Ohio State Football: Why the NCAA Should Be Lenient to the Buckeyes' Program

Kevin TrahanAnalyst IJuly 19, 2011

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 30:  Assistant Head Coach Luke Fickell speaks to the media during a press conference before the start of Spring practices at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center at The Ohio State University on March 30, 2011 in Columbus, Ohio. Fickell will serve as the interim head coach during the 2011 season when head coach Jim Tressel serves a five game suspension.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Since the beginning of his school’s tattoo-gate/extra benefits scandal, Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee has led the NCAA, the media, and the fans to believe that he’s the good guy.

Remember, Gee says, he’s the one who cracked down on the extra benefits and got rid of the corrupt head coach who allowed this to happen. He’s the hero. He’s the victim.

Gee has sweet-talked the NCAA enough that, despite his weak proposal that Ohio State vacates its 2010 wins, he will escape relatively unscathed. His program, however, could suffer for years to come.

Ohio State offers the NCAA a chance to rebuild its shattered reputation. The NCAA has long been the laughing stock of major athletics. It’s an indecisive, mismanaged, and disrespected organization that is seemingly counterproductive in its mission to protect America’s student athletes.

The NCAA investigates programs who break one of its many, tedious rules, then refuses to bring down any sort of tough punishment. The one exception was its two-year bowl ban of USC, which led many people to believe that it had finally turned a corner.

But in typical NCAA fashion, it went back to its wish-washy ways.

Now, dealing with a major program—one bigger than USC—that was found guilty of offenses worse than those at USC, the NCAA has a second chance to send a message.

While that might seem just to the untrained eye, it’s the wrong message to send.

Ohio State would be an easy target. It’s hated almost unanimously by college football fans, who would love to see its head roll. Many are calling for a bowl ban of at least two years, and some are even calling for the death penalty, which was handed to SMU in the 1980s.

Those opinions come mostly out of greed, as a weak Ohio State helps nearly every program around the country. And while it might lead to an extra win or a better bowl game, it’s not the right thing to do.

The NCAA could, and likely will, conveniently ignore its moral compass and take the easy way out, punishing the Ohio State players and coaches who were not involved with the scandal and receiving a standing ovation from college football fans across the country.

Ironically, even in what would be its biggest PR success, it will likely whiff with its punishment once again.

Most of the players involved with the scandal have already received their punishments, if not from the NCAA. Coach Jim Tressel resigned/retired/was forced out. Four players who received extra benefits have been suspended for the first five games of 2011. And the worst offender, Terrelle Pryor, has left the university.

Now, left to bear the consequences of the actions of the suspended and former players and former coach are the current Buckeye squad and current head coach Luke Fickell’s staff.

For all we know, Fickell knew nothing about the tattoo situation or the extra benefits. And for all we know, nobody on the current team had any involvement in the scandal.

Gee and OSU athletic director Gene Smith, on the other hand, are the most explicit examples of the NCAA’s “failure to monitor” rule that you can find.

However, if the NCAA decides to impose a bowl ban, it’s hurting the players who did nothing wrong, not the real problem, namely Gee and Smith. Sure, neither Gee, nor Smith would like a bowl ban, but it doesn’t begin to compare to the repercussions that Tressel faced, nor does it hurt them as much as it hurts the players.

A bowl ban sends a message to presidents and athletic directors that they will receive very few repercussions if they break NCAA rules. Their players may suffer, but they will continue to rack up big paychecks.

That’s not right. Luke Fickell and his players deserve leniency; Gee and Smith do not.

USC showed how misguided a bowl ban can be. While the players sat at home during the holidays, Pete Carroll was in Seattle, unaffected by his former program’s punishment.

This is a second chance for the NCAA, a chance to hold the guilty parties accountable. In a just world, Gee and Smith would be forced to leave their posts and Fickell and his staff would be able to prepare for the upcoming season just like any other year.

However, this isn’t always a just world, especially not when it comes to college football.

But now, the ball is in the NCAA’s court, as it has another chance to finally hold the guilty party responsible, regardless of how popular that decision is.

It’s already used to doing the unpopular thing, so now it’s time to do the right thing as well.