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.

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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://i1.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.