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Wednesday, June 01, 2011
Thoughts on The Ohio State University

Some random thoughts on Ohio State (even if, as a Northwestern fan, I am enjoying a wee bit of schadenfreude):

1) I read Zach Lowe's piece linked by Mike connecting this scandal to the NBA age limit, but I do not buy the connection.  Whatever the merits of allowing more players to go pro right away and therefore incentivizing more players to do so (either straight to the big leagues or into some professional minor league system), is not going to change the fact that improper benefits are going to be spread around to the players that do go to college. Especially since, as Lowe points out, only the "tiniest subset" of players are able to go straight to the NBA--and an even tinier subset would be able to go straight to the NFL. There are always going to be star players who go to college or players who, in college, become stars. And as long as college football and basketball continue to be popular as sports, boosters and others will continue to be on the scene and players will still get cars, tattoos, cash, etc. In fact, we still would have the current case. Other than Aaron Terrelle Pryor, would any of the other five suspended players have been able to skip college? Probably not. For that matter, were any of the other five stars?

The issue is not, as Lowe argues, that we are "forc[ing] this pseudo-amateurism on players who don’t want it." A lot of players will still choose college, especially if the choice is between college and NBDL or overseas. But pseudo-amateurism remains and that is the issue across the board. So might this be the final straw, the one that makes people push to change a broken system?

2) Ohio State is in some trouble. Their narrative right now is that this is a problem with a few players and the coach and by suspending the players accepting (and perhaps even forcing) Tressel's resignation, the problem has been resolved. But there is an institutional component to this. OSU conducted an investigation that found only six players had received benefits for merchandise, a conclusion contradicted by the Sports Illustrated story, which said as many as 28 players had received similar benefits over the past nine years. This might suggest that the internal investigation was, at best, poorly done, and, at worst, a cover-up. Plus attention is now turning towards other benefits given to players, most notably access to cars. This suggests the issue of players receiving benefits goes much deeper. At what point does this reach the institution--namely AD Gene Smith and President E. Gordon Gee.

3) It is ironic that Gee should be at the heart of a mess like this. He has an enjoyed a great deal of success as an administrator at several universities, including Colorado, Brown, Vanderbilt, and Ohio State twice. He is perhaps best known for eliminating the independent athletics department and the position of athletics director at Vanderbilt, bringing intercollegiate athletics within the Division of Student Life, a move he pushed precisely to ensure greater institutional control over sports teams and the elimination of what he called "semi-autonomous fiefdoms." Controversial at the time, the move has proven to be very successful for Vanderbilt.

Yet when Tressel admitted to lying about his knowledge of the benefits and was suspended in March, Gee responded to the question of whether he had considered firing Tressel by saying "Are you kidding? I'm just hopeful the coach doesn't dismiss me." That reflects a very different--and unfortunate--attitude towards college sports, but one that recognized the realities of OSU, as opposed to Vanderbilt.

If Gee loses his job over this (or even if he doesn't), it will be unfortunate that someone who tried something radical and creative to make the system work, and who recognized that the system needed some creative changes, has been undermined by everything that is wrong with the system.


I agree with everything you say until the very end. Gee was not undermined. He became part of the problem with his arrogant humor at the press conference. The sad truth is that college presidents are afraid of coaches like Tressel. At the major NCAA schools, the presidents get paid much less than coaches in basketball and football as well. Bottom line: College presidents need to take charge of this culture of corruption. I think that the South Park episode pretty much had it right.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 6/01/2011 9:21 AM  

I don't believe anything will change with the system so long as the NCAA continues to take the position that "amateurism" means something other than a university compensating a player to play a sport for them (which is essentially the dictionary meaning). I honestly do not know how anyone, including the NCAA, can, from a practical standpoint, prevent somebody from selling something he/she owns legal title. Regulation that prohibits people from doing something that is otherwise considered perfectly acceptable and valued in society, whether public or private regulation, is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to enforce in any fair, reasonable and non-arbitrary fashion. See Oliver v. NCAA (striking down rule prohibiting a player from retaining a lawyer to negotiate a contract).

I think we have to look at this particular issue simply for what it is: a private association has determined that a non-member selling something he legally owns, or receiving a tattoo in exchange for something else, is contrary to its business plan and therefore improper. The only thing making it "improper" is that a private entity says it is. There is nothing inherently wrong or improper about it.

Anonymous Rick Karcher -- 6/01/2011 11:59 AM  

RK, The Oliver reference/analogy was PERFECT! As you know, that case involved the state of Ohio as well.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 6/01/2011 2:03 PM  

Anonymous: Fair point. I meant to say that what Gee had worked (and presumably stood) for had been undermined. No question that he was complicit in it and I was not trying to excuse him.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 6/01/2011 2:41 PM  

But Rick, wouldn't there be a problem if the NCAA didn't have such a policy? What would amateur athletics look like if the athletes (would we even call them student-athletes anymore?) could sell or trade their keep for profit? It would basically be a minor league system.

They're student-athletes, they are given a scholarship to play on behalf of the school. If they feel the need to sell the things they happen upon in the course of their enrollment, perhaps they should look elsewhere for employment?

Anonymous Jeff -- 6/01/2011 3:10 PM  

No worries, Howard. Very good post overall. This cartel/criminal enterprise (whichever you prefer) is backed in a corner right now. Let's see what happens to Tennessee in the Bruce Pearl situation...

Anonymous Anonymous -- 6/01/2011 3:11 PM  

"Aaron" Pryor?

Anonymous Anonymous -- 6/02/2011 7:36 AM  

Currently an undergrad at Ohio State and hope to attend law school someday. I also am friends with the guys in the scandal as well.

1. These players earned their memorabilia. It is their possession now. To be honest they can do whatever the heck they want with it. I don't think thats a big deal.

2. Tressel is the father figure of these student athletes and he would never want to rat out his own kids for selling their possessions.
3. I see the perks they get, they all have the chargers that they get from a dealership. Ohio State probably makes the deals with these dealerships so transportation is provided for its players.

There is one man to blame for this scandal, and it is Gene Smith.

Blogger DannyDavid -- 6/05/2011 11:01 PM  

OSU has not hit bottom yet; Gee and Smith will resign or be fired soon. But Tressel's initial response highlights a fundamental defect in NCAA process: the only reason JT stood up and said he "didn't know who to report to" is that he knew that this kind of silly excuse has in the past been repeatedly bought by the NCAA. (The main reason JT's excuse was he was dumb enough to leave an entirely contradictory email trail.)
Solution to these bogus "ignorance" claims by coaches, which the NCAA spends much time and money investigating and adjudicating: require centralized "Coach Certification": a one-week initial course, with annual 1 day update, in order to be certified. Then, the NCAA's standard presumption is: you know the rules (by-laws). Simply, easy, clean solution -- which is why the NCAA won't do it. See my article at

Anonymous wm wilson -- 6/06/2011 10:34 AM  

From an Ohio State Student's point of view and aspiring sports lawyer, this is what it comes down too.

We all know these athletes at Ohio State get housing, transportation, and food payed for which is apart of their scholarship. They all get the nicest cars (dodge chargers), nicest off campus housing (the quarry, which has gym, pool, etc.)

It is the perfect situation for the NCAA to finally take down ohio state. They are a money making scandal. How come they let the suspended 5 play in the Sugar Bowl? So they can make more money. They knew about these allegations way back. Anyone who lives in Columbus knows that football players get dodge chargers with tints and rims. I am sure the NCAA knew about it for a while. They finally had the evidence via email to take tressel down and the rest of this university. If you are going to blame a buckeye you blame Gene Smith. that is all.

Blogger DannyDavid -- 6/06/2011 12:22 PM  

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