Mark it down. December 2010: the date when the NCAA was no longer allowed to use the word "integrity" in a serious context.
This is the month we all learned what we've long suspected: that the people in charge of college football enjoy giving their sanctimonious speeches about student-athletes and the integrity of amateur athletics, while going out of their way to protect their own self-interests.
The latest example? Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan admitting he lobbied Ohio State to keep five players found guilty for violating NCAA rules eligible for the Jan. 4 bowl game.
"I appreciate and fully understand the Midwestern values and ethics behind that," Hoolahan told the Columbus Dispatch. "But I'm probably thinking of this from a selfish perspective."
One: Yes, you are thinking from a selfish perspective, and admitting it doesn't make it any better. Two: It's not about Midwestern values and ethics.
College football fans from Hollywood, Florida to Hollywood, California are just as bewildered by what Ohio State and the NCAA allowed you to get away with in an effort to prop up what is a costume jewel in the sport's postseason crown.
Yet as frustrating as it is, you're just doing your job. You need to sell tickets, and that's much harder to do if the Buckeyes are bringing their “B” team.
What's much more baffling is that the NCAA would go for it at all. When it comes to college football bowl season, the organization is little more than a figurehead. The bowls are controlled by outside organizations.
In fact, the NCAA receives only $12,000 from all the money taken in by the Sugar Bowl. With such a tiny paycheck, where is the motivation to throw their supposed core values under the bus?
After allowing Cam Newton to slide on the “I didn't know” defense, the Ohio State case was an opportunity for the NCAA to once again bare its teeth. Instead, it let the same argument color its decision, and if all of those athletes decide to head to the NFL, the NCAA will have done little more than write a strongly-worded letter.
Perhaps the people who should be most upset by this are USC fans and Georgia receiver A.J. Green.
Former USC athletic director Mike Garrett, former head coach Pete Carroll and the rest of the Trojan athletic department rode the “we didn't know” defense for the bulk of the four-year investigation into Reggie Bush.
If only they could have shown the investigating committee the recent Wall Street Journal article touting how much the Trojans mean in bowl game television ratings.
Of course, after seeing USC go down in flames, why would Green even think to use the “I didn't know” defense? But I have a sneaking suspicion that if he were to do it all over again, it's probably one he would have pulled out of his bag of tricks.
But after a full season of haphazard justice, the NCAA whiffed on one last chance to prove it has any relevance when it comes to governing college football. It's given legitimacy to the myriad conspiracy theories suggesting it protects big schools for its own financial interests.
For years, the organization was able to plausibly shoot holes in those theories. Not anymore.
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