Ohio State football scandal: Is coach or 'hypocritical' NCAA to blame?
The resignation of Ohio State coach Jim Tressel holds lessons for the university, college football programs elsewhere, and the NCAA, say sports analysts. But few expect rule-breaking to abate.
There is plenty of blame to go around in the unsavory tale of Ohio State football players who accepted unauthorized goodies and the fall of their storied head coach, Jim Tressel, who allegedly knew about his players' actions and lied about it. Aside from the principal players, there is the NCAA itself, with its ambiguous rules, and colleges and universities that appear to value winning over learning, image over substance, say sports ethicists, educators, and columnists.Skip to next paragraph
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All were buzzing after Tressel resigned his post Monday, but only a few expressed much hope that the resignation would actually do much to change college sports.
“As with any big-school scandal, there will be a clucking of tongues about how big-time college athletics needs to be cleaned up, but there would be a gnashing of teeth were that to really happen,” says Mike Huguenin, a college football analyst at Rivals.com, in an e-mail.
The story of Tressel's resignation begins in December when five Ohio State players – including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor – were found to have received cash and discounted tattoos from the owner of a local tattoo parlor, who was the subject of a federal drug-trafficking case. Almost three months earlier, Coach Tressel had signed an NCAA compliance form stating that he had no knowledge of any wrongdoing by his athletes. News reports subsequently established that Tressel did in fact know of the players' tattoo parlor perks before he signed the form, making his nondisclosure a violation of both NCAA rules and his contract.
Ohio State at first made light of the matter. When President Gordon Gee was asked in March whether he would fire Tressel, he replied with a laugh line: “I’m just hoping he won’t fire me.” But as pressure mounted on OSU to bear down on athlete rule-breaking and coaching staff tolerance of it, and as a drumbeat of press coverage continued, Tressel finally threw in the towel.
In the grand scheme of things, there have probably been coaches and players who did much worse, without penalty. And some sports ethicists are as likely to point the finger at the National Collegiate Athletic Association as at Tressel and the OSU players.
“There is so much hypocrisy and duplicity in the rules of the NCAA that determining a right path might be very challenging for anyone,” says Ellen Staurowsky, professor and graduate chair in the Department of Sport Management & Media at Ithaca College, in New York. “There is such a disconnect between what their rules say versus the practical realities of the system that it’s no wonder those rules are subverted on a regular basis.”
Her beef: “The NCAA pretends that revenue-producing athletes should not be paid, but it’s hypocritical when they already know they’ve set up a formal system of scholarships. If you read the [NCAA] principles as written, you find that they are not so opposed to payment as they are to payment they cannot control,” says Professor Staurowsky.