Plenty Of Blame In Ohio State Case
Wednesday - June 15, 2011
Terrelle Pryor is now the face of Ohio State athletics and the scapegoat for all that went wrong in Columbus. According to reports, he drove cars on the Ohio State campus that did not belong to him, traded jerseys for tats and took part in autograph signings that netted him $20,000-$40,000 between 2009 and 2010. Maurice Clarrett, who himself was a talented bad boy under Jim Tressel’s watch, placed all blame on the athletes, saying no coach or booster had ever staked out an athlete. Meanwhile, the head of the asylum, still wearing crimson and silver is serenaded on his front lawn by fans and flunkies while LeBron James and Jack Nicklaus continue to pay homage to the coach.
But before we cast Pryor down to the lowest level of Dante’s toasty holding pen, let’s recognize that while he is guilty of collegiate crimes, the quarterback with questionable NFL skills is just a symptom and not the cause of all that ails the NCAA.
Us:Americans love sports. So much so that it blinds us from reality. No sooner does a child show a hint of athletic flair then he or she is placed on a pedestal. Passing grades become easier as does the ability to attract the opposite sex. Free pizzas turn into head-of-the-line privileges. Commoners wait, not celebrities. They are flown across the country and greeted with bands, five-star meals and the loving embrace of middle-aged coaches hoping this will be the person to help them maintain their $3 million salaries and their own world of celebrity entitlement.
Academics are secondary. Peak performance is everything. Assault someone or get caught driving drunk and these young adults, old enough to walk a beat in Afghanistan but too self-centered to put anyone’s life into their hands, are suddenly kids whose crimes are just mistakes that will become valuable learning experiences once the minor punishment has been served.
Meanwhile, just outside the gates of privilege, another young man, whose only examples of success are the pimps and drug dealers of his neighborhood, is arrested for selling $10 worth of stimulant to an undercover officer. His crime too heinous for forgiveness by a nation of hypocrites.
The NCAA: The governing body of university athletics lost all credibility when it caved to pressure from the BCS, the Big Ten and Sugar Bowl to allow Prior and the other members of the Furious Five to play in the New Year’s Day game after being found to have taken improper benefits. By delaying punishment, the NCAA set a precedent that will allow other players to skirt the rules as long as they are draft eligible. Before the organization can portray itself as the keeper of moral gate keeper, it must end its system that reaps favor on football and men’s basketball. According to the NCAA, “An individual loses amateur status in a particular sport when the individual asks to be placed on the draft list or supplemental draft list of a professional league in that sport.” The rule doesn’t apply to those playing NCAA basketball.
More than anyone else, these select individuals are in a position to make real change in the way college athletics are handled. Yet, with the exception of Robert Maynard Hutchins, who as president of the University of Chicago in 1939 dropped varsity football, feeling it overshadowed the academic work of the institution, few have had the guts to do what is needed. Presidents have the power to eliminate the biggest threat to academic credibility - the one-and-done rule. They allow coaches to be hired even after having previous problems with rules compliance. They can approve a football tournament that will bring in millions, eliminating general fund subsidies that are necessary to keep the great majority of athletic departments afloat.
Ohio state: One has to look no further than university president E. Gordon Gee for reasons why Pryor felt so safe driving borrowed cars on campus. So beyond approach was Tressel that Gee joked about hoping the head coach wouldn’t fire him. AD Gene Smith didn’t fare any better by rushing through a sham investigation that could find none of the wrongdoing Sports Illustrated did with relative ease.
Ohio state compliance Office: Sadly, not to blame. If it hasn’t been made very clear, athletics is the first and foremost concern at any number of institutions of higher learning. Compliance officers are largely overworked and easily replaced assistants who must know the letter of the NCAA law and even more importantly how not to embrace a sanctimonious coach and, according to former Buckeye Chris Spielman, a star athlete who was allowed to play by his own rules.
The Athletes: Guilty with an asterisk. In the end, compliance falls on the athletes themselves. Regardless of the gifts dangled before them, it is their choice to follow the rules or not. But after years of being put on a pedestal, can we really be surprised when they act in a manner we have allowed?
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