This is a column about two championship teams.
They are, in-fact, 2013-2014 Division I, NCAA National Champions, having earned their titles early this year. Division I is the highest level collegiate student-athletes compete at.
As far as their athletic achievements are concerned, both squads — Union College in Men's Hockey and Florida State in football — were clearly the best teams in their respective sports last season.
Their similarities end there.
First, full-disclosure: My oldest brother, Naysim, is a Union College graduate and an inductee in the college's sports Hall of Fame. He earned that honor as a member of Union's 1967 championship wrestling team. OK, so now that is out of the way.
Writing the term "student-athlete" and Florida State is difficult, despite FSU being a great university. Florida State has had 5 Rhodes Scholars (Union has had 1). Its academic programs, in the arts, in the hard sciences, are ranked highly, near or at the top among public university in the United States. I get it. Florida State is a great place to go to school. It produces graduates far smarter than me.
But Florida State has done something this fall that I would have thought impossible: it has made me feel embarrassed to follow and watch college football.
Florida State competes in Big Time college football, the kind played in the ACC, SEC, Big 10, Big 12, the Pacific-12, at Notre Dame, and so on. These conferences essentially function as minor leagues for the NFL. Athletic department budgets are in the tens of millions, while television rights earn institutions billions of dollars over decades.
Athletes are on scholarship, and head coaches are frequently the highest paid employees on campus, earning more than university presidents. The coaches are also hired guns with little allegiance to their employers. Big-time college coaches rack up wins at lesser schools, then bolt when a bigger school comes calling. It's the American way, I know, but just be aware that players do not have the same rights. Generally, scholarship athletes who change schools have to sit out a year before they can compete for their new teams.
Universities across the country struggle with the challenge of fielding competitive athletic programs, while remaining true to their primary mission — education. Florida is not alone, but, oh boy, they are pushing the who structure over the edge this year.
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston won the Heisman Trophy last year as a freshman. He's a gifted player, but a rotten young man. His coach, Jimbo Fisher, is not so swell either. He knows who butters his bread, and he has performed his role as Winston apologist perfectly.
Winston has had numerous run-in with the law during his short time at FSU. Shoplifting crab cakes, taking part in a BB gun battle that resulted in property damage, carrying a pellet gun near campus, and screaming misogynistic obscenities in the FSU student union. The latter was especially troubling (and revealing) because Winston was investigated (half-heartedly) by authorities after being accused of rape by a female Florida State student.
The student union soliloquy resulted in a Winston's suspension for a game against Clemson last month. Initially, the suspension was for just the first half of the Clemson contest, but the outrage that followed that slap on the wrist forced Florida State to extend the ban for the entire 60 minutes.
Fisher was not impressed by critics. "We're deciding," he told the media before the suspension, making clear that the football program, if not the university, couldn't give a fig what outsiders think about its student-athletes.
Fisher also offered this gem about Winston's student union outburst: "He was having fun," the coach said.
Do you know what is not fun? Being under investigation by Barack Obama's administration.
On Friday, CBSsports.com reported that "Florida State is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights for its handling of the Winston case and potential violations of Title IX laws. Title IX requires schools to conduct its own timely inquiries into any allegations of sexual assault against a student."
Union's hockey team is an oasis in this sea of interscholastic muck.
Union, located in Schenectady, N.Y., with an enrollment of 2,550, does not award athletic scholarships. While it competes at the Division I level in hockey, most of its interscholastic teams are in Division III — just like Alfred University.
The fact that the Dutchmen won a national championship while competing against schools that award athletic scholarships and have enrollments in the tens of thousands, is incredible. The average GPA of the players on the national championship team was 3.14. The five seniors on the squad that defeated Minnesota in the championship game had a GPA of 3.93. That is out of 4.
I was excited last spring when Union, a New York state school, won the championship. I was proud that my brother attended the college. But Union is in the news again, and the hockey players have done something more important than winning a big game.
The Men’s Hockey team recently became the first team at the college to undergo Bystander Intervention training, which enlists members of the campus community to intervene in situations where sexual harassment or sexual violence appear imminent.
All 27 team members signed the "It's on Us pledge," promising to identify situations in which assaults could happen and step in, according to media reports.
"We want everyone to understand we realize sexual assault is a real, serious issue," said Sebastian Gingras, a junior and a member of the 2014 NCAA championship team.
Like I said at the beginning of this column. Florida State and Union are both national champions. They have little else in common.
Neal Simon is the city editor of The Evening Tribune.