Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Notes on a Scandal (Sports Blogging)

Those of you that care not for when I ramble about athletics, skip on over this one.

Everyone else? Strap in. Here are my thoughts* on the scandal and shit storm at Ohio State University:

First off, every fan of every other school, including people at Michigan, need to stop the hand wringing and evil laughing at what's happening in C-Bus. Watching your opponent go down because of violations and not taking them down in the field of play is, well, bullshit. Watching a program dismantled because of what the NCAA says isn't half as fun as whipping them in good old fashioned football. Sure, there's a bit of schaudenfreud. I'm guilty of it. I hated our "shared" national title with and the utter dominance for a lot of years by the USC Trojans, their downfall something pleasurable. But I would rather have seen them decline just because they weren't that good anymore and not because Pete Carroll/Reggie Bush imploded the program. I also would have loved to play them head to head and kicked their ass.

So let's talk a bit about what's happening at OSU. You can read up here, here, and here. But to sum up: last winter a bunch of OSU players got in trouble for taking free tattoos from a tattoo parlor in exchanged for "their" signed gear (ponder that for a second: you can't sell YOUR stuff with YOUR signature under NCAA rules). These are considered "extra benefits" by the NCAA and these players were punished to the tune of a five game suspension starting in the 2011 season. Smart money would have been on them fleeing to the NFL but they all promised to stay.

It now comes to the surface that Jim Tressel, the head coach at OSU, had information about this tattoo scandal that he withheld from the NCAA investigators, in direct violation of a whole bunch of NCAA rules. He is facing, at minimum, a 2 game suspension and the forfeiture of $250k in salary. That'd seem harsh except that the $250k is apparently only 6% of his salary and those two games are non-conference games against crushable opponents. It is an ongoing investigation and there will likely, if precedent is any indicator, there will be more coming (see: Pearl, Bruce)

Caught up?


Now: I'm not going to argue the suspension of the players and how the NCAA is out of touch with the interests of those player athletes and the schools are there to make money off their backs while all they get is an education and are poor and yadda yadda. I will end up down a rabbit hole on that if I start in. Just know the above sentence is true. But they are suspended, they accepted their punishment, they all decided to stay at OSU and played in the Sugar Bowl last January. For some of them (most notably Terrelle Pryor), this was to their detriment of making big time NFL dollars (assuming there even is an NFL season, which is a whole 'nother rabbit hole. (Yes, there will be, we're talking WAY too much money for there not to be.))

On to Coach Tressel. I, personally, am not a huge fan of his playing style. In the fictional world in which I had a D1 playing son, I doubt he'd be playing under Tressel. He plays safe and the game isn't all that interesting when he's coaching it. He's not fiery, he doesn't incite passion, he scores juuuust enough points to win. He wears a sweater vest for chissakes. BUT! I don't think anyone, up to this point, doubted his integrity, his passion for the game, his interest in making men out of those who play for him and encouraged them having lives beyond football. For those reasons, I would allow fictional son, if he insisted, to play for Tressel. He is, by most accounts, a good man, in the common usage of the word "good".

However, even good men aren't perfect. And he lied to the NCAA. His defense is basically, "There was a federal investigation going on about the scandal and my players were in some way kind of implicated and a lawyer told me not to disclose information to the NCAA." So he didn't. Who this lawyer was and why he was giving this information to Tressel hasn't been disclosed (it has now, you can read about it here). Why there were mutually exclusively investigations and he couldn't assist both the NCAA and this lawyer at the same time hasn't been disclosed. Who higher up in the OSU organization knew about this is unclear, as is what their responsibility would have been for this information. Tressel probably should have immediately hit forward on that email and made it someone else's problem, no doubt.

Ya know what though? I would only minimally comply with the NCAA, too. In fact, I kinda wish that he had just flipped them the middle finger and said, "Screw you, NCAA." Except that because of all the power that the NCAA is allowed to have, they can potentially put the financial screws to OSU and hurt a program for years down the line. (This is why the only way to truly get out from under the thumb of the NCAA is to have a whole bunch of member institutes leave all at once. Except even then, the NCAA has rights to bowl games and merchandising, etc. This is also why the NCAA is thoroughly entrenched in college sports.)

The blogs and other places online exploded and basically equated the power of the NCAA with the US Federal Government. That hyperbole needs to be dealt with: that line of thinking is hysterical because the supreme court of the United States declared in no uncertain terms in 1988 in Tarkanian v. NCAA that the NCAA is decidedly NOT a state actor. Which means, as stated above, the NCAAs power is limited to what is given to them by member institutions. They aren't held to federal laws as if they were a federal agency because they are NOT. It's a private institution. Those member institutions, which grant the power, need to start scaling back some of those powers.

Because let's just go with the NCAA's power is too much. Their sanctions of different offenses often make sense to exactly no one, meted out in draconian fashion. They operate under a cloak of secrecy. And even when the new NCAA president is the former highly respected president of my own alma mater, I have little faith in what that organization does.

So here's what we have: Jim Tressel lied. A lot of people are asking for his head. I don't know why we're so bothered by this, though. Lied to the NCAA about the level of involvement of his players? Lied about what he knew? Lied in general when we expect him to be a paragon of virtue? I'm not sure what we're upset about. Because: news flash! Every single last D1 coach has lied at some point about something. Sitting in a family room telling some mom he's gonna protect her baby boy. Telling that boy he's going to of course start as a freshman. Telling the media he's not leaving. On and on and on they lie. It's part of their job. Up there with coaching is recruiting and glad handing boosters. You don't think this comes with a bit of puffery bordering on outright bs-ing? You're a moron.

Lied to the NCAA? Hmm. Well. Member institutions are bound to comply with all the NCAA rules. Which I imagine in there somewhere is not lying to them. But as mentioned above, the NCAA sucks. So while the NCAA may be upset about Tressel lying to them, the average fan/sports pundit shouldn't be. Additionally: if this is why we're upset, um, can I just straight advocate for that? Every member institution should lawyer up and only answer questions they are asked and work not in complete compliance with the NCAA but only to the extent necessary. Yeah, that's a douchey lawyer answer. But life isn't exactly black and white. I imagine if I was involved in a big time program, as an attorney advisor, there would be a lot of answering only exactly the questions answered, like with interrogatories.

People are probably upset because they feel like OSU got away with something that their institution didn't, the blame for this is falling on Tressel's shoulers. Another news flash: every single last D1 program is "cheating". The degrees of cheating and institutional knowledge vary but there's a reason that Management 101 class was full of athletes. Hell, even Stanford, that standard bearer of "but it's hard there!" just stopped publishing to its athletes the list of "easy" classes. So if we're upset that Tressel knew his players had done something that's, frankly, kinda ridiculous and didn't act immediately on it with the heft of having nuclear codes in possession, then we're just as silly as most NCAA rules. So if every D1 school is "cheating" or at the very least bending or skirting NCAA rules, doesn't that imply something wrong with the rules and a change needed to them? Yeah. That.

So let's talk about WHY, perhaps, Tressel was lying. To cover his own ass? Totally probable. We are nothing if not a universe of ass coverers. But, why? The original emails give no reason to believe that he would be in trouble. The original emails don't even indicate that the players have done anything exactly wrong or alert Tressel to the fact that he should relate them to the NCAA. It seems to me more of a "heads up, this is happening" than anything. There's a whole institution to handle that, which is why above I state that Tressel should have forwarded the emails and made it someone else's problem. And is this source talking to Tressel even someone he considered reliable? So dismissing one of the hundreds of emails he probably sees a day and not having it stick with him is probably not that big of a deal. Though his press conference admission of his knowledge that he didn't give to the NCAA was a train wreck, he DID come clean.

Did Tressel lie to the NCAA to protect his players? If that's the case, then my fictional child is DEFINITELY going to OSU. A guy that looks out for his players and trying to handle things in house and has serious man discussions with him in the face of adversity? That's actually a good thing. If this is ya know, murdering women and burying the bodies in the woods and a giant cover-up, that's a bad thing. But tattoos for jerseys that were the property of the player and using it as a "teachable moment" (I hate business speak cliches), I'm okay with that.

What about this: did Tressel even actually lie? Lies of omission are still sins, (thanks, Catholic school). So did the NCAA specifically ask did he have any knowledge and he straight up lied? Or did he forget about the emails? Or did he purposefully just omit what he knew? Can we get a ruling on the degree of lying going on, please?

Or is he more in trouble for having knowledge and not immediately turning it over to the NCAA? If it's this, see above and I'm all for this. The NCAA is the goddamn Spanish Inquisition. The Catholic Church and "Follow our rules or else!" They are big brother. The KGB in the USSR. This is what I think of the NCAA. (Yes, I have shot any chance of ever getting a job with them.) But how much compliance is too much compliance and is necessary to do run a D1 football team and make assloads of money and keep boosters and alums and mom's who have let you have her son from Nebraska happy? Frankly, it's the AD's job and the compliance officer and even the president of the university's job before it's Tressel's to be honest and open with the NCAA. Not to pass the buck, but yeah... And ya know what? Tressel didn't pass the buck. Think there was a giant rambling mea culpa in there somewhere during that press conference.

Frankly, I don't envy the situation Tressel is in. But I really don't see what's so bad about what he did either. Especially to the NCAA. So every other fan/twitter personality/sports writer needs to get off their high horse and leave Tressel alone. If that tactic doesn't work, think about this next time you're passing sports morality around: He who lives in glass houses... Your university could be next.

Oh, and barring that argument there is the fantastic old stand-by of "BUT! Cecil Newton took MONEY and nothing happened to Auburn!" The NCAA doesn't make a lot of sense...

One final thought: does ANY of this make Tressel less of a coach? So why all the hyperbole about it? We forgive lapses in judgment of our politicians who are still good leaders, of the players themselves, of celebrities and rock stars, even the follies of those closer to us. So what does Tressel's lie/omission/truthy-ness have to do with his ability to still run the X's and O's of the OSU football team? I'd say little to nothing. The NCAA needs to change, the rules need to change, the establishment needs to change. Tressel? I'm not so sure.

*These are my thoughts. I'm not a sports expert. I feel, despite a lifetime of sports fandom, completely inadequate weighing in on things. I feel like I ramble and could use a good editor. I'm going to start IRACing things again because I have been unable to make my brain function the way I want it to in the two weeks since the bar exam. That said, I am passionate about college football** and feel that my opinions offer something. If not, only like 3 people read this anyway, right? Right. 

** I'm having a minor crisis wherein I feel like any and everything is complete and utter BS right now, including CFB. If anyone knows a way out of this, remedies are appreciated. 

1 comment:

  1. You got over finding out Santa Claus was not real, you'll get over realizing CFB is crooked on every level. Enjoy the games, enjoy the atmosphere, enjoy the passion. Go Buckeyes.