That Ohio State’s football program is headed for big trouble with the NCAA is no longer a matter of debate. It’s not a question of if it will be bad, but how bad it will be.
Senior Editor Phillip Marshall
USC is in jail. Tennessee just went before the NCAA judge and jury and awaits its fate. It’s not been a good month for the game loved so much by so many.
Quarterback Terrelle Pryor will forever be remembered as the main player in the scandal that brought down Ohio State, but was he really the culprit? Were his teammates who sold memorabilia the culprits? Not in my mind.
The culprits are the grownups, starting with those who make the rules.
The presidents and chancellors who run the NCAA desperately want to feel like they are in control. They want college athletes to be like Joe Blow Student. They know, in their hearts, it’s gone way beyond that. But the charade goes on.
Television rights for college football are sold for billions of dollars. Players become household names when they are still in high school. Grown men clamor for their autographs, ask them to pose for pictures.
Athletic dorms were outlawed in the name of making athletes be more like other students. Training table meals were severely limited in the name of saving money. The result is that coaches have far less control than they once had.
Former Texas quarterback Colt McCoy’s wife, Rachel McCoy, put it best in an interview with ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd.
"My joke is that my biggest competition with Colt is not girls,” she said. “It's 40-year-old men who want to say, 'Hey, I did this with Colt. I did this with his teammates.'"’
And there you have it.
What does anyone expect a college athlete who has nothing and has never had anything to do when someone puts a $100 bill in his hand? What does anyone expect him to do when some restaurant owner tells him to come by and eat for free anytime he wants or a salesman offers to let him drive around in fancy cars?
In the make-believe world that NCAA presidents have created, college football players are on campus to study hard and participate in this nice, little extracurricular activity called college football.
Meanwhile, coaches are paid millions of dollars. More millions are spent on facilities and glitzy marketing campaigns.
Don’t get wrong here. I believe the vast majority of college football players do, in fact, want to get their degrees. The academic progress rules are such that, if a player stays eligible for four years, he’s going to be very close to graduating. But football is what most of these young men are all about. It’s why they are where they are.
With the time and grueling physical effort required to play the game, it’s absurd to believe that the college experience of a football player in a big-time program can be compared in any way with the experiences of other students.
When Tommy Tuberville was Auburn’s head coach, he was fond of saying playing college football is like having two fulltime jobs.
It’s those players who make it possible for coaches to have beach houses, lake houses and farms, who make it possible for the NCAA and conferences to have their meetings in the nation’s fanciest resorts, who make it possible for fans to brag at work on Monday morning.
So, no, we shouldn’t be surprised when they are easy targets for men twice their age who view them as heroes or who want to profit off them. And no stipend or expanded scholarship is going to change that.
Really, Ohio State isn’t going down because Pryor sold something or drove a car. Ohio State is going down because former coach Jim Tressel, who made millions for winning games, didn’t have enough integrity to do the right thing, because athletic department officials either looked the other way or were remarkably incompetent, because boosters and hangers on cared more about themselves than the welfare of young men who happened to play football.
The grownups are the problem.