Questions In Columbus

Last night the NCAA denied the appeals of the five Ohio State players who violated NCAA rules by selling memorabilia and accepting discounts on tattoos.  Those players — Mike Adams, Daniel (Boom) Herron, DeVier Posey, Terrelle Pryor, and Solomon Thomas — therefore will serve their full five-game suspension at the start of the 2011 season.  Shortly after the NCAA announcement, Ohio State’s head football coach Jim Tressel declared that he had decided to voluntarily increase his suspension to five games as well.  The University has accepted his request and is notifying the NCAA; no doubt it will be a while before the NCAA announces whether it is satisfied with Coach Tressel’s enhanced punishment.

The Columbus Dispatch story linked above quotes Coach Tressel as saying in a statement:  “Throughout this entire situation my players and I have committed ourselves to facing our mistakes and growing from them; we can only successfully do that together.  Like my players, I am very sorry for the mistakes I made. I request of the university that my sanctions now include five games so that the players and I can handle this adversity together.”

I’m not sure what to make of this latest development.  Many in Buckeye Nation will see this as a noble gesture by Coach Tressel, who is standing in solidarity with his players and sharing in their punishment.  In my view, however, this latest decision is strange on several levels.  Why announce a two-game suspension of Coach Tressel only 10 days ago, endure a hailstorm of criticism from the national media, and then voluntarily increase the suspension to five games after the hubbub had died down?  It makes it look like Ohio State’s earlier announcement was simply testing the waters.  Are the players’ sins of commission and Coach Tressel’s apparent sin of omission really equivalent?  And what about the players who didn’t violate the rules?  Why should they be voluntarily deprived of their head coach for three games?  Ironically, one of the reasons Ohio State cited in allowing the five suspended players to compete in the Sugar Bowl was that it would be unfair to punish the graduating seniors by depriving them of the chance to play in the bowl game as a complete team.

I remain convinced that we have not heard everything there is to hear about this story.  Lingering questions remain to be answered.

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Can Buckeye Nation Forgive? (Cont.)

I’ve posted before on the five Ohio State football players who violated NCAA rules by selling things they had received from the University and getting discounts on tattoos.  Before the Sugar Bowl Coach Tressel told the media that the five players were allowed to make the trip for the bowl game only because they had promised that they would return to Ohio State next year and accept their punishment, rather than avoiding any penalties by leaving early for the pros.

At the time, some skeptics laughed at the quaint notion that the players had “given their word.”  They said the pledges that Coach Tressel mentioned were just a fig leaf that would allow the players to participate in the bowl games but wouldn’t mean anything when the players had the opportunity to leave for the NFL draft.  I’m happy to say that the skeptics were wrong.  Each of the five players has kept his word; they all declined to declare for the NFL draft and will return to the Buckeyes next year.  In fact, for the first time in years Ohio State did not have any juniors declare for the draft.

The five players — Terrelle Pryor, Boom Herron, DeVier Posey, Mike Adams, and Solomon Thomas — kept their part of the bargain, and now it is time for Buckeye Nation to hold up its end.  It is time for us all to forgive these young men for their mistakes, applaud their mature adherence to their pledges, and give them our full support when they return after their suspensions next year.

O-Fer No Longer, And Buckeye Nation Rejoices

Finally!  Finally! Finally! Ohio State has beaten an SEC team in a bowl game.  The Buckeyes held on to beat Arkansas, 31-26, in a wild game at the 2011 Sugar Bowl.

At times it seemed like this game would not end and the fates had decreed that Ohio State was destined to lose.  There was a weird safety call.  Lots of injuries to key players, including Chimdi Chekwa, Cam Heyward, and Terrelle Pryor.  A fumble by Boom Herron on a crucial fourth-down conversion.  And ultimately a blocked punt that gave Arkansas the ball in great field position.  But somehow Ohio State’s defense refused to crumble.  Solomon Thomas intercepted Ryan Mallett as Arkansas was on Ohio State’s doorstep, and that sealed the win.

Say what you will about Terrelle Pryor, but he played a great game — and he is the only Ohio State quarterback to beat the SEC in a bowl game.  Pryor ran, passed, and made a slew of big plays to convert third downs and move the chains.  And Ohio State’s defense played a “bend, but don’t break” approach to perfection.  Arkansas moved the ball, but the D would make a big play and force a punt or a field goal attempt by a team that is used to scoring touchdowns.  Cam Heyward was a force on the defensive line all night long.  He has been a great Buckeye — one who returned for his senior year, when he could have gone pro — and he was rewarded with a game that Buckeye Nation will remember forever.  He will be missed.  And the rest of the defense also did a great job in holding Arkansas at bay and then, finally, forcing the turnover that ended the game.

Ohio State can’t brag about their record against the SEC.  They sprinted to a lead in this game, and then held on for dear life.  But it feels very sweet indeed that the Buckeyes have finally thrown the SEC bowl game monkey off their backs, and in the process salvaged a bit of pride for the Big Ten conference.  Congratulations to the entire team and Coach Tressel and his staff on a 12-1 season that showed, again, that Ohio State has fielded one of the best teams in the country.

Can Buckeye Nation Forgive?

The five Ohio State players who violated NCAA rules — DeVier Posey, Mike Adams, Boom Herron, Terrelle Pryor, and Solomon Thomas — made statements to the media today.  The players apologized and expressed hope that they will be forgiven by their teammates, former players, the Ohio State University, and Buckeye Nation.  A video of their statements is available from the Ozone website.

Sports fans tend to be unforgiving types, but I hope that Ohio State fans can find it in themselves to forgive the young men.  They broke the rules, they were caught, and they will be punished.  Through the statements today, they accepted responsibility for their actions.  Their public statements of apology seemed heartfelt to me.

For all of their athletic prowess, these are youngsters who are going through an age that is characterized by lapses in judgment and questionable decision-making.  How many people can say, truthfully, that they never engaged in underaged drinking, that they never cut classes, or that they never undertook some other illicit or ill-advised activity when they were college students?  How many parents would be willing to write off one of their children as a bad apple because of one transgression of this kind?  For that matter, how many adults can say that they have never gotten behind the wheel of a car when they had too much to drink?

College is all about learning, and some of the lessons are learned in the school of hard knocks.  The five players have now learned that bad decisions can have very bad consequences.  I’m confident that they will not forget that lesson.  We can all afford to show them some forgiveness.