Jim Tressel's Resignation a Reflection of College Football?

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Jim Tressel's Resignation a Reflection of College Football?
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I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Jim Tressel resigned on Monday.  The Vest will no longer be pacing the sidelines in Columbus, OH with arms crossed and spectacles clinging for life on the edge of his nose. 

Tressel’s legacy will be forever tarnished, as his violations will long outlast the glory of his success.  His downfall will prove as permanent as the tattoos his players bartered for.  

Jim Tressel is no longer the head football coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes and while that may be disheartening to OSU fans and inconvenient to those associated with the football program, the implications go beyond the confines of the Ohio State University.  Jim Tressel’s resignation is reflective of an epidemic within his program, and unfortunately, that disease is infecting every phase college athletics across the nation.

While Tressel’s alleged violations have been chalked up to ignorance and portrayed as his best effort to protect his players, I don’t think anybody buys that.  His resignation, while far from stunning, is indicative of the irreversible damage he has caused to the program, and that detriment may have been somewhat surprising. 

After all, Tressel preached conservative values, authored inspirational books such as “The Winners Manual for the Game of Life,” and seemed to be concerned with ethical performance.  On the surface he appeared to be one of college football’s true good guys.

Now one is left to wonder if there are any good guys.  Cheating in every facet of the game seems to be increasingly common and in turn increasingly accepted.  And while it may not be openly advertised or claimed as a focal point of any coach’s philosophy, to ignore the possibility of violations within any major college football program is foolish.

ESPN radio personality Colin Cowherd spent the early part of this week questioning whether or not a team could even compete for a national title without cheating.  Colin gets paid to analyze sports and capitalize upon the sentiments associated with competition, and he does a good job.  I think we are all left wondering if violations are now a prerequisite for greatness.  With that sports worldview in mind, didn’t Tressel do a fantastic job not only on the field but also in the compliance office? 

He won a BCS Championship in his second season and seven Big Ten titles all while avoiding anything that would devastate his career.  He avoided justice for 10 seasons while running a dirty program and won a lot of games in the process.  

If we’re going to embrace, accept or even recognize that cheating is now a part of the game, then I would argue that Tressel’s résumé is even more impressive than his record would indicate.  After all, he went 9-1 against the NCAA.  Sure he got caught this year, but only after nine successful seasons of avoiding major violations and accusations.  He meandered through the Maurice Clarett debacle and bounced back without missing a beat.  He beat the system for nine seasons.

To Cowherd’s point, most would agree that players are going to cheat somewhere, so why does it matter that it happened at Ohio State as opposed to Penn State, Georgia or UNLV?  Sure they messed up and broke some rules, but it happens everywhere.  The argument is being made that players are going to the schools where the most freedom is offered—be it financial, social or otherwise—regardless of consequence, and the schools that can afford such risks are going to consistently be contenders.

Cowherd’s accuracy is frightening.  Players are going where the money is.  But what if he wasn’t right?  What if the focus of discussion following Vest-gate focused on how to prevent athletes from breaking rules rather than on how ridiculous the rules themselves happen to be.  What if we truly were disgusted by what happened at Ohio State not because Jim Tressel got caught but because what was going on was unfathomable?  What if we believed this was a truly isolated event?  Wouldn’t that be nice? 

Fans’ views of college athletics need to change.  I want fans to be appalled when student-athletes are caught receiving improper benefits.  I want fans to hate coaches who allow such things to occur.  I’m not a ruthless individual who craves the NCAA to take on a more totalitarian role by any means, but I want some order returned.  I hated NCAA for suspending A.J. Green last season, but my disappointment should have been directed at A.J.

The libertarian in me embraces the idea that players should be able to do whatever they want with their possessions—jerseys, hats, used shoulder pads, you name it—for any goods or services they desire.  The open-market economist in me believes that if Terrelle Pryor wanted to trade some autographs for his idiotic currency of choice (tattoos), then he should be permitted to do so.

However, this is not an economic issue.  Rather it is a reflection of how collegiate athletics, amateurism and society as a whole currently interact.  As long as rules have been in place limiting the resources that a student-athlete can receive there have been individuals and institutions violating such restrictions.  This is not a new problem. 

However, only recently has the solution to that problem become the modification of rules to make things easier on the athletes.  Only recently has the NCAA entertained the prospect of rewarding corruption with financial means. 

The NCAA is contemplating paying members of a group whose greed and selfishness has created a pretty serious problem.  The NCAA is prepared to throw gas on the flame in an effort to satisfy the heat.  If this makes sense to you ask yourself if we should pay criminals to prevent crime?  Hopefully you don’t find that idea attractive, and hopefully the NCAA balks at similar proposed infrastructures.

There are numerous proposals currently being evaluated that would theoretically allow student-athletes to receive as much as $5,000 of “spending money” per semester.  Most student-athletes at the FBS level receive scholarships covering tuition, room and board, so this stipend is being sold as a means to cover other necessities like laundry and gas. 

Of course, transportation to class, games and practice is almost always provided, and any team-related clothing is washed by the equipment staff, but some still claim that additional funding is required.  This money, of course, is not intended for entertainment purposes, it is for necessities (even though necessities seem to already be covered).  So, the $10,000 annual stipend would be used to help student-athletes survive, even though they already seem to be thriving on campuses across the country. 

I, for one, would not want to coach a player with a $300-plus per week laundry and gas budget.  That player would most likely be spending entirely too much time behind the wheel of a car and in the laundry room to be a productive student or player.  Or, more realistically, that money would be going elsewhere—movies, bars, liquor stores and other college hot spots.  

It wouldn’t be long before those stipend checks turned up at the tattoo parlor.  I think we’d see pretty quickly that these stipend payments are not merely covering student-athlete necessities.  And, I think we’d see pretty quickly that $5,000 isn’t going to keep somebody from wanting more. 

However, couldn’t the NCAA put that proposed stipend money to use elsewhere?  Why not require a further “per athlete” fee that is the equivalent of these “pay athletes proposals.”  That money could then be used to hire NCAA-issued compliance officers at each school.  Not just one compliance officer, but lots of them.  A $50,000 annual salary for a compliance officer would allow for the formation of one new compliance officer for every five student-athletes at the proposed $5,000 per semester payout schedule.

Not only would the NCAA be offering work for an impressive number of new employees, but those compliance officers could be trained specifically by the NCAA and would not be of any loyalty to the school that they are working for.  This would also alleviate pressure on coaches as it would be the job of the NCAA’s officers to discover wrongdoings.  Furthermore, coaches would be relatively unaware of the compliance procedures and thus less competent in breaking rules.

Perhaps more money should be spent on student-athletes, but I think it should be used to monitor their behavior and enforce regulations rather than on their “dirty laundry.” 

If Ohio State had 20 compliance officers, I think the Jim Tressel would still have his job.  And I’m not sure that an additional player stipend would have in any way prevented what was going on in Columbus. 

But is the NCAA willing to take on the responsibility of being solely responsible for enforcing their own legislation?  They’ve certainly had no problem punishing universities for failing to do so, but do they really think they could do a better job?

So how do you feel?  Are you more concerned with the enforcement of current regulations or the changing of rules?  Would you rather see money spent on additional compliance officers? Or would you like to see players get a little spending money?

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