higher ed

Which Colleges Worry Their Football Teams’ Beefcake Photos Might Make ‘Em Look Too Faggy?

Not being a connoisseur of sports, nor the sports pages, it comes as news to me that college football teams, in addition to snapping press-friendly headshots for all their players, also pose teammates in classic beefcake poses. No homo!

The Wall Street Journal gets to the bottom of this baby oiled underbelly of college athletics.

The official college-football team portrait, a tradition that’s been around for more than a century, has long been a sober exercise. Student-athletes are encouraged to comb their hair, place their hands politely on their knees and gaze thoughtfully into the camera. In recent years, however, the photo that goes on posters and into game programs isn’t the only one the players pose for. At some schools, as many as half the players, sometimes more, will strip to their uniform pants, lather up with oil and flex their pectorals while posing with an ever-more-eclectic array of props including chains, sledgehammers, hard hats and, in one recent case, a $120,000 orange Lamborghini Gallardo. These unofficial photos aren’t widely distributed. They’re printed in small quantities and given to players to hand out to friends and family as evidence of their progress in physical training.

But they do make their way to the Internet. Which makes me wonder: Where’s Peyton Manning’s?

While these pictures have only begun getting wide notice, they date back decades. Tennessee’s late strength coach John Stucky, who ran the program from 1994 to 2002 and mentored some 30 strength coaches working now at schools across the country, found it to be a great way to motivate college-aged men, his colleagues say (only players who met certain goals got spots). The school’s star alums agree. Colts quarterback Peyton Manning says that when he played for Tennessee in the mid ’90s, a spot in the front row was a “pride thing,” and he and his teammates would arrive to the weight room as early as they could on photo day to do enough lifts and push-ups to make their muscles bulge. “There was a lot of baby oil involved,” recalls Mr. Manning. “It helps with muscle definition.”

But naturally, teams fear people might interpret these photos as TOO HOMOSEXUAL.

USC’s longtime strength coach Chris Carlisle, who’s now with the Seattle Seahawks, says he stopped organizing conditioning photos for the last few years of his college career because he didn’t want to risk violating any rules. He says he “took a lot of abuse” on campus one year for a shot of players posing as shirtless construction workers (another year he had them pose as gladiators). USC’s current strength coach, Mr. Ausmus, says the team took a topless photo this year but hasn’t decided whether to print it.

Even some unofficial team photos where players are fully clothed make schools nervous. Dave Knachel, Virginia Tech’s athletic-department photography coordinator says a recent photo taken of its offensive linemen holding hands and leaping gleefully in the air on media day was “not in our best interest.”

School bullying: Alive and well even in college.

[WSJ; pictured: Purdue’s offensive line]