Whether it is a slap on the wrist or a smack to the face, penalties handed down to players and coaches by the NCAA for off the field troubles have been rather inconsistent through the years.
Grabbing headlines the past few months have been the violations by several Ohio State players and their coach Jim Tressel. While Terrell Pryor and his four partners in crime were handed a somewhat sweet deal by the NCAA (allowing them to play in the Sugar Bowl, but suspending them for the first five games in 2011), how the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions (COI) deals with Tressel could be much more lethal.
What started as a two game suspension by the school was later increased to five by Tressel in hopes to gain some sympathy from the COI. But even if the NCAA decides to make an example of Tressell like they did to Tennessee’s Bruce Pearl, do coaches and players deserve to receive these stiff penalties for actions that are most likely happening on campuses across the nation and are really unrelated to the game itself?
To be fair, the NCAA has a difficult job governing the very vague line between a paid and amateur athlete.
In the case of USC and Reggie Bush, the line seemed to be crossed mainly because Bush was receiving gifts, cars and other tangible material from people around town just for being that magnetic on-field star. These benefits appeared to be ways around paying a player to be a spokesperson for their product.
However, with the boys at Ohio State, they were not given money just because they played for the most popular team in Ohio. They sold items to a Tattoo Parlor that they earned themselves for playing in a BCS bowl game.
These items were technically their personal property. They should be able to do whatever they wanted with those items. Instead of holding onto them as keepsakes, they elected to sell it to someone who understood their monetary value and was willing to pay the market price.
Is it really that much different if they did the same thing a few months after graduation?
Although Tressel knew about this transaction way before the NCAA found out about it, their actions by his players can really seem like a non-issue when looked at realistically. The fact that he supposedly hid this from the NCAA raises some concerns, but it is not like he was paying recruits to come to Ohio State to play. He basically turned a blind eye to something that should not have been that big of deal.
People are always interested in seeing stiffer penalties handed down by the NCAA, especially fans of those teams that got the brunt end of a ruling in the past. But, in reality, the penalty needs to fit the crime and this is something that the NCAA seems to have troubles with.
If a player blatantly takes money or gifts from a another person giving absolutely nothing in return, this transaction should be construed as an amateur player being paid and he should be suspended to the full extent of the NCAA bylaws.
However, if a player decides to sell a game ball handed to him by his coach on Ebay to the highest bidder, this hardly seems like an issue that the NCAA should be able to govern.
The issue with Dez Bryant last year proves even further the point that the NCAA gets a little suspension happy when these cases cross their desk. Bryant did absolutely nothing wrong by meeting with Deion Sanders for lunch, but the fact that he concealed it from the NCAA apparently warranted a 10-game suspension.
Does that seem like justice? A player who was ignorant to the rules didn’t actually break one, but gets suspended like he did.
This penalty for concealment of information to the NCAA could end up hurting Tressel once the COI makes a decision on his case. Yet, if the NCAA does bring the pain to Tressel, will it really scare other coaches into revealing issues that they think that are borderline, but could hurt their team if they bring them to the forefront.
The NCAA seems to believe that stiffer penalties will get the point across to others who are thinking about breaking these amateur rules, but only when it benefits their end plan. As each season moves along, there seems to be more and more issues that arise with players tap dancing around these rather vague laws.
The landscape of college football is constantly changing and the fact that it has become the second most popular sport in the nation means that these issues with keeping these players as amateurs will get exponentially more difficult.
Some people believe that paying players is the logical next step for college football. Others think that the integrity of the game needs to be kept intact by maintaining the amateur status of these players.
Either way, it has become obvious that college football players are becoming more famous than in years past and laying down stiffer penalties for monetary violations does not seem to be working. Does anyone really think Reggie Bush, Dez Bryant and Terrell Pryor suffered (or are going to suffer) from the sanctions handed to them?
When it comes down to brass tacks, the NCAA is making a ton of money off of these players. While they may be making an example of these players that break their rules, they can’t hide the fact that these penalties only conceal the absurd amount of money the NCAA makes off the 1,000s of other college football players that follow their laws to a "T".
In the long run, it won’t matter how stiff of penalties the NCAA comes up with. These violations will keep occurring until players receive some sort of compensation for the stadiums that they pack for these schools every Saturday.