by Billy Reed
The Jim Tressel scandal at The Ohio State University is huge, but not huge enough that the Big Ten will become a serious challenger to the Southeastern Conference as the most corrupt fraternity in big-time college sports. Nope, the SEC retired that trophy long ago. Yet now at least maybe Big Ten fans will lose their smug sense of moral superiority when it comes to cheating, lying, and hypocrisy.
I’m not ready to say that everybody in big-time college athletics is cheating. But I’m convinced the vast majority is. In fact, I think the overall level of integrity and character has sunk to an all-time low. It’s a cesspool out there, folks, and it’s not going to change unless you the alumni, you the fan, you the ticket-buying public brings enough pressure to bear on the university presidents, who are the real culprits in this culture of corruption.
But you’re not going to do that, are you? You’re not going to threaten to withdraw your contributions or stop buying tickets because you really don’t care about cheating. You care about getting caught, sure. But as long as your favorite coach can stay one step ahead of the law, you don’t care if he or she is condoning academic fraud or illegal payments. You don’t really care if your favorite coach dances with the devil posing as an AAU coach or street agent.
I wonder about you alums, and I don’t care if your alma mater is Ohio State, Auburn, Notre Dame, Southern Cal or Fill In The Blank U. When you were in college, were you in a coma when your professors tried to teach you the importance of integrity, character, and ethics in the workplace? Didn’t your university teach moral values as well as chemistry and English?
If so, then why don’t you seem to care about having your university’s name drug through the mud for the sake of winning football and basketball games? Has everybody lost the moral compass that his or her parents, teachers, and ministers gave us at a young age?
If universities don’t take a stand against cheating in athletics, then they are tacitly condoning it. And if they tacitly condone it, then they are failing their students. Not just student-athletes, but all students. And if they are failing all students on this most fundamental level, then what is the justification for their existence?
Universities are supposed to be cathedrals of learning and high moral standards. If you don’t believe me, I invited you to read the mission statement of any university or college. You will see a lot of verbiage about lofty ideals and high standards. Take that and compare it with what’s happening in far too many big-time football and men’s basketball programs.
It’s at the point where I think universities need to just admit the obvious – namely, that their athletic departments are big businesses that have little connection to the academic mission. The football and basketball teams at Ohio State – to pick one example – are a lot closer to the NBA or NFL models than to the NCAA. So it would be good for all concerned if the BCS conferences just bolted the NCAA and formed their own semi-pro cartel. That would be more honorable, at least, than the farce that now exists.
But if that doesn’t happen, if the big-time schools insist on perpetuating the myth of amateur athletics, then it’s time for the board of trustees at every big-time university to begin holding the president and the athletics directors accountable for maintaining programs that lived up to the university’s stated ideals.
It’s good that Tressel is gone at Ohio State. The only question is what took so long. The Ohio State president and athletics director are at least calculable – unindicted co-conspirators, if you will – and they, too, should be forced to turn in their resignations. How can they clean up a mess that happened on their watch?
Already they’ve made the mistake of appointing Tressel’s top assistant to be the interim head coach for a year. How do we know that his hands are clean? And if The Ohio State University is really interested in sending a message that it’s serious about cleaning up the mess, shouldn’t it hire a coach with no Tressel ties?
Don’t give me that lame excuse about it being too late to hire a top-quality coach for the 2011 season. The scandal mandates compete and utter change – and that means that ANYBODY would be better than Tressel’s right-hand man.
The problem isn’t Tressel per se. He’s just the product of the same system that has produced Jim Calhoun, Bruce Pearl, Kelvin Sampson, Pete Carroll, and other exposed cheaters. You can say the pressure to win causes even good men to compromise their morals and you wouldn’t be wrong. But you also can say that big-time coaches, as a group, are as corrupt and hypocritical and cynical as lawyers, politicians, or Wall Street bankers.
But coaches should be better, shouldn’t they? In many communities, coaches are held in as high esteem as teachers, preachers, and social workers. The teaching of how to play a game is only a part of their jobs. The rest of it is to teach discipline, sportsmanship, honesty, and integrity. When they fail and then try to cover it up, it is betrayal of the worst sort.
Perhaps some of you are nodding affirmatively as you read this. But what are you going to do about it? Are you going to keep your head in the sand? Are you going to just shrug and say, “It’s too big a problem for me to do anything about it.” Or are you going to do what you can to demand better from the institutions that you support with your love and your money?
Tressel deserved to be forced out. But the purge shouldn’t stop there. The Ohio State University also needs to fire its president and A.D. for lack of institutional control. Or maybe even give itself the death penalty in football for a year so everybody, including alums and supporters, can do some soul-searching.
Now THAT would be an excellent way to get off the road to perdition.
special thanks to Catholic Sports Net.