So "the" Ohio State University football program got caught cheating and lying.
The only thing truly shocking about this is the number of people who are apparently honestly shocked by this. Buckeye coach Jim Tressel wore nice sweater vests and looked very much like a modern day Alex P. Keaton on the sidelines, so there was no way that he could be taking shortcuts and doing things the wrong way. That was reserved for obvious slimeballs like Lame Kiffin or Calipari, where one look tells you those guys are up to no good. Oh, and Tressel won a lot, too, which makes your followers a lot more loyal, as well. Things were very rosy in Buckeye nation. Until Monday.
Welcome to NCAA sports 2011. Legends? Yup. Leaders? My ass.
Chronologically, I haven't quite reached geezerdom. But I do take some pride that I have been there emotionally for a long time. I really do miss the days of conference bowl tie-ins, and only 64 teams in the basketball tourney, and even the Pac-10. Remember those days? Sigh. Well, the BC$ and NCAA tourney expansion and the 12-Pac are just a few examples of the prostitution of college athletics. The only reasons anything in the universe ever happen are for two reasons, physics and economics. And tOSU and the NCAA aren't worrying about electromagnetism or the strong force.
Our friends over at Maize n Brew have been doing a great job following and analyzing this story. Go see them for more angles and insight. Here's a quick review for anyone who, intentionally or not, hasn't been following these events, and how they relate to U.C.L.A. ...
As early as April 2010, six OSU Buckeye football players, including Heisman candidate and starting QB Terrell Pryor, were selling shoes, jerseys, championship rings, and other memorabilia to a Columbus businessman named Edward Rife in exchange for money and free tattoos. This is illegal under NCAA regulations. Fife also just happened to be under investigation by the Feds for drug trafficking charges.
When these allegations against the players were reported to tOSU in December by the U.S. Attorney's Office, tOSU officials and Tressel put on their best Louie Renault face and expressed shock, shock!, that these events had happened. They then took the not-so-draconian steps (backed by the lobbying of the Big Ten) of allowing these players to play in their pending BCS bowl game against Arkansas, in return for the promise from these players that they would all return the next season, where tOSU could suspend them for the first 5 games and levy small fines. Those 2011 games just happened to be against Akron, Toledo, Miami (FL), Colorado, and Michigan State, with Miami being the only road game. That tOSU even schedules those games in the first place should be its own violation. More importantly to note is that tOSU had lost consecutive BCS championship games in 2007 and 2008 and the 2009 Fiesta Bowl to SEC teams in spectacular fashion, and were getting a national reputation as being the SEC's little you-know-what. Another loss could be very costly to tOSU's rep. In my view, they sold their integrity in a desperate attempt to not get humiliated by an average SEC team once again. Little did we know at the time that their integrity had been sold months before.
Unfortunately for Tressel, an attorney who was initially anonymous, but who has since been identified as former tOSU football player Christopher Cicero (a walk-on in the 80's when Tressel first became an assistant) in the 80's, had sent a series of emails to Tressel in April 2010, alerting him that his players were committing these violations with Rife, the subject of a federal investigation. Tressel responded by saying "I will get on it ASAP".
According to NCAA protocol, Tressel was required to notify the NCAA of these events at the time he learned of them, meaning, in April, long before the 2010 football season even began, Failure to do so was not only a major NCAA ethics violation, it was also arguably a fireable offense under his contract. It appeared that Tressel chose to bury these findings, and now claims he did it to protect the players from the government investigation. The thought in everyone's mind is that he really did it to avoid losing his Heisman candidate QB and other key players for the entire season. It's would have been hard to win in Columbus last year without Pryor. That kid can play.
tOSU, in response to the Yahoo sports findings that Tressel knew about the violations 8 months before the university was notified, took the not-so-draconian steps of suspending Tressel for the first two games next season, once again, against Akron and Toledo. But, oh, he'll be back for that little road trip to Miami. A mini-summit of ethical bastions, that game will be. Oh, and he has to write a $250K check, presumably to tOSU. Tressel makes $3.5 million per year. Maybe tOSU will use the money to pay his salary.
Not lost to me in all of this is that this story was done by Yahoo Sports, the group who reported much of the allegations that got *$c their beatdown from the NCAA. Interesting that ESPN, the biggest sports media outlet in the world, wasn't involved in uncovering either of these events. Maybe it has to do with tWWL's coverage of one of their pet programs, and that tOSU always seems to find itself on the very short list of teams to play in the BCS title. It sure isn't from any intense critical press they receive for, say, their scheduling. But then, how would Kirk Herbstreit ever have been able to discuss that?
There are still some potentially catastrophic angles for tOSU. In the press conference held on Monday to discuss the Yahoo report, Dan Wetzel, one of the Yahoo reporters, asked Tressel if he forwarded the April emails to anyone at that time. Tressel answered, "Yes, I..." and was immediately cut off by his AD Gene Smith, who cited confidentiality in light of the ongoing "cooperative" OSU/NCAA investigation.
If we take Tressel's "Yes" as correct, this begs the question: who did he send the emails too? The athletics compliance officer? The athletic director? The university president? Because if so, then this isn't just Tressel burying this. This is tOSU Athletic Department and Administration burying this. And that could prove be the death knell for tOSU sports. Think about the, ahem, gravity of that.
There is a genuine reason so many are surprised to see Tressel in the middle of this scandal. He has always appeared to do things right. In 2002-3, Tressel wasted little time in dealing with problem child Maurice Clarett. So why did he suddenly handle this glaringly alarming situation in exactly the opposite of the appropriate manner? My guess is that he DID do the right thing, and that he ran those emails up to his supervisors, and now the school is trying to cover its tracks. Anyone at tOSU remember a guy named Nixon? How did that little coverup work out for Dick? Now that you look at it, two games and a fine doesn't seem very tough at all. It would sure suck to fire a popular and successful head football coach, especially if he might have a different version of the story.
In 1996, one year removed from an NCAA title, U.C.L.A. fired Jim Harrick, in part because he lied to the school about paying for a recruiting dinner bill at Monty's when 2 current players were in attendance. Personally, I spent more than a few late nights at Monty's listening to Prince Teddy rasp out What A Wonderful World while gazing out the windows through my cocktail infused haze and admiring my beautiful city. My buddy and roommate Steve W (feel free to post anytime, Digger!) named his dog Monty. Monty's was great. But in this case, it became a means to an end for the Morgan Center. There were certainly some personal vendettas between Chancellor Young and AD Pete Dalis against Harrick that contributed to the firing of the coach who brought us banner #11 and was bringing in tons of talent every year. But in the end, Harrick broke rules, lost his job, and the school admitted and accepted its punishment. Steve Lavin (cough, cough, gag...) followed and enjoyed some false success based on Harrick's recruits and the school's reputation, but when Harrick was fired, U.C.L.A. basketball began a steady decline that lasted for the next 10 years.
I have always been proud of my school for the appearance of integrity it showed in firing Harrick (Harrick showed his true colors at Rhode Island and Georgia with further questionable activities). But we don't have any more banners either. What if we had kept Harrick? Might there be more banners in Pauley? Wouldn't there be more money in Morgan? Would our players take tests asking them how many points a 3 point shot is worth? Where do the fans draw the lines between ethics and winning? Because I wonder if it is possible anymore to hang banners in the big time sports while doing things the right way. Auburn won the B(S)C$ title this January with a player who shouldn't have been eligible. We know that Southern Cal's national title and decade of success in football was a joke. Now a highly regarded program is exposed as a cheat and a lie. Is there anyone we can trust anymore? How about when a national title in football or basketball is worth literally millions of dollars on the spot, and many many more millions in terms of reputation and success over the ensuing years? Can we still trust Coach K? Mack Brown? Roy Williams? With the NCAA becoming a business on par with the NFL and the NBA, are there any coaches or programs we can trust to follow the rules of amateur athletics anymore? And, can you even blame them for doing anything and everything possible to cash in on that opportunity?
With my geezer-like sentiment, yes, I do blame them. I hate it. It is shameful the way that big money, with the permission of the NCAA, has corrupted college athletics. When college sports started acting and paying like the pro leagues, the days of tradition and integrity were sold. It's the price of capitalism. I miss the old days. Back when the Pac 10 champ and the Big 10 champ, and no one else, played in the Rose Bowl, and nowhere else. Back when all the big bowls, and only the big bowls, were played on Jan 1. Back when 3 yards and a cloud of dust was purely a matter of physics and the economics of one's heart, and not the economics of the NCAA's bank account, or Phil Knight's bank account, or Reggie Bush's bank account, or tOSU's bank account.
Shocked, shocked!, is right. But not at Tressel.
(editor's note: on Sunday, March 13, less than one week after the tOSU press conference, the Ohio State basketball team was awarded the number one seed in the 2011 NCAA Tourney. The Chairman of the Selection Committee was the above mentioned Gene Smith, Athletic Director at the Ohio State University. - gb)