Sheriffs, Saloon Keepers and Sports Scandals
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On Tuesday night, Ohio State
athletic director Gene Smith flew back from New York, where he had been
running the NCAA basketball selection committee, to conduct a press
conference. He announced he was suspending his head football coach,
Jim Tressel, for the first two games of the 2011 season. This
has Michigan Radio sports commentator wondering why – and why it’s
It looks like Jim Tressel has
gotten himself into a bit of hot water. That’s why his boss,
athletic director Gene Smith, flew back to make sure everybody said
they were “taking responsibility” – a phrase which changed some
time in the last decade, and now means the exact opposite.
It was fine theater.
In December, a few weeks before
Ohio State’s Sugar Bowl game, five Ohio State players were forced
to admit they sold some jerseys, mementos and trophies to a tattoo parlor
owner. (And if you can’t trust a tattoo parlor owner with your
ill-gotten goods, who can you trust?) Well, he naturally
put them on e-Bay, and there’s your scandal. It all seems pretty
petty to most people, but it’s serious business to the NCAA.
In fairness to the NCAA, the
players knew the rules – despite initially denying they did -- and
brazenly decided to do it anyway. They got caught, and they will
have to pay the price. Or they might… eventually. You
can’t be certain.
That’s because they were
not caught by the FBI or the IRS or whatever agency hunts down the scofflaws
who tear off mattress tags. They were caught by the NCAA
– and that changes everything.
The NCAA started in 1905, after
18 college students died playing football that year. President
Theodore Roosevelt wanted to save college football, so he called the
presidents of Harvard, Yale and Princeton to the White House to figure
out how. And that’s when the NCAA was born.
For decades, the NCAA’s main
source of money was members’ dues, which it used to enforce the rules.
Simple enough. But about thirty years ago the NCAA started profiting
enormously from its basketball tournament – the current TV contract
is worth more than ten billion dollars – the sheriff became
the saloon keeper. And nobody can do both jobs equally well.
Six years ago, the University
of Southern California Trojans were suspected of giving the parents
of its Heisman Trophy-winning tailback, Reggie Bush, a house.
A whole house. I said at the time: Watch how slowly the NCAA moves
on this one. But even I didn’t think it would take five years
for them to find the house – the kind of thing you can find with,
say, a phone book.
But when the five Buckeyes
were busted, they were in danger of being suspended for their upcoming
bowl game. Suddenly, the same Keystone Cops who took five years
to find a house sorted out the Ohio State mess in just a couple weeks.
Then they allowed the players to serve their five game suspension the
following fall, when some or all of them might already be in the NFL.
Now an email has turned up
which seems to prove Jim Tressel knew about all of this back in April
– but told the NCAA in December he knew nothing, no-how. Oops.
So that’s why Gene Smith
came rushing back to Columbus to announce he would suspend Tressel for
two games. Sound serious? It’s supposed to – but those
first two games are against the Akron Zips and the Toledo Rockets –
games the Buckeyes could not lose if they were paid to.
If the suspended players stay
in school, they will miss out on almost half their last season to prepare
for their one chance at pro football. Fair enough. They
brought it on themselves. But their coach, who covered all of
it up for a year, will be just fine.
How can I be so sure?
Because his boss, Gene Smith, is currently the chairman of the NCAA
committee for this year’s men’s basketball tournament – the NCAA’s
cash cow. If he’s not the sheriff, he’s the deputy.
He’ll find just enough wrong-doing to make it look like he’s doing
something – and not one ounce more.
The NCAA is no longer interested
in integrity – just the image of it. That’s what sells.
The suspended players don’t get that. But Tressel does, and
so does his boss. They know the saloon owners won’t be too eager
to investigate the saloon manager and his best bartender when business
So, drink up. This round’s
on the house.
Copyright© 2011, Michigan Radio Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnubacon
Copyright© 2011, Michigan Radio
Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnubacon