Let me begin by saying that I am not here to debate the merit of the rule that will lead five of Ohio State's best players to be suspended next year. I am also not blaming the players for what they did or directly criticising Jim Tressel for allowing his five of his best offensive players to compete last night.
Tressel has always been a high character guy and a players' coach. For anyone who has read The Winner's Manual it is apparent what kind of coach he is. But Tressel and the NCAA last night clearly demonstrated to a national audience the conflicting nature of many of the governing body of college athletics' bylaws.
In a year riddled with controversy, particularly in college football, the NCAA has instituted a program of reform to correct inaccuracies and rule violations on a grand scale.
With high profile cases at University of North Carolina, Auburn/Mississippi State, University of Georgia and Kansas State within the last year, the NCAA was seemingly tired of the often brazen rule violations that pervade major college athletics.
The "Tat Five's" participation in the Sugar Bowl was a step in the wrong direction, however, and made the NCAA appear weak, while hurting the reputation of a great coach in the process.
I know the players have 'promised' to return next year. Whether they do or not is inconsequential. The problem with the NCAA and Coach Tressel's decision to allow them to play is that is appears some rule violations matter and others don't.
Does the 'Tat Five' decision hurt the NCAA's credibility?
It is particularly disheartening that this apparent exception occurred as the teams prepared for a BCS game that would bring both Ohio State and the NCAA literally millions of dollars in revenue. Call me cynical, but no one was giving A.J. Green any leeway with his suspension when he sold his jersey after a bowl game last season.
Now, I want to continue by saying that a jersey or equipment given to a student-athlete by a school or sponsor should be fair game to sell, trade or barter. With the amount of money these players earn for their respective schools, it seems petty to restrict them from doing what they please with their uniforms.
I will even buy Tressel's argument that suspending his players for the Sugar Bowl would have had implications beyond those five athletes. He was on record as saying that there were seniors on this team that he had to think about. Fine, that makes sense coach.
Still, the fact remains that no matter how ludicrous the rules are, they must be unilaterally policed. In the end, hopefully the "Tat Five" will return for their senior seasons like they promised and Tressel will remain one of the most respected caches in college sports.
To me, however, the NCAA may have irrevocably hurt its credibility. Ultimately, this story comes down to whether you think the rules matter for everyone. For an organization struggling to show that they do, the "Tat Five" case (forgive the pun) serves as a black mark.