Sports journalism always boils down to competition. There has to be a winner and a loser. There has to be a hero and a villain. It's just the way this works.
With the news breaking that Terrelle Pryor and four other Ohio State Buckeyes will be suspended in 2011 for selling jerseys and trophies and receiving improper benefits, ESPN analyst Mark May created a few villains of his own.
These were the NCAA and the Big Ten, respectfully. From here on I will be paraphrasing and pulling quotes, but to see it all in context, May's statements can be found here.
Mark May arguing that the NCAA should be synonymous with fraud and hypocrisy is not much of a stretch. Their handling in the last few years of star athletes and their misconduct is confusing at best and unnerving at worst.
Mark May arguing that the NCAA unfairly punishes the SEC while they protect the Big Ten and Pac-10 conferences is what is thoroughly mind-boggling.
He calls the Big Ten and the Pac-10 their "Sacred Cows" and seems to try to play off the SEC in the same breath as a non-automatic qualifying conference. The conference, by the way, that has the last four BCS National Championship teams.
The obvious place to start is with Cam Newton.
Cam Newton is under investigation—along with his father—for a "pay-for-play" deal at Mississippi State. Also deserving of mention is his academic troubles at the University of Florida and an arrest for stealing another student's laptop while he was a Gator.
One day after Auburn University suspended Newton, the NCAA cleared him to play because the investigation is still ongoing.
One would think, then, it would come as no surprise that the NCAA would leave the five punished Buckeyes on the field.
Not to Mark May.
In fact, he never mentions Cam Newton. Instead, his "perfect example" was AJ Green, who was suspended in the offseason and served his first four games on the bench this year. Not quite the same circumstances.
He also mentions Ryan Mallett from Arkansas, but the reason is unclear. His main point was that "fair is fair" and that players of equal caliber should be treated equally. Again, in this case, his SEC quarterback Cam Newton is being treated exactly the same.
May also concludes that the Pac-10 and Big Ten do not get punished the same as the SEC. I don't think we need to look too deep to unravel threads here.
First, there's Jeremiah Masoli. The Oregon quarterback was kicked off the team for possession of marijuana charges and a connection in a second-degree burglary. It's not so interesting until he was able to sidestep his probation in the NCAA by playing at Ole Miss.
Ole Miss, by the way, is in the SEC.
And let's not forget USC, who is facing a two-year postseason ban for the fallout of one Mr. Reggie Bush. Bush was the star running back on the national championship Trojans, who also received improper benefits. If that is protectionism, I would hate to be a school outside of the "Sacred Cows."
I know what Mark May was trying to do. Stirring up controversy, making arguments and defending his position is his job as an ESPN analyst. The only problem I have is that it doesn't make any sense.
Why go after the Big Ten—who did not make a ruling on the situation—while at the same time sidestep the obvious elephant in the room, Cam Newton?
The answer: college football analysts are making an exception because Cam Newton is a superior talent. His actions on the field are giving him a pass for his obvious troubles off of it. If Pryor would have won the Heisman or been in contention for the national championship, this would be a completely different argument.
To Mark May, Pryor was being protected because he is a money-making machine, while Cam Newton is something different.
In this story, the heroes and villains are getting harder to define. We don't need anyone else muddying the waters.