At The End Of The Show Cause Order

Today marks the end of the NCAA penalty imposed on former Ohio State head football coach Jim Tressel.  For five years, any school that wanted to hire Tressel to coach football would have had to “show cause” as to why it should be permitted to do so, and receive approval, before he could once again return to prowl the sidelines of the gridiron and coach young men about football, and life.

Five years is a long time, and this five-year period seems like it’s been been much longer.  Ohio State football has moved on from the Tressel era and has enjoyed enormous success under current head coach Urban Meyer.  True Buckeye fans will never forget Coach Tressel, however.  He was the man who lifted the Ohio State program from a period of ever-present heartbreak and big-game failure and returned it to its rightful position as one of the preeminent programs in college football.

20140512jhlocaltressel06-4Coach Tressel remembers, too.  He’ll always be a Buckeye at heart, but he hasn’t sat idle, pining for a chance to coach.  He is a man with a lot to offer, and other people know it.  He’s now the very successful president of Youngstown State University.  Odd, isn’t it, that he has been effectively barred from coaching a sport, but he can run an entire university with 13,000 students — a university that has its own successful football team?  But that’s just one of the many curious elements of the “tatgate” story — involving player violations of NCAA rules, in trading merchandise for tattoos, that the New York Times story linked above describes as “quaint” compared to some of the serious, criminal wrongdoing that has come to light in college sports since that time.  The NCAA determined that Coach Tressel learned about the player misconduct, and he failed to report it — and that started the dominoes falling toward the five-year ban.

But even though the NCAA penalty has prevented Coach Tressel from formally coaching young men, that’s still what he does, informally but routinely.  Eleven Warriors, an Ohio State football website, has a terrific reflection on Tressel’s continued connection with his former players and assistant coaches and what steps he takes — instinctively, reflexively, as part of his core and character — to try to help them.  In the Webner family, we know what kind of person Coach Tressel really is from our own personal experience, when he befriended our family’s most diehard Ohio State fan, Aunt Bebe, became her pen pal, and then graciously showed up for her memorial service.  It’s the kind of small but deeply meaningful personal gesture that is all-too-uncommon in the modern world.

Rules are rules, and Jim Tressel made a mistake.  We’re human; we all do.  But no imposition of an NCAA show cause order could ever change what kind of person Coach Tressel is, deep inside.  This is a good man, and what he’s done and continues to do just confirms it, over and over again.  Our very best wishes go with him.

Big Ten Chumps

Tonight the Nebraska Cornhuskers play the Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten Championship game.  It’s a bit of a nightmare scenario for the conference.

https://i0.wp.com/www.waitingfornextyear.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/bo.jpgNebraska is not a bad team.  They’re 10-2 and have only lost one game in the conference — although it was a crushing loss, a 63-38 spanking at the hands of the Ohio State Buckeyes.  Wisconsin, on the other hand, is a different story.  The Badgers are 7-5 overall, and only 4-4 in the conference.  Wisconsin lost three of its last four games, all in overtime.

Wisconsin is not a bad team, either — but what does it tell you when a .500 team in the conference makes it to the championship game and has the chance to play in the Rose Bowl?  The reason, of course, is that undefeated Ohio State, easily the best team in the Big Ten, isn’t eligible to play due to NCAA sanctions.

https://i2.wp.com/media.scout.com/Media/Image/60/608537.jpgNot surprisingly, there’s not a lot of interest in the game.  Many tickets are for sale at a steep discount from face value, and organizers are expecting a number of empty seats.  I’m confident that the Rose Bowl organizers, too, are holding their breath and hoping that Nebraska wins, so the Granddaddy of all bowl games doesn’t feature a team that barely has a winning record.

I’m sure the Badgers will play their hardest and will be proud to represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl if they win.  I’d feel that way if I were a Badger, too, but for the rest of us Big Ten fans this game is an embarrassment.  It’s a pathetic conclusion to a year that — thanks to the sanctions imposed on Ohio State and Penn State, weak teams, a less-than-stellar out of conference record, and uninspired play by teams like Michigan State that were expected to be powerhouses — has been an embarrassment for the storied Big Ten conference.

Honoring Coach Tressel

During the break between the first and second quarters of Saturday’s Ohio State-Michigan game, the University recognized the 2002 National Championship team and its head coach, Jim Tressel.  Tressel was hoisted onto the shoulders of his former players as the crowd at Ohio Stadium roared.

After the game, I was surprised to read some very harsh comments about this simple gesture.  Fans of Michigan, Wisconsin, and other schools — many of whom think Ohio State’s domination of the Big Ten conference is the product of a dirty program that skirts the NCAA rules and cheats — depicted the ceremony as Ohio State thumbing its nose at the NCAA and displaying its contempt for the rules and sanctions that ultimately resulted in Jim Tressel’s resignation.  I think that is a small, mean-spirited reaction to a desire to honor a storied Ohio State team on the 10th anniversary of its greatest achievement.

No one at Ohio State will forget how the Jim Tressel era ended — and I’m confident Coach Tressel won’t, either.  That reality shouldn’t mean that we can’t remember the good moments of the Tressel era, too.  There were many, and the 2002 National Championship is one of them.  I’m glad the members of that team, and Coach Tressel as well, were saluted for their accomplishment.

Big Ten, Big Money, Big Changes

This week the Big Ten announced that, beginning in 2014, Rutgers and Maryland will join the conference.  That will bring the number of schools to 14 — and many people think the Big Ten is likely to add two more teams to end up at an even 16, with two eight-team divisions.  The pundits are talking about North Carolina, Kansas, Georgia Tech, and other schools as potential candidates.

One of the traditional Ohio State fight songs — Across the Field — ends with the line “so let’s win that old conference now.”   Thanks to Commissioner Jim Delany, it’s not the old conference anymore.  With the addition of Nebraska, and now Rutgers and Maryland, what used to be a northern, Midwestern conference now stretches from Nebraska to the Atlantic Ocean and from northern Minnesota to below the Mason-Dixon line.  Everyone knows, too, that the expansion is all about money.  The Big Ten wants access to the New York City and Washington, D.C. TV and fan base markets and believes that adding Rutgers and Maryland will provide that access.  Rutgers and Maryland are joining because they will get far more money from the Big Ten than they would from the Big East and the Atlantic Coast Conference, respectively.

What does it mean for Big Ten fans?  Sure, it means Big Ten teams will play schools who aren’t traditional powerhouses or traditional rivals — but Ohio State already does that, with its preseason schedule and with perennial Big Ten doormats like Indiana.  Rutgers and Maryland may not be top 20 football programs, but neither are most of the teams the Buckeyes play in their “pre-season” schedule.  If the addition of more teams means that the Big Ten schedule gets extended  and Ohio State loses a few games against the likes of San Diego State, I’m not going to cry about it.  The only problem I would have is if expansion causes Ohio State to not play Michigan every year, or puts the Buckeyes in a division featuring a bunch of new eastern teams.

What does this mean for college football?  I wonder how, with everyone chasing the almighty dollar, NCAA members can continue the pretense that college athletics is just about sacred concepts of amateur competition.  College football and, to a lesser extent, college basketball generate huge amounts of money — amounts so huge, in fact, that universities will abandon conferences they’ve belonged to for decades to get a bigger piece of the pie.  College football is saturated with TV money, product tie-ins, merchandising deals, sponsors, and other revenue generators.

So how can the NCAA justify suspending student-athletes who (in the recent case involving Ohio State) sell memorabilia for a few thousand dollars or a few free tattoos?  At some point, will someone choke on the hypocrisy?

Pennalty State

Today the NCAA announced the sanctions it is imposing on Penn State for its role in the Jerry Sandusky scandal.  The sanctions are extraordinary, but is the punishment appropriate to the extraordinary circumstances that surrounded the Sandusky scandal?

For starters, Penn State will have to pay a $60 million fine — representing one year of revenue from its football program — to external programs aimed at preventing child sexual abuse or helping the victims of such abuse.  The NCAA also barred Penn State’s football program from bowl games for five years, cut Penn State’s available scholarships for four years, and vacated all of Penn State’s many football wins since 1998.  The latter penalty means that Joe Paterno will not be officially recognized as the winningest coach in college football history.

The NCAA’s response to the Penn State situation is unprecedented, because the Penn State situation was unprecedented.  This wasn’t the normal NCAA investigative scenario, where players or coaches violated rules about getting money, or selling merchandise, or making too many recruiting visits.  Penn State’s issue didn’t involve cheating, or doing whatever it took to put a winning team on the field.  Instead, Penn State’s problem was deeper and more insidious.  The many problems highlighted in the Freeh report reflect an institution, an athletic department, and a football program that was protecting its own, and thereby protecting its reputation, even at the expense of overlooking horrendous criminal misconduct involving children.  I’m not sure that any sanctions the NCAA could impose could truly deal appropriately with what happened at Penn State.

Penn State has indicated that it will accept the sanctions, and it probably is secretly relieved that the penalties were not even more draconian.  Some Penn State fans are irate at the sanctions, but those people care more about their football fixations than they do about Penn State, the institution.  The institution clearly needs to change its focus and reorient its priorities.  Allowing years to pass before Penn State’s football program can again climb to the top of the college football heap will give the University time to do just that.

One other point should be made:  those sports fans who hated Penn State’s football team, and envied its success, shouldn’t view the NCAA’s actions today as a cause for celebration or mockery.  Such behavior is almost as inexcusable at Penn State’s many failures.  There is nothing to celebrate here, and no crass jokes should be made.  Penn State’s story is one of big-time college athletics gone horribly awry.  Every college with a big-time athletic program should be looking to learn a lesson from what happened, and more importantly what didn’t happen, in State College, Pennsylvania.

The Buckeyes Try To Forget 2011

By the time New Year’s Eve rolls around, most people are eager to see the dawn of a new year.  I’d wager that no one was happier to see 2011 in the rear view mirror than the participants in the Ohio State University football program.

2011 was a year of embarrassments unparalleled in the history of OSU football.  From the abrupt “retirement” of Jim Tressel in the face of an NCAA investigation, to the forfeiting of games, to the suspension of players for rules violations, to poor play, galling losses, and a crappy on-the-field record, and finally to the announcement of serious sanctions that include a one-year bowl ban, the Buckeyes and Buckeye Nation had to absorb a series of body blows throughout the year.

Tomorrow the Buckeyes will play the final game of the 2011 season when they take on the Florida Gators in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl.  Normally I’d think about this game as an opportunity to get some payback for the whipping the Gators gave the Buckeyes in the national championship game a few years ago, or as an intriguing story line now that Urban Meyer is Ohio State’s head coach.  Not so this year.  I’ll watch the game, and I’ll hope that Braxton Miller can lead the Buckeyes to victory — but win or lose I’ll be happy to see the 2011 season end, never to be thought of again.  I’m guessing that I’m not the only one in Buckeye Nation who feels that way.

The Buckeyes’ Ban — And Embarrassment

After months of trepidation and speculation about the ongoing investigation of tattoos, non-disclosures, and lack of institutional control in the Ohio State University football program, the NCAA dropped the hammer today.

The sanctions were more severe than was expected.  The NCAA deprived the football program of scholarships, put the Buckeyes on probation for five years, and — most important to Ohio State fans — imposed a one-year bowl ban to take effect in 2012.  The ban means that Ohio State won’t be able to play in next year’s Big Ten championship game even if, as fans fervently hope, the Buckeyes bounce back from this year’s disappointing season with a strong performance in 2012.  Ohio State has decided not to appeal the ruling, because the institution has decided — correctly, I think — that we need to put this whole sorry episode behind us.

I don’t think Ohio State fans should be arguing about whether the NCAA sanctions were consistent with past sanctions and whether the media has it in for the Buckeyes.  That kind of pathetic excuse-making and eel-wriggling is beneath our flagship state university.  Instead, Ohio State alums and supporters should feel angry and embarrassed that our fine institution has had its reputation sullied by the thoughtless actions of a few players in the football program, and we should insist that the University do whatever it takes to make sure that it never happens again.

An Angry And Embarrassed Buckeye Nation

Columbus is one of those places where you can tell how the local college team is doing just by walking down the street.  Ohio State’s win-loss record has a direct, visceral connection with the emotional makeup of the city’s residents.  When the Buckeyes are winning, Columbus is the happiest place this side of Disney World.  When the Buckeyes were routinely gagging to Michigan in the ’90s, dank, evil clouds of gloom hung over the city, leaving everyone grim, ashen-faced, and trying to avoid the fistfights that routinely broke out whenever someone mentioned the “big game” record of the Coach Who Shall Not Be Named.

The dark times are back, my friend!  Make no mistake about it.  Every day seems to bring a humiliatingly inept offensive performance, or another drip in the water torture that is an ongoing NCAA investigation.  Conversations that begin calmly, with protestations that there really isn’t anything to talk about, quickly morph into neck-vein-bulging diatribes at ever-increasing decibel levels until the worked-up Buckeyes fan suddenly realizes that he has coated the listener’s face with a fine coating of righteously spewed Buckeye spittle.

“Well, we knew this would be a tough year.  But who would have thought that the athletes recruited by Ohio State would have trouble scoring a single touchdown?  Seriously, what are the coaches doing?  It’s an embarrassment!  We’d be competitive with the suspended players, but how in the hell could those kids have gotten into trouble?  How could they be so stupid?  And when is the NCAA going to finally finish with us? MY GOD, WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN WHEN WE PLAY WISCONSIN?!?!  IT COULD BE THE WORST LOSS IN THE STORIED HISTORY OF OHIO STATE FOOTBALL!!!!”

The sanity of Columbus is hanging by a thread.

The Fresno State Food Stamp Fraudsters

Technically, it is the Fresno State Bulldogs.  In view of recent news stories, however, perhaps the team name should be changed to the Food Stamp Fraudsters — which has a nice bit of alliteration to it.

According to reports, as many as two dozen Fresno State players are embroiled in a welfare fraud investigation involving a county Department of Social Services eligibility specialist.  The government worker apparently improperly obtained Electronic Benefit Transfer cards — formerly known as food stamps.  Although the names of the athletes haven’t been released and it’s not entirely clearly what they received, a statement from the University confirms that student-athletes did obtain some benefits from the process.

Presumably getting special benefits from an outsider is an NCAA violation — but the NCAA may be the least of the players’ concerns.  Given that the government worker is being charged with multiple felonies, any misguided player who knowingly participated in the fraudulent scheme to improperly obtain government benefits may end up having more to worry about than just their eligibility to play in a college football game.

 

Suspension Fatigue

Ohio State has self-reported more NCAA infractions and suspended three more players for the opening game against Akron.  The players are running back Jordan Hall and defensive backs Travis Howard and Corey Brown.  They reported that they received less than $300 in “impermissible benefits” while attending a charitable event earlier this year.  Ohio State has suspended them but seeks their reinstatement for the rest of the year.

There is no confirmed information that I have seen as to what the benefits were — and given that the benefits were conferred at a charitable event you have to wonder.  Was it food?  Free drink?  A leg up in bidding for an unpopular silent auction item?  And how much less than $300 were the benefits, anyway?

I don’t mean to belittle whatever it was the players did, but the fact is that right now Ohio State will be reporting every purported violation, no matter how trivial it may be, to demonstrate to the NCAA that the University is serious about compliance.  Given that reality, I’ve developed “suspension fatigue.”  Until I hear what these players actually did, and learn what possibly obscure rule they allegedly violated, I’m not going to rip them or tear my hair out at this latest apparent transgression.

Can this season please actually get started as soon as possible?

On Pins And Needles In Columbus

Tonight there is a profound sense of unease in Columbus.  Republican and Democrat, old and young, Deadhead or Justin Bieber fan — it makes no difference.  We all fret about what will happen tomorrow when the Ohio State University goes before the NCAA Committee on Infractions to address the issues with the football program.

The feeling of grim foreboding hangs over the city like a rancid fart in an elevator.  The brooding paranoia has been stoked by our friends at ESPN — boy, they love the Buckeyes, don’t they? — who have issued a weird report about a second letter from the NCAA concerning potential additional areas to investigate.  And so, people are wondering:  what else could have happened?  Were some of the Buckeye football players actually mutant genetic products created by crazed researchers in the Ohio State School of Biology?  Did Terrelle Pryor secretly maintain a fleet of untaxed corporate jets in a locked hangar at Don Scott Field?  Was Jim Tressel’s sweater vest actually made in Taiwan?

Sometime tomorrow people will appear before microphones at NCAA offices in headquarters and say that the hearing is over, and then we will wait.  We will wait to see whether the NCAA accepts the retirement of our outstanding coach and OSU’s self-imposed punishments as sufficient penalties for the Buckeyes’ transgressions.  Or, whether the NCAA cuts out our hearts, stomps on them, and then stuffs them down our throats by cutting scholarships, banning the Buckeyes from post-season play, or imposing other, even more draconian sanctions.  Now we know how Anne Boleyn must have felt as she waited in the Tower of London for the capricious decision of her King.

We care because this is Columbus, and this is who we are and what we do.

Terrelle Farewell?

The Cleveland Plain Dealer is reporting that Terrelle Pryor — who was already suspended from the first five games due to an NCAA violation — has decided to forego his senior season at Ohio State.

The story is based on an interview with Pryor’s attorney, who read a statement from the Ohio State quarterback.  The attorney quoted the statement as saying:  “In the best interest of my teammates, I have decided to forego my senior year of football at the Ohio State University.”  It is not clear at this point whether the University has confirmed Pryor’s decision.

If Pryor does in fact leave the Ohio State program, it will simply be the latest domino to topple in the memorabilia sales/tattoo scandal that has brought down Coach Jim Tressel and given the University a tremendous black eye.  Pryor would leave with a checkered career that began with his status as a much-heralded recruit, saw him lead Ohio State to victory over Michigan and to some other big wins, but also saw him unable to deliver the National Championship that some Ohio State fans thought might be won with Pryor under center.  His on-field successes, of course, will be forever tarred by his role in the ongoing scandal.

How the wheel of fate has turned since Ohio State fans celebrated Pryor’s decision to commit to Ohio State!

 

The Buckeye Gnome, Down And Out

Lately it has been very difficult living in Columbus, Ohio.  Since Jim Tressel’s surprise resignation on Memorial Day, we fans and graduates of The Ohio State University have seen the reputation of that much-loved institution besmirched and ridiculed in the national press.  It has been very hard to swallow, and many despairing Buckeye fans have struggled to deal with the news.

Still, I didn’t expect an Ohio State gnome to run off the rails in response to the news.  I am sorry to report, however, that that is exactly what has happened.  When I went outside to walk Penny this morning I was surprised to see our house gnome sprawled in the gutter after a bitter evening of trying to wash the bad thoughts about the football program, the NCAA, and the departed Coach Tressel out of his mind in a tidal wave of alcohol.  Yet I could tell, from the plaintive expression on his face, that the booze therapy was a failure.  The alcohol may have numbed the sharp pangs of embarrassment, but he remains depressed and perplexed.

He is thinking:  How could this have happened?  We were on top of the world only five months ago!  We laughed about the futility of Michigan football and the comical antics of Rich Rodriguez’s so-called defenses!  We finally got the SEC bowl game monkey off our backs!  And then, in an instant, it all turned to mud.

Buckeye Gnome, all of us in Buckeye Nation feel your pain, and share your angst.  But for God’s sake, have some self-respect.  This isn’t Ann Arbor, after all!

It was Inevitable

What happened earlier today with the Tressel resignation is really no surprise to me, except that it took as long as it did for him to resign. As I mentioned in a previous post back in March, Coach lost my support when he signed the NCAA document on December 8th saying that he knew nothing about the tattoo parlor incident when he in fact had received details the prior April.

I can understand that initially Coach Tressel’s thoughts were that he wanted to protect the players and that there might have been an issue with confidentiality, but when you forward the e-mail about the incident to Pryor’s confidante in Pennsylvania and not to the athletic director of Ohio State, that’s a HUGE mistake in my humble opinion. Tressel should have come clean during the March press conference and he didn’t.

I am also bothered about the way athletic director Gene Smith and school president Gordon Gee handled the situation once they knew about it. When Ohio State held the press conference Gene Smith should have said that the university was going to conduct a more broad and comprehensive investigation to determine if there were more rules infractions that took place. Maybe then the details of car deals and living arrangement benefits might have been uncovered.

For Gee to say to the media, I have no intention of firing Coach Tressel, I only hope he doesn’t fire me has to be one of the dumbest statements I have ever heard ! Has college athletics gotten so big that the president of a major university is afraid to reprimand his own coach ? I think that Gee was treating Tressel as if he was above the NCAA rules that every other school has to follow and I think this is inexcusable.

I hope I am wrong, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the NCAA decides to open up a second investigation into the new allegations that have recently come out. I wonder how Buckeye fans are going to react when we are slapped with NCAA sanctions of one, two or three years of probation not to mention the loss of numerous scholarships. I am as big a Buckeye fan as the next person, but the next few years are going to be very tough for Buckeye Nation.

Disaster iN COLumBus

tornadoes in oklahoma, alabama and missouri. hundreds dead. Flooding all along the mississippi…Louisiana handed another RAW deal… and on this beautiful monday in Ohio, another implausible disaster….

TRESSEL RESIGNS!

no one will die, no one will have to live in shelters, or wait in line for potable water, BUT for Ohio State fans this latest disaster CERTAINLY hurts the most.

What do I think? Well, for starters, in 5 or 10 years or whenever the NCAA is finally reduced to the scrap and manure that it deserves to be, Tressel will be viewed as an innocent victim in the f*cked up system of college football, and college sports today. In any other aspect of society where people use their skills to make so much money, they would DEMAND their fair cut of the profits. To extrapolate the situation here, in the bluntest terms, Tressel was fired because some of his biggest star athletes, who came from poor backgrounds, sold memorabilia they earned themselves. Tressel covered it up, yes, but to protect his own players. Should a coach be held more accountable to the NCAA and compliance departments than to his own players? I think not, and you wouldnt expect that from a coach at ANY OTHER LEVEL. The bottom line is these athletes dont get paid, but make MILLIONS of dollars not only for their universities, but for TV networks and corporate sponsors. Problems similar to the OSU controversies of late will only increase in frequency until the clear hypocrisy in college sports is righted. When the time comes where the athletes who risk their lives to entertain us get the compensation they deserve, people will look back at the Tressel resignation (read: firing) and say “wow, that guy got screwed.”

Tressel was meant to be the OSU coach until he was in a wheelchair, hell, until he was in a hospital bed with an IV in his arm on the sideline beating the SH!T out of michigan for the 30th time. But thanks to the NCAA and Gordon Gee, and the idealistic, fantasy vision of college football, Tressel is unfairly disgraced and ripped from the legacy that was rightly his.