Time to Put Away Childish Things

In the never-ending parade of big-time NCAA violators, the latest float just rolled by and OH MY GOD THAT FLOAT IS WEARING A SWEATER VEST!! NOOOOOOOOO!! Yahoo! Sports released a report on Monday evening that football coach Jim Tressel knew members of THE Ohio State football squad were selling memorabilia online in blatant violation of NCAA policy as early as May 2010 – a full 8 months earlier than the December 2010 date the school originally admitted knowledge of the incident. Twenty-four hours later THE school verified the claims during a presser that was standard mea culpa fare. This was merely the latest in a string of serious NCAA violations committed by high profile programs and coaches. There seems to be no pattern to speak of as violators run the spectrum: from slimy-to-the-touch Lane Kiffin at Tennessee to the (we thought) traight-arrow Tressel in Columbus. Counted among the guilty are former NCAA rulebook heros: the man who cleaned up (for a time) serial rule-breaker Miami and one-time NCAA whistle-blower Bruce Pearl. There isn’t even a common thread to be found among sports involved as both football and basketball teams (and sometimes both as at USC and UT) are running afoul of the rules. But I’m not hear to wag my finger or even examine the nuances of each case. I don’t care to compare Bruce Pearl to Jim Tressel or debate who knew what or when they knew it. I pose a more exestential question to the NCAA: is this really working? The evidence seems clear to me that these things have always happened. As long as kids have been donning their team’s colors and adults with money cared who won there have been $20 handshakes and big-win envelopes and free dinners. But with the onset of new media and a complete removal of logistical constraints that limited who is able to report what they see, we’ve moved into an era where we can no longer pretend the hotel bedspread is clean. The internet has come in with its UV lamps and brought an entire host of nasties to (black) light. Were they always there? – of course. But now we KNOW they’re there and can’t pretend they’re not. A quick change of metaphor if you will to something that’s not so stomach-turning. If this were a basketball game and both teams were in the double bonus by the 10 minute mark, would we blame the players or the refs? And if this happened in every game during Championship Week would we blame the refs or the rules? At what point did we cease to care that a travel was to the letter of the law composed by Dr. Naismith way back in the long ago? When did we decide the game had evolved the the rules needed to catch up? It all just seems so unsustainable. On one side of the coin you have the bohemoth that is the NCAA. Hundred-million dollar athletic departments, 100,000 seat stadiums and exclusive licensing agreements – in short you have money. On the other side the dream of pro leagues. Huge contracts and more importantly a slew of agents eager to mine the current crop of collegiants for their next big payday – in short you have more money. And in between the highly visible college athlete, surrounded by the splendor of oppulant locker rooms, millionaire coaches, national attention – but unable to partake of any outside the strict confines of the NCAA rule book. I’m reminded of Al Pacino’s fantastic monologue at the end of “The Devil’s Advocate”:
“LOOK…but don’t touch. TOUCH….but don’t taste. TASTE…..but don’t swallow. And while you’re jumping from one foot to the next what is he doing? He’s laughing his sick f–king head off! He’s a SADIST!”
Is this really the best we can do? This system that puts the cookies on one counter, the ice cream on the other and then scolds hungry children for reaching for a bite as their parents gorge themselves? Is there not a better way? And please don’t start in with “the problem is the money.” Money in and of itself is never the problem, it’s just something that’s there and it’s presence tends to exploit holes in the system, bringing problems to light. When the dam breaks and a town gets flooded, you don’t blame the water, you blame the idiot who built the dam and the bigger idiot who planned and located the town. I’m not here to pose solutions. Clearly some sort of payment system for players would seem in order and there have been a million systems proposed and they’ll be a million more. I’m after something much more simple. They say the first step in recovery is admitting you have a problem. What I’m looking for is to see the NCAA stand up from their chair, state their name and admit they have a completely unrealistic model. That it’s a complete break with reality to suggest you can place kids between the cow and the compost pile but expect them to keep their shirt white. I’ll take it one step further: the current system not only creates a scenario where following the rules is fundamentally impossible, but it places the student athlete in the weakest possible position while shifting the advantage those who seek to subversively influence their decisions and cash in on the attention and success. I never saw an agent suspended for a conference game. A system that created guidelines for the fruits of college athletic success to be enjoyed by those who actually achieve it would empower the student athlete. It would give them a framework upon which to navigate the climate of big-time business in the light of day, where they can make informed and measured decisions, as opposed to the current landscape where they must flounder in the dark, unable to ask for help for fear of punishment and attempting in vain to hide perceived “misdeeds.” It is time to make our peace with the fact that college athletics is a big time business that long ago outgrew the quaint rule of the NCAA. Time to formalize the relationship between college and pro leagues that we all know exist – to give these young men the opportunity to leverage this unique time in their lives that they garner so much attention to the fullest so as to give them the best possible opportunity at a bright future. It’s time to remove the veil from our eyes, time to pull down the peach baskets, to put the leather helmets up on the shelf. Time to admit when something moves from millions to billions the term amateur is no longer relevant. It’s time to grow up.

One Response to “Time to Put Away Childish Things”

  1. Well as a big OSU fan I am pretty disappointed in the Senator. I have always respected what I thought was a clean program. I also was impressed with the way he treated his own players, opponents, other coaches, and officials with pure class. He respects OSU traditions, other schools traditions, and preaches respect for OSU history to current players. I honestly think he has a real infatuation with Pryor who is at the heart of this and I will guarantee is one of the two named in the email. Coach may have sold out a bit to get a kid who is extremely talented and frankly knows it. Pryor doesn’t seem to take to the “Tressel” way of playing. He talks trash, he throws fits on the sidelines when things don’t go his way, says way too many stupid things to the media, and gives away items that should mean something to him in exchange for tats. I obviously don’t know what Tress says to Pryor but it doesn’t seem to take. Pryor wasn’t a captain because of a lot of his immaturity (notice in one of Tressel’s emails he mentions making “the kids grow up”). Unfortunately several of the players he plays with on the first squad are buddies with him. They are the ones who sold their gear too. I do think Tressel was trying to protect his prized asset and project. In the process he screwed up big time. Now as to whether he should be fired, part of me says absolutely and another says give him one more chance. He has done a lot for the school especially outside of football. He’s given I believe close to a million dollars to the OSU library from his book sales. He visits sick kids, wounded military, and gives lots to charitable causes. I think that on top of his dominance over Michigan, more BCS appearances than any other coach, and of course that national title will give him that second chance. As I said, not sure I agree with it, but the big guns at OSU feel that way for now. Let’s wait until the NCAA comes down on the program. There could be vacated wins, Big Ten titles, probation, scholarship reductions, who knows. It’s definitely a disappointing event. I’m already tired of it. At least I’ve got all summer to forget about it. How about the Tribe? Looking good this year. No, not really. They will stink as usual. OK, long summer.

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