Perhaps the most dis-Tress-ing thing to emerge from the SI article about Jim Tressel and Ohio State is the apparent long history of indiscretions, dating all the way back to his assistant days when he allegedly rigged raffles so top prospects would win.
According to his fellow assistant, Tressel rigged the raffle so that the elite prospects won — a potential violation of NCAA rules. Says the former colleague, who asked not to be identified because he still has ties to the Ohio State community, “In the morning he would read the Bible with another coach. Then, in the afternoon, he would go out and cheat kids who had probably saved up money from mowing lawns to buy those raffle tickets. That’s Jim Tressel.”
It is becoming more and more clear that this incident with the tattoos is not an isolated incident, but rather the straw that broke Brutus’s back. It is perhaps just the tip of the iceberg. It’s the way Ohio State has been doing business.
Ohio State has a history leading the Big Ten in self-reporting a lot of minor violations. While some look at that information as evidence that the compliance department is busy and doing their job, we now wonder whether these admissions were merely diversions to the greater violations that were going on. And even if they were reporting higher numbers of violations than other schools . . . why weren’t they making changes to lower those numbers? Why was the University not taking a proactive role to correct these minor violations and prevent them? You almost get the sense that they didn’t care–as long as it didn’t cost them any penalties with the NCAA. We’re sinners, but as long as we confess, it’s okay.
I also personally find it hard to believe that only Jim Tressel knew about these things, but I have no proof that the athletic director or University president knew anything. I just have a feeling that Tressel’s actions–or the fact that he didn’t act–were sanctioned at a higher level. Maybe not verbally and certainly not in writing. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Nod, nod, wink, wink. I could be wrong.
I am a little surprised–just a tad, but maybe not really–by the number of Ohio State fans who have taken Tressel’s side on this issue and are trying to rationalize this problem away. Granted, these are Internet fans on messageboards, faceless nicknames who may not represent the general population of Ohio State fans well, but almost to a fault, they all seem to side with Tressel.
In other words, there are very few voices saying that the Buckeyes made mistakes and we need to clean this up. Instead you hear about how other schools do the same thing. It isn’t fair that we are being scrutinized for this. Tressel was just trying to protect his players (his own excuse for that matter.)
In contrast, Penn State does things differently. When Enis took a suit from an agent, he was suspended from playing in the bowl game. Players do get in trouble at Penn State (not always NCAA violations but often with the law) and generally, Paterno handles these matters well. But there are always a number of fans on the messageboards who feel that the punishment wasn’t severe enough and criticize Joe for not being more strict. Sometimes he’s been criticized for being too strict, but most times PSU fans lean toward making sure the program stays clean.
It’s a different philosophy at O$U.
“Not everybody’s the perfect person in the world. I mean everyone kills people, murders people, steals from you, steals from me, whatever. I think that people need a second chance, and I’ve always looked up to Mike Vick, and I always will.”
To paraphrase this for Buckeye fans now . . .
Not every program’s perfect in this world. I mean, everyone gives cars, gets tattoos, gets special treatment, whatever. I think coach needs a second chance, and we’ve always looked up to Jim Tressel and we always will.
But even these issues skirt the much broader issue.
When is cheating in any sport, at any level, acceptable?
I don’t think it matters how any Ohio State fan or sports fan in general spins it. Ohio State cheated. There are rules set up by the NCAA. They violated the rules. The coach lied about the violations. If you break the rules of the game . . . that is cheating, and it doesn’t matter how many other programs are doing it.
If you are speeding down the highway at 75 mph and the limit is 65, you are speeding. It doesn’t matter whether there is a cop around or if a whole line of cars is doing the same.
Two wrongs don’t make a right. Three lefts do, though.
This is the same rationalization that little Jimmy uses when he wants to stay up late at night. Just because John’s and Dudley’s parents allow them to stay up late doesn’t mean that it is okay for Jimmy. If those other parents all left their kids jump off a bridge, would you do it too?
But this is not as trivial as it would seem. If players/families choosing Ohio State were made aware of these perks by other players, and it influenced their decision to go to that school, then the University, willing or not, had a competitive edge over other schools.
This is not an issue of fairness. Recruiting is not fair. Penn State has distinct advantages over a school like Akron, Ohio, or name any other school that only goes to a bowl game once in a decade or three; maybe never. Penn State has fantatastic facilities, good academics, and one of the largest stadiums and fan bases in the country. They obviously have an advantage over schools who do not have these things.
The difference here is that there is no NCAA rule limiting the size of the stadium, the extent of practice facilities and equipment, or how many fans a school has.
But the NCAA does have rules prohibiting players from gaining financial compensation or special treatment for their status as student athletes.
If you break the rule, you are cheating. This is not some Clintonian definition of sexual relations. If you don’t play by the rules, you are cheating.
If the NCAA can prove that these allegations are true, then Ohio State cheated. Plain and simple. It doesn’t matter if Alabama, Auburn, USC or any other school does the same thing. It’s still cheating. Just like speeding on the highway, if you get caught, there is a price to pay, even if the other guy isn’t pulled over.
It’s interesting that the only schools that Ohio State has consistently had problems beating in the Tressel era are the ones from the SEC. At the risk of angering those fan bases, I think it is fair to surmise that many fans North and West of the SEC perceive them to engage in questionable recruiting acitvities. I won’t go in to over-signing since that doesn’t violate an NCAA rule. Unfortunately for the NCAA, they could not prove that Cam Newton knew his dad was involved in a transaction for cash to play. Technically, Cam didn’t break the rules.
And in the only win over an SEC team in his tenure, Tressel cheated by playing players that should have been ineligible since the beginning of the season. I’m still not sure why the NCAA allowed them to play in the bowl game in the first place.
Vacating wins is pretty meaningless. I don’t think that will mean anything to Arkansas.
If the NCAA wants to remain a credible organization, then they need to penalize The Ohio State University in meaningful ways. Reduce scholarships. No bowl games. No Big Ten Title games. At least two years.
I have seen some fans calling for a death penalty ala SMU. What does that achieve? Other than acting as a deterrent to other schools, it serves little purpose. What good is an empty Ohio Stadium? Why should fans be penalized by not seeing their team play against the Buckeyes? They should still play, but the playing field must be tilted against O$U with sanctions to make up for the unfair advantage that may have been present since before the Tressel years, and certainly present in the last decade.
Anything less than significant sanctions/probation will be an injustice. If the NCAA really wants to enforce these rules, then they need to take a bite out of Ohio State. Just barking isn’t good enough and will send the message to everyone else: it’s okay to cheat. True fans of the sport, though, I think will disagree.