As we prepare for March Madness, one pending item and a new development in college sports still merit some attention. Last week Jim Tressel, head football coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes, admitted prior knowledge of a couple of players receiving benefits in exchange for memorabilia from a local tattoo parlor. This, you may recall, involved five of the Buckeyes’ best players (including star QB Terrelle Pryor), which led to five-game suspensions of those five. Now that suspension did not include the Sugar Bowl victory over Arkansas on Jan. 1 (we can’t disappoint all those loyal fans who made travel plans, can we?), but will include such high powered opponents as Akron and Toledo. Coincidentally, these same two opponents are who Tressel himself will miss as OSU announced self-imposed penalties for this affair.
But back to that little detail about the prior knowledge: Yeah, Tressel knew about it. He knew about two of the players and did nothing for seven months, which meant allowing those two players to compete all season. He knew he had a duty to self-report, and not doing constituted a major NCAA violation. He has claimed concerns over the safety of the two players, and we must take him at his word, but he was likely more concerned about the ramifications for a football program poised for another run at the mythical national championship and BCS glory. But when Yahoo! Sports broke the story last week, Tressel and company had no choice but to come clean.
The situation is eerily similar to what went down with the Tennessee Volunteers basketball team and their coach, alleged human Bruce Pearl. In that case, Pearl didn’t come clean with the NCAA until late in the game – in fact he lied to cover up his own violations. The Vols and the SEC suspended Pearl for eight games, docked his pay $1.5 million over the remainder of his contract (about $300,000 a year), and restricted him to on-campus recruiting only for the year. In comparison, OSU has fined Tressel $250,000 next year (he makes about $3.9 million) and suspended him two games.
Two cases of programs enacting pre-NCAA punishment in an attempt to lessen the sanctions. But the sanctions must still come.
After all, Tennessee is still competing in the big tournament this week. The Buckeyes went to the Sugar Bowl and will no doubt be contending for a major bowl next year. Neither school has lost any scholarships…
Here in Illinois, some of us have long memories. We can recall the whole investigation surrounding Deon Thomas and Jimmy Collins, a fiasco Bruce Pearl played a major role in launching. In that case, the UofI fought the NCAA tooth and nail. They hired lawyers, they conducted counter investigations, and in the end they managed to prove not only that Pearl’s allegations were false, but that, in fact, Pearl himself committed rules violations while attempting to recruit Thomas to Iowa. The NCAA was having none of it. You don’t fight city hall. And in that famous statement by then NCAA lead investigator Mike Slive (ironically, now SEC headman, who imposed the suspension on Pearl), “Just because we can’t prove it, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”
Well guess what… The stuff with OSU and Tennessee did happen.
Back in the day, Illinois, for their insolence, was slapped with lack of institutional control. That meant a two-year reduction in scholarships and post-season ban, as well as restrictions on off-campus recruiting. This caused Illinois to miss out on the likes of Juwan Howard (Michigan), Michael Finley (Wisconsin), and others, and derailed the serious momentum Lou Henson and company were building from the Flyin’ Illini years.
So here we are in 2011. If recent events in Columbus and Knoxville don’t constitute lack of institutional control, someone needs to redefine it for us. Sure, those are two storied programs with powerful alumni and high fan interest, but if the NCAA does not step in and impose some serious sanctions and decisive judgments, we will see more Reggie Bush/Cam Newton/Derrick Rose style shenanigans.