybe they could have become the third or fourth worst.
As the third smallest school in Division I-A football (just ahead of traditional football powers Tulsa and Rice) Wake Forest can hardly be faulted for doing whatever is necessary to win against all the bigger bullies on the block. But, I can't sit idly by while they cheat their way past big-time college football programs who have more fans willing to withhold more support to get a win than all Wake supporters have ever given to begin with.
The cheating starts at the top. Head coach Jim Grobe's own offensive co-coordinator, Steed Lobotzke, admits Wake cheats on the field. "Half our offense is smoke and mirrors. Play them [Wake's opponents] one time, give 'em your best smoke and mirrors and see what you can get away with." With an offense called "a quirky grab-bag of misdirection and counterplays," other teams are frequently befuddled by some the ugliest plays in the history of football. Wake runs more scams in a quarter than the NYPD Fraud Unit sees in a year. Just because the plays work doesn't make them right!
Wake again cheats as they "emphasize academics." How are football schools (such as Oklahoma, Nebraska or Miami) to compete with a school where the students' average SAT score is 1340? This underhanded tactic allows Wake to run an offense far too complicated for real football players to follow much less understand or defend against.
Further, Wake plays an extra player on offense on almost every running play. Why don't they get called for "12 men on the field" repeatedly? That extra player is disguised as scrawny first-year QB Riley Skinner, who actually blocks for his running backs.
What's more, for decades Wake's been everybody's favorite home-coming opponent. How can you expect an actual football team to prepare for a cupcake? Little wonder Wake pulled so many upsets. How's Georgia Tech (which once outscored an opponent 222 to nothing) supposed to look at the ACC Championship marquee and see "Ga. Tech vs. WFU," then get psyched up for the game?
Wake cheated when they hired their coach to a long-term contract -- and actually meant it. Everybody knows a modern "revenue" sport coaching contract is solemn commitment to be honored by all parties -- or not. Grobe's "magic" season comes in his sixth with WFU, following four and seven records each of the last two. How unfair to programs such as Alabama, which is working on hiring its fourth coach in the last six years! (Alabama terminated Mike Shula after going six and six this season. But, seriously, how long did he expect to ride on last year's ten-win-and-two-loss season?)
Wake gets players big-name schools can't. According to the experts, not a single player on their roster was recruited by any major football program. This gives Wake another giant advantage over these schools since Wake can scout their opponents' players at high school all-star games and such while Wake's are all carefully kept secrets.
Finally, with the best graduation rate (96%) among BCS football conference schools (which have a 58% rate overall), Wake can sell their recruits a bill of goods on the "value of a college education." But maybe, just maybe, this little con will turn on Wake as it produces thoughtful and literate alumni, even among its major sport athletes, who, after reading this article, will demand Wake put an end to this disgraceful abuse of the major college football system.
Gary D. Gaddy, born into a Wake Forest family, received a graduate degree from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill -- something he can never mention when home for the holidays.
A version of this column was published in the Chapel Hill Herald, 12/29/06. Copyright 2006 Gary D. Gaddy