Tag Archives: college football

Joe Paterno: Staying Too Long

Joe Paterno could have retired 20 years ago as one of the most successful college football coaches ever. Think about that as pundits (including me) pile on this morning with comments about JoePa’s death Sunday and about his career and many accomplishments.

Many of us stay too long: at a job whether you enjoy it or not, in a relationship that is comfortable, with a grocery store just because you know what isle the ketchup is in. Paterno stayed too long — although it’s understandable why. Here’s the statement released by his family yesterday:

“He died as he lived. He fought hard until the end, stayed positive, thought only of others and constantly reminded everyone of how blessed his life had been. His ambitions were far reaching, but he never believed he had to leave this Happy Valley to achieve them. He was a man devoted to his family, his university, his players and his community.”

Should Joe Pa have done more than just alert his “superiors” when informed about the allegations of sexual abuse of young boys involving Jerry Sandusky? Yes. The conversation with Penn State’s Prez and Athletic Director should have gone something like this: “Look ass hairs, here’s what I’ve been told. Check it out, right now. Inform the police and others, if true. And get back to me, asap.”

Nobody else at Penn State could have had that conversation. JoePa could have. He had no superiors — right up until the day when the Board of Trustees told him he was out. (See NYT, “Penn State’s Trustees Recount Painful Decision to Fire Paterno.”)

From USA Today:

“This is a tragedy,” he [Paterno] said. “It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”

But the university trustees fired Paterno, effective immediately. Graham Spanier, one of the longest-serving university presidents in the nation, also was fired.

Paterno was notified by phone, not in person, a decision that board vice chairman John Surma regretted, trustees said. Lanny Davis, the attorney retained by trustees as an adviser, said Surma intended to extend his regrets over the phone before Paterno hung up him.

After weeks of escalating criticism by some former players and alumni about a lack of transparency, trustees last week said they fired Paterno in part because he failed a moral obligation to do more in reporting the 2002 allegation.

An attorney for Paterno on Thursday called the board’s comments self-serving and unsupported by the facts. Paterno fully reported what he knew to the people responsible for campus investigations, lawyer Wick Sollers said.

“He did what he thought was right with the information he had at the time,” Sollers said.

Yet sometimes you can do what is legally required, while still fumbling the ball ethically.

Here’s more from Sally Jenkins, writing in WaPo, “Joe Paterno dies, leaving a record for others to debate“:

Joe Paterno could outtalk anybody in that Brooklyn beat cop’s voice of his. But the lung cancer and the chemo had left him breathless, and what emerged in two days of conversations with him, the last interview he would give, sounded like a series of sighs. Some of them satisfied, some of them regretful, all of them aware that his life was drawing to a close and 85 years were being relentlessly and reductively defined.

Paterno studied his own end, and knew it wasn’t going to be storybook. So much for the old-fashioned narrative he had built, of bookish yet vigorous young men filling a stadium in the Alleghenies, men he had uplifted such as Franco Harris and Lydell Mitchell and Brandon Short, autumn leaves swirling softly over their heads.

“There’s the kind of stories I wish we could tell,” Paterno whispered.

But a modern grotesquery intervened, and there were too many other boys who allegedly had been damaged.

For most of his 61 years as a football coach at Penn State, Paterno built a record of thorough decency and good intention. He loved his wife, reared five nice children, taught his students well. He turned down big money for the role of a tenured professor, and strolled every day from his modest home to his unpretentious office. He acquired real power, and generally tried not to abuse it, and if sometimes he did, he covered for it by insisting on paying for his ice cream cones. He set out to prove that staying in one place could be as rewarding as climbing to the next rung. He meant to walk away sooner. He stayed too long.

JoePa stayed too long.

Still, he will be missed.

Urban Meyer and Ohio State: Questions About Money and Ethics

Let’s hope there is a clause in Urban Meyer’s $4 million a year head football coaching contract at Ohio State that requires ethical and legal conduct. Said another way: Wouldn’t it be great if the same standards of conduct expected of university faculty and staff applied to football and basketball coaches and others who spend much of their careers wearing shorts with a whistle around their necks?

We’ll see. Clearly Meyer needs to win football games, but he also needs to clean up the mess left by Jim Tressel. If he manages to do that while restoring some integrity to Ohio State and Ohio State football, then good for him.

Yet I still believe that at a time when money is tight at most universities for education-related expenses and students are taking on more and more debt to attend classes it’s hard to justify the emphasis placed on sports and the excessive compensation packages given to coaches at the football and basketball factories.

One of the issues worth considering these days is the growing salary gap in businesses between those at the top and those anywhere else, from middle to bottom. Anyone share a similar concern about the gap between what Meyer will make at OSU  (and his counterparts elsewhere) and let’s say a classroom instructor at any public university (or in any public K-12 school district, for that matter) in Ohio?

OK. I know that successful football and basketball programs bring in big bucks from alumni and generate brand recognition that extends to student and faculty recruitment. And admittedly, it’s a rare Saturday afternoon in the fall when 100,000-plus will show up for a lecture on let’s say the principles of public relations.

Yet here’s an interesting NYT article that highlights some of the issues with Meyer’s contract and with college football in general these days, “For New Coach at Ohio State, It’s First Down and $4 Million.”

Ohio State University hired Urban Meyer as its football coach Monday, giving him one of the richest contracts ever in college sports — the latest indication that the big business of college football is undeterred by the nation’s broader economic woes or by concern about the prominence of sports on campus.

The contract includes $4 million in base salary, bonuses — for everything from players’ graduation rates to playing in a national championship, up to $700,000 annually — and lump payments in 2014, 2016 and 2018. The deal is worth more than three times the $1.32 million that the university’s president, E. Gordon Gee, made in 2010, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Mr. Meyer and Ohio State reached the lucrative deal amid a chaotic year in college athletics. The University of Miami was rocked by a report that a donor lavished football players with gifts for years; and longtime assistants for the Penn State football and Syracuse men’s basketball teams are facing allegations that they sexually abused young boys. Several other prominent programs are being investigated by college athletics’ governing body, the N.C.A.A., for myriad violations.

Even the Buckeyes await potential N.C.A.A. sanctions because players traded memorabilia for cash and tattoos, which led to the ouster of Jim Tressel as their coach six months ago.

Still, the college football arms race shows no signs of slowing. To replace Mr. Tressel, Ohio State will invest at least $26.65 million over six years in Mr. Meyer, 47, who won two national championships at Florida. That will include an annual automobile stipend, a golf club membership, 50 hours of private jet use and 12 tickets to each home game.

“It’s symbolic of the condition we’re in,” said William C. Friday, the president of the University of North Carolina system from 1956 to 1986. “There’s an unrestrained salary march, where universities are trying to superimpose an entertainment industry on an academic structure. Any salary in that range is excessive.”

Even Mr. Gee, the university president who hired Mr. Meyer on Monday, has described the system as broken. In an interview with The New York Times in August, he said: “College athletics has gotten beyond itself. Do I think it’s broken? Yes.”

On Monday, Mr. Gee called Mr. Meyer’s contract “a mark of our dignity and nobility.”

“I’m not certain I’ve ever made as much as a football coach,” Mr. Gee said in a telephone interview. “We live in a world of markets and opportunities. A number of surgeons here make more than I do. I’m about having the best physics faculty, the best medical school faculty and the best football coach.”

OK. Fair enough. But let’s suggest to Prez Gee that it might be in the best interest of Ohio State and everyone connected to the university if Meyer turns out to be not just “the best football coach,” but also the most ethical one.

Would You Have Fired Joe Paterno?

I expect I’m about to pull a Rick Perry and “step in it,” but I believe the Penn State Board of Trustees made the difficult but correct decision last night to fire Joe Paterno.  University prez Graham Spanier got the hook as well.

Here’s why.

First, by all accounts at this point, JoePa didn’t violate any laws, but it appears he violated his own ethical standards for character, trust and integrity.

When Mike McQueary, then a grad student and former Nittany Lions quarterback and now an assistant coach, first told Paterno what he alleges he witnessed in a shower between Jerry Sandusky and a young boy, the head coach could have ended the matter. If JoePa for whatever reason didn’t want to contact the police, he could have forced the athletic director or the university prez to make the call. Apparently he didn’t. And in the void of moral leadership among the senior-level bureaucrats at Penn State, that made a big difference.

This also begs the question of why McQueary didn’t confront Sandusky personally. That, I guess, is a story for another day as more revelations and details about this scandal will most certainly emerge.

Second, Paterno announced his own retirement yesterday, saying that he would coach until the end of the season. The rub in that is apparently he issued a statement without first discussing the matter with the Board of Trustees. These kind of boards — whether in business or education — are slow to react to anything and tend to review and study problems until the goalie in Hell puts on ice skates. But experience shows they don’t like to be pushed into a corner.

Third, from the university’s point of view, Saturday’s final home game in Happy Valley against Nebraska is going to generate a media shit storm. But it would have been an even bigger debacle if the Board members let it become a memorial to Joe Paterno. Sorry, folks. But the allegations of rape and the inability of university administrators to protect children from by all accounts a sexual predator trump football and legacies here. Note to self: Let’s see if Mike McQueary is on the sidelines. Sigh.

Not happy days in Happy Valley.

Joe Paterno: Last Home Game at Penn State?

When the Nittany Lions take the field Saturday against Nebraska, will it be the last home game as coach for Joe Paterno? My guess is yes. And if that happens, it’s a shame that JoePa with all his many accomplishments will go out with his legacy tarnished.

But it’s even more shameful that apparently nobody at Penn State stood up for the young boys who allegedly were being attacked for years by a sexual predator. Hey, these are horrific accusations and they go way beyond the usual misconduct at the football factories of under-the-table payments by alumni, cheating, selling championship rings and so on.

As I opined Monday, here’s a textbook example of where doing the legally correct thing isn’t always the ethically or morally right thing to do.

OK. In an ideal world everyone would chill and relax — and wait for the legal process to be completed. Then we’ll know who is guilty and who is innocent. But that ain’t going to happen. The Penn State Board of Trustees will meet Friday and I’ll be surprised if the moving van doesn’t pull up at university president Graham Spanier’s house shortly thereafter.

Here’s the statement from the Board of Trustees:

The Board of Trustees of The Pennsylvania State University is outraged by the horrifying details contained in the Grand Jury Report. As parents, alumni and members of the Penn State Community, our hearts go out to all of those impacted by these terrible events, especially the tragedies involving children and their families. We cannot begin to express the combination of sorrow and anger that we feel about the allegations surrounding Jerry Sandusky. We hear those of you who feel betrayed and we want to assure all of you that the Board will take swift, decisive action.

At its regular meeting on Friday, November 11, 2011, the Board will appoint a Special Committee, members of which are currently being identified, to undertake a full and complete investigation of the circumstances that gave rise to the Grand Jury Report.   This Special Committee will be commissioned to determine what failures occurred, who is responsible and what measures are necessary to insure that this never happens at our University again and that those responsible are held fully accountable. The Special Committee will have whatever resources are necessary to thoroughly fulfill its charge, including independent counsel and investigative teams, and there will be no restrictions placed on its scope or activities.   Upon the completion of this investigation, a complete report will be presented at a future public session of the Board of Trustees.

Penn State has always strived for honesty, integrity and the highest moral standards in all of its programs. We will not tolerate any violation of these principles. We educate over 95,000 students every year and we take this responsibility very seriously. We are dedicated to protecting those who are placed in our care.   We promise you that we are committed to restoring public trust in the University.

Prez Spanier — you might as well start packing the dishes.

And JoePa will be next — although I expect the trustees will orchestrate some exit strategy that lets him retire after the season — which might very well include a season-ending game in the Rose Bowl.

In the meantime, of all the words that have been written and said about this tragedy — for the young boys involved, their families and for the adults who should have protected them — here’s an article in the NYT by George Vecsey, “The Dangerous Cocoon of King Football“:

Really, we need to do something about big-time college sports.

The horrendous scandal at the most prominent public college in Pennsylvania has been aided and abetted by the oppressive status of King Football.

Officials at Penn State did not want to know that, according to prosecutors, boys were being abused by a trusted member of the football family. Perhaps the subject was too queasy for them. Besides, it would get in the way of entertaining the masses, which is what the sport is for.

Football is the central fact of life in the state. When a large male newborn is on display in the hospital nursery, people make loving jokes about sending him out to JoePa to play linebacker. Not so funny at the moment, is it?

Apparently, young boys were brought to the massive football program by Jerry Sandusky, who was first a major assistant coach and later an emeritus member of the football “family.” Some family. The guy had keys to the facilities, with enough freedom to take showers with the boys, and, if we believe the warrant for Sandusky, jeopardize the balance of their lives.

People saw. People knew. A few people even talked. But ultimately it got swept under the rug for years because of the rush to Saturday, those autumn game days when people funnel into Happy Valley for the biggest thing in the state.

Penn State is expected to win all 12 games every season, and when it doesn’t, the boosters boo and whine and agitate, just as they do at 50 or 100 other major football foundries at all the other Happy Valleys in this land of skewed values.

It takes a yearlong effort to produce the gigantic shows to keep people happy. Who wants to hear bad news about a well-known assistant who runs a charity for underprivileged youth — but might have a dark side to him? Get with the program. That’s what these monstrosities are called, programs. They loom over the rest of the campus.

The legalities of all this are going to have to play out. We do know that Sandusky was arrested on 40 counts of abusing boys over 15 years. The athletic director, Tim Curley, took an administrative leave Sunday night so he could defend himself; and Gary Schultz, the senior vice president for finance and business, resigned Sunday night. Both were charged with perjury for their testimony to a grand jury investigating Sandusky.

That leaves Joe Paterno, the 84-year-old coach, the icon, the benefactor, and most important, the winner of 409 football games, the most by any coach at this highest level. Apparently, Paterno knew about his former assistant in 2002 and went to Curley and then he went back to supervising practices and giving news conferences and recruiting large young men to play football for the program. Paterno is an admirable man. I like to write about the high graduation rates of his players and his occasional reminiscences of being a teenage vendor in a Brooklyn ballpark named Ebbets Field. So we’ve all got our soft spots. The attorney general said Monday that Paterno is not a suspect in this case, so I would think he deserves a polite retirement at the end of the season.

But I also think, these Penn State people are fathers and uncles and brothers. Did they not worry about these children being brought onto their campus?

The problem would seem to be a gerontocracy of the soul, too many people who have been in the same place too long. Paterno has been at Penn State, as an assistant and the head coach, for 62 years, a record. Graham B. Spanier, the university president, was a faculty member and an administrator there from 1973 to 1982 and returned to lead the university in 1995; Curley graduated from Penn State in 1976 and has been the athletic director since 1993; and Schultz graduated from Penn State in 1971 and has worked there ever since. Ultimately, they all serve the monster that rises on 12 Saturdays a year.

The question is, if Paterno heard some ugly stuff about Sandusky in 2002, it is now 2011, and he seems to have not done anything about it since. Maybe he didn’t invite the guy to his house anymore. That I don’t know. But as far as alerting people to the possible predator tendencies of his former assistant, Paterno seems to have been silent. He had a game to coach. He had players to recruit.

For an essentially good man, this is worse than the way Woody Hayes went out. Hayes was a bombastic legend at Ohio State, but in his dotage he leapt off the sideline and punched an opposing player in a 1978 bowl game. End of career.

And Hayes went out better than Jim Tressel, the most recent coach at Ohio State, who resigned after people figured out he was lying to cover up for some players who were selling their rings and trophies for tattoos. It wasn’t the violation as much as the cover-up.

This seems to be a common malady for big-time coaches. They get so puffed up with trying to go undefeated that they lose sight of reality. Just to run this kind of program demands moral blinkers.

What happened at Penn State, of course, is not just about football. It’s about what happens when people in positions of authority fail to conduct themselves with the highest standards of character, integrity and ethical behavior.

If Saturday is Paterno’s last home game as the head coach at Penn State, I hope that people remember his many contributions to his players, to the community, to students and to the university. But I hope they also consider that regardless of your job or position, you really can’t just call a timeout when it is convenient and walk way from your ethical and moral responsibilities.

Paterno and Penn State: Say It Ain’t So, Joe

Well, something tells me these aren’t happy days in Happy Valley. Jerry Sandusky, the long time assistant coach, former Penn State defensive coordinator and at one point someone considered to be the heir apparent to JoePa, has been accused by prosecutors of sexually abusing young boys over a period of 15 years or so.

This story exploded on the Internet and via mainstream print and TV media over the weekend. And while I was chasing the treadmill belt at 5:30 a.m. this morning, the story dominated the early-morning TV news broadcasts. Here’s a good overview of the particulars from Deadspin, “A Guide To The Child Abuse Charges Against Jerry Sandusky, And To Penn State’s Alleged Willful Ignorance.

Sandusky says he is innocent. We’ll see.  But the allegations have already resulted in the athletic director taking a leave of absence and a senior administrator resigning. Both face criminal charges, accused of lying to a grand jury. Both through their lawyers maintain they are innocent.

And this situation has the potential to shred the legacy of Joe Paterno. This is the coach who for decades has stood for more than football at one of the biggest football powers in the country. But while other coaches and programs — remember Jim Tressel at Ohio State? — imploded, JoePa during seasons good and bad has remained a bedrock for character, integrity, honesty and ethical conduct. We’ll see.

I guess you could argue that this situation doesn’t have anything to do with the game of college football as played on the field during a dozen or so weeks during the year. As best I can tell, none of the alleged victims were connected to the football program. And Sandusky resigned as a coach a decade ago, although he has retained a close association to the athletic department.

Here’s from an AP story published in WaPo:

“This is a case about a sexual predator who used his position within the university and community to repeatedly prey on young boys,” state Attorney General Linda Kelly said Saturday.

Paterno, who last week became the coach with the most wins in Division I football history, wasn’t charged, and the grand jury report didn’t appear to implicate him in wrongdoing.

In a statement issued Sunday night, Paterno said he was shocked, saddened and as surprised as everyone else to hear of the charges.

“If this is true we were all fooled, along with scores of professionals trained in such things, and we grieve for the victims and their families. They are in our prayers,” Paterno said in a statement issued by his son, Scott.

Under Paterno’s four-decades-and-counting stewardship, the Nittany Lions became a bedrock in the college game, and fans packed the stadium in State College, a campus town routinely ranked among America’s best places to live and nicknamed Happy Valley. Paterno’s teams were revered both for winning games — including two national championships — and largely steering clear of trouble. Sandusky, whose defenses were usually anchored by tough-guy linebackers — hence the moniker “Linebacker U” — spent three decades at the school. The charges against him cover the period from 1994 to 2009.

But here’s the rub for Paterno. He may have done the legally correct thing, but did he do the ethically right thing? Many times there is a big difference. (For those of you who recall the days when I was teaching a class in media ethics at Kent State, consider the points in Rushworth Kidder’s “How Good People Make Tough Choices: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living.”)

Here’s from the NYT, “In Penn State’s Sex Abuse Case, a Focus on How Paterno Reacted?“:

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — On Saturday, March 2, 2002, according to Pennsylvania prosecutors, a Penn State University graduate student went to visit Joe Paterno, the university’s football coach. The student had a horrific story to tell: the night before, the graduate student had witnessed one of Paterno’s former coaches sexually assaulting a 10-year-old boy in the football facility’s showers.

Paterno, according to the prosecutors, did not call the police. Instead, the next day, he had the university’s athletic director visit him at his home, a modest ranch house just off campus in State College. According to prosecutors, Paterno told the athletic director of the report regarding the former coach, Jerry Sandusky.

The authorities then say nothing about what, if anything, Paterno did in the subsequent days or weeks. They do not say whether he followed up on the allegation or whether he ever confronted Sandusky, a man who had worked for him for 32 years and who, even after retiring, had wide access to the university’s athletic facilities and students.

What prosecutors do contend in detail is that Sandusky went on to abuse at least one and perhaps any number of other young boys after Paterno and other senior officials at Penn State were told of an assault in 2002.

Sandusky, 67, was arrested Saturday and charged with 40 counts of sexually abusing children over 15 years, including his time as an assistant at Penn State. He was specifically accused of having assaulted the young boy in 2002. All the accusers were boys Sandusky had come to know through a charity he founded, the Second Mile, for disadvantaged children from troubled families.

The university’s athletic director, Tim Curley, and another senior administration official have been charged with lying to a grand jury about what they had been told about Sandusky’s conduct, and they are expected to surrender to the authorities Monday morning. While their lawyers have maintained they will be exonerated, and Sandusky, through his lawyer, has maintained his innocence, both men stepped down from their positions at the university late Sunday.

Earlier Sunday, Paterno issued a statement insisting that the graduate assistant had not told him of the extent of the sexual assault that he said he witnessed, only that he had seen something inappropriate involving Sandusky and the child.

“As Coach Sandusky was retired from our coaching staff at the time, I referred the matter to university administrators,” Paterno said in the statement.

“I understand that people are upset and angry, but let’s be fair and let the legal process unfold,” Paterno said.

Paterno’s son Scott said in an interview Sunday that Paterno never spoke to Sandusky about the allegation, and that he never seriously pursued the question of whether any action had been taken by the university or any other authorities against Sandusky.

“From my imperfect recollection, once he referred it off, I do not believe he had a second conversation about it,” Scott Paterno said of his father and how he handled any follow-up on the allegation. He added: “The appropriate people were contacted by Joe. That was the chain of command. It was a retired employee and it falls under the university’s auspices, not the football auspices.”

It appears prosecutors believe that Paterno, whatever his personal sense of obligation to inquire or act further, met his legal requirement in reporting the graduate student’s allegation to his direct superior, Curley.

Sigh.

Let’s consider this sentence from the NYT story again:

“From my imperfect recollection, once he referred it off, I do not believe he had a second conversation about it,” Scott Paterno said of his father and how he handled any follow-up on the allegation.

I’m sure that many more details of this story will emerge in coming days and weeks. So it really is unfair to rush to judgement about guilt or innocence — or about Paterno’s conduct.

But if Scott Paterno’s view of the world is accurate, then sorry folks, JoePa has to go.

Legally correct. Yes.

Ethically right. No.

It’s a matter of character, honesty and integrity.

College Football: Pay to Play?

Well, I managed to stay awake late enough Saturday night to see some of the Ohio State-Miami football game on ESPN. Kind of a ho-hum game, especially now that OSU has at least for now dropped out of the top tier of professional college teams. But also kind of ironic that the two universities that currently share top Hall of Shame honors for unethical and most likely illegal conduct involving their football programs still get their time in the national media spotlight.

So it goes. And I know. I could have watched the Weather Channel. But shucks.

I also recognize that nothing really is going to change when it comes to big time and big ticket college sporting events. Way too much money, student marketing opportunities and alumni giving involved.

Still, there is an extremely interesting and informative article in The Atlantic that really examines the hypocrisy that many college administrators, faculty and staff and boosters display toward college sports by advancing the notion of “student amateur athletes.” The only amateurs are the athletes; everyone else is extremely well paid. Time to change that?

Here’s from the article by Taylor Branch, “The Shame of College Sports“:

The United States is the only country in the world that hosts big-time sports at institutions of higher learning. This should not, in and of itself, be controversial. College athletics are rooted in the classical ideal of Mens sana in corpore sano—a sound mind in a sound body—and who would argue with that? College sports are deeply inscribed in the culture of our nation. Half a million young men and women play competitive intercollegiate sports each year. Millions of spectators flock into football stadiums each Saturday in the fall, and tens of millions more watch on television. The March Madness basketball tournament each spring has become a major national event, with upwards of 80 million watching it on television and talking about the games around the office water cooler. ESPN has spawned ESPNU, a channel dedicated to college sports, and Fox Sports and other cable outlets are developing channels exclusively to cover sports from specific regions or divisions.

With so many people paying for tickets and watching on television, college sports has become Very Big Business. According to various reports, the football teams at Texas, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, and Penn State—to name just a few big-revenue football schools—each earn between $40 million and $80 million in profits a year, even after paying coaches multimillion-dollar salaries. When you combine so much money with such high, almost tribal, stakes—football boosters are famously rabid in their zeal to have their alma mater win—corruption is likely to follow.

Scandal after scandal has rocked college sports. In 2010, the NCAA sanctioned the University of Southern California after determining that star running back Reggie Bush and his family had received “improper benefits” while he played for the Trojans. (Among other charges, Bush and members of his family were alleged to have received free airfare and limousine rides, a car, and a rent-free home in San Diego, from sports agents who wanted Bush as a client.) The Bowl Championship Series stripped USC of its 2004 national title, and Bush returned the Heisman Trophy he had won in 2005. Last fall, as Auburn University football stormed its way to an undefeated season and a national championship, the team’s star quarterback, Cam Newton, was dogged by allegations that his father had used a recruiter to solicit up to $180,000 from Mississippi State in exchange for his son’s matriculation there after junior college in 2010. Jim Tressel, the highly successful head football coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes, resigned last spring after the NCAA alleged he had feigned ignorance of rules violations by players on his team. At least 28 players over the course of the previous nine seasons, according to Sports Illustrated, had traded autographs, jerseys, and other team memorabilia in exchange for tattoos or cash at a tattoo parlor in Columbus, in violation of NCAA rules. Late this summer, Yahoo Sports reported that the NCAA was investigating allegations that a University of Miami booster had given millions of dollars in illicit cash and services to more than 70 Hurricanes football players over eight years.

The list of scandals goes on. With each revelation, there is much wringing of hands. Critics scold schools for breaking faith with their educational mission, and for failing to enforce the sanctity of “amateurism.” Sportswriters denounce the NCAA for both tyranny and impotence in its quest to “clean up” college sports. Observers on all sides express jumbled emotions about youth and innocence, venting against professional mores or greedy amateurs.

For all the outrage, the real scandal is not that students are getting illegally paid or recruited, it’s that two of the noble principles on which the NCAA justifies its existence—“amateurism” and the “student-athlete”—are cynical hoaxes, legalistic confections propagated by the universities so they can exploit the skills and fame of young athletes. The tragedy at the heart of college sports is not that some college athletes are getting paid, but that more of them are not.

Pay to play? Won’t happen. But it’s an interesting idea to kick around while watching the football factories compete against each other.

Ohio State and Miami Football: National Champs?

Ohio State can’t catch a break. Just when it looked like the Buckeyes would top the list for this year’s college football cheating and related scandal the University of Miami has taken the field. And if the allegations reported in the NYT and first reported on Yahoo are true, it looks like Miami will capture the national championship and secure its place in the college football hall of shame.

Here’s from the NYT story “A Huge Scandal, but Probably Not the Harshest Penalties“:

As college sports officials confront yet another cheating scandal — this one involving Miami, the latest in a conga line of blue-chip programs that have recently stumbled into the crosshairs of N.C.A.A. investigators — speculation over the extent of the fallout intensified Wednesday. Questions were raised about the status of current players, former coaches and even administrators, including Donna Shalala, the university president.

A Yahoo Sports report on Tuesday implicated 72 athletes. They are accused of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, gifts, meals, even the services of prostitutes, from Nevin Shapiro, a booster now incarcerated for his role in a $900 million Ponzi scheme. There appears to be little doubt that the severity and breadth of the claims against Miami’s athletics program are worse than what peers like Ohio State, North Carolina, Tennessee, Oregon and Louisiana State encountered in recent months.

But Julie Roe Lach, the N.C.A.A.’s vice president for enforcement, said in an interview Wednesday that there had been little discussion about reviving harsh penalties like television bans or the so-called death penalty, two punishments once used by the N.C.A.A. that have long been shelved.

The N.C.A.A., which has been investigating Miami since March, continues to try to bolster enforcement, but it does so against a backdrop of television contracts in the billions and some coaching salaries that eclipse $5 million.

“There isn’t a public outcry to do something about a system that is so terribly broken,” said J. Brent Clark, a former N.C.A.A. investigator who is now a lawyer in Oklahoma City. “The game is too popular and the money is too big.”

One veteran compliance official, who requested anonymity because he was not permitted to speak publicly about Miami’s case, said that if the N.C.A.A. upheld the findings in the Yahoo report, it would be the most significant case he had seen. He said the most critical element of the report was that it appeared that coaches and administrators were aware of what Shapiro was doing and did nothing about it.

If these allegations are true, I can’t imagine that this level of misconduct could have taken place over several years without at least some coaches, administrators, students and others knowing about it.

Somewhere today E. Gordon Gee must be smiling — even though it looks like the Buckeyes are about to finish second again.

Jim Tressel, Ohio State and Ethical Standards

OK. I know that what is happening in Columbus these days isn’t nearly as important and certainly doesn’t warrant the media coverage of the situation involving Charlie Sheen. So go ahead and strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights and make teachers scapegoats for all the shortcomings of our educational system.

Oops. Sorry. Wrong story. I meant to opine on the really important story unraveling in Columbus: The two-game suspension and $250,000 fine assessed Ohio State head football coach Jim Tressel for not informing university officials about possible NCAA rules violations involving several players last season.

The perception of Tressel that I have — and I’ve never met him — is that he is a decent guy, an excellent coach and recruiter, and someone who cares about his players and the university. And he beats Michigan. Let me repeat that. He beats Michigan.

And I know that as a nation we set the ethical bar so low for those in business, government, education, sports and so on that people can roll over it — no lifting of the knee even required these days. Still, at a time when there is still considerable outrage — although not many criminal indictments — about the misdeeds of bankers, mortgage lenders, business executives, government officials and other miscreants, shouldn’t high-visibility and highly paid coaches of public and taxpayer supported universities be held to a high standard of ethical conduct?

I think so. And I recognize that university officials were not/are not going to fire Tressel. Hey, he beats Michigan. But he should have resigned.

Here’s from a NYT article, “Jim Tressel Is a Reminder of How Rules Blur“:

With Tressel missing games next season against Toledo and Akron and being docked a small percentage of his salary of about $4 million, the question raised again is whether there are real deterrents to lying and cheating in college sports.

“I think the power the major conferences have over the N.C.A.A. is significant,” said Joe Gottfried, the retired athletic director at South Alabama. “Unless they send a strong message, this will continue. There is no deterrent. I think the deterrent is going to come in the form of the infractions committee.”

The N.C.A.A. Committee on Infractions, which has the final say in the matter, could still deliver a strong message to Tressel. But there is a strong argument that what he did in not telling his administrators or the N.C.A.A. the information he had about his players’ illicit dealings with a local tattoo parlor is worse than what his players did in selling memorabilia. His players were suspended for five games.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Ohio State’s president, Gordon Gee, said the lesser opponents the Buckeyes will play were not considered in handing down Tressel’s suspension.

“If we were playing Michigan and U.S.C. the first two games, it would have been that way, too,” Gee said. “We felt two games would be the right number.”

Gee said that in mid-January he had Tressel at his house for a three-hour discussion about Tressel’s not telling the university what he knew. The meeting reaffirmed his belief that Tressel has been an ideal citizen of the university, Gee said.

“This wasn’t a university president genuflecting toward a great football coach,” Gee said. “It was a mistake of the heart, not a mistake of malfeasance.”

The past three months have provided another reminder of how winning in college sports can be intricately tied with cheating or blurring the rules.

And here’s Jason Lloyd writing in the Akron Beacon Journal “OSU’s Tressel piles lies on top of lies.”

He can’t stop lying.

Even when he was trying to explain Tuesday why he lied in the first place, Jim Tressel was still lying.

He lied and deceived his bosses — all of them — for months. Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith, university President E. Gordon Gee and NCAA investigators who came to town in December looking for the answers he refused to supply.

Typically, lying to all of those people is a fireable offense — it’s even written into his contract as such. But Tressel is returning to work today as the football coach at Ohio State University because of six consecutive Big Ten championships, a 9-1 record against Michigan and a national championship soiled in the same stains that cloak the program again today.

Tressel should have been fired for lying to his bosses. Not Tuesday, when OSU officials finally came clean because of a Yahoo Sports report that forced their hand, but back in January when they first discovered Tressel’s lies and cover-up.

Tressel learned last April, through an e-mail from a local attorney giving him a heads-up, that the federal government raided a local house and at least two current players were involved in a memorabilia scam with a convicted felon (Eddie Rife) and receiving free tattoos from him.

He lied to everyone about it and pleaded ignorance — the same ignorant excuse he used in 2002 when Maurice Clarett was driving around town in free cars, in 2004 when Troy Smith was taking money from a booster and previously in the late ’80s and early ’90s when Ray Isaac’s pockets were stuffed at Youngstown State under his watch.

For Smith and Gee to suspend Tressel for two games (against Akron and Toledo) and fine him $250,000 (14 percent of his salary for next season) is a snub of arrogance at the rest of college sports.

And:

And let’s be clear: Jim Tressel knowingly played six ineligible athletes all of last season.

Ouch!

Any ethical issues here? Just askin’.

Wonder what would happen if a classroom teacher got caught helping students cheat so they could pass standardized tests? Oops. I digress.

And of everything I’ve read or heard about this ethical debacle so far, here’s something that puts it all in perspective — from ESPN:

Ohio State president Gordon Gee said he and Tressel had discussed the violation at Gee’s house for 3 hours one night.

Gee also said he had not considered dismissing the Buckeyes coach.

“No, are you kidding?” he said with a laugh. “Let me be very clear. I’m just hoping the coach doesn’t dismiss me.”

Woot.  We wonder what’s wrong with education in this country.

And why the ethical bar is always set so low.

Football Coaches and Character

I don’t know if Eric Mangini — now the former on-the-field head sled of the Cleveland Browns — is a good football coach. If you go by wins and losses, then the answer in Cleveland points to no. Yet Mangini strikes me as a decent guy, someone who grew and matured in the job, treated his players with respect, and didn’t do anything at least this season to embarrass himself or the organization.

Even as he was being pushed out the door yesterday, Mangini was described by Mike Holgrem as “a hard-working, bright, caring guy.”

Wonder if Mangini could surface as a college coach?

Pro football — just like all other pro sports — is essentially a big business. I know there are complex emotional and community ties to pro teams –hey, even I watch the Steelers play this time of year clutching the original Terrible Towel in my cold, nearly dead hand as they begin their annual drive to the Super Bowl. But at some level, isn’t rooting for one pro team against another akin to hoping that Ford gains market share on General Motors?

So in the pros, head coaches are essentially CEOs, with wins and losses as their balance sheet. But in college football, coaches are many times the highly visible face of the university and its students — and that brings with it some obligations of trust, responsibility, integrity and character.

And yeah, the big dogs in college football — Alabama, Texas, Ohio State, Michigan, Florida and so on — want to win, and the dollars involved are huge. But I’ll bet most university presidents and athletic directors go to bed at night and have a wet dream that their team is advancing in the rankings, filling stadiums, gaining alumni and student support — but with someone like Joe Paterno pacing up and down the sidelines.

In college football, character matters.

Here’s an example: Pitt.

And I’ll take the easy route here and let Pete Thamel do the heavy lifting and writing, from his NYT article “Pitt Fires Its New Coach.”

The University of Pittsburgh fired Coach Mike Haywood on Saturday in the wake of his arrest on a charge of domestic battery in Indiana against the mother of his child. Pittsburgh hired Haywood, who was the coach at Miami (Ohio), on Dec. 16 to replace Dave Wannstedt.

Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg said in a statement that the decision “reflects a strong belief that moving forward with Mr. Haywood as our head coach is not possible under the existing circumstances.” The university said that Haywood had been informed of the decision Saturday afternoon.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that Haywood was released from St. Joseph County Jail on Saturday afternoon after posting bond. He told the newspaper in a telephone interview: “It isn’t fair. The truth will eventually come out.”

The firing and its aftermath are likely to place significant pressure on Athletic Director Steve Pederson, who hired Haywood and praised him at the time by saying, “Most importantly, Michael is a man of character and integrity.”

A man of character and integrity. That might be. And firing Heywood at this point may prove to be terribly unfair. But Pitt, like other colleges and universities, can’t take the risk these days of waiting to find out.

Hey, maybe the Pitt AD should call Eric Mangini.

 

What Would Woody and Bo Think?

Oh, mama. I managed to watch the entire (well, except for a brief nap) OSU-Michigan game on TV yesterday. And is it just me or are these annual blowouts by the Buckeyes becoming every bit as boring as the Steelers-Browns games? 

No rivalry if one team can’t win. Just sayin’.

Wonder what Woody and Bo would think?

If you managed to live through the 60s and early 70s — or if you are interested in the lives of two American icons who cast shadows way beyond the football stadiums during a time of great change, protest and social unrest in the USA, here’s a book for you: War As They Knew It: Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, and America in a Time of Unrest, by Michael Rosenberg.

The book paints fascinating portraits of the careers of Woody and Bo: both intense rivals and at the same time good friends, although for years they never talked to each other except before the start of the OSU-Michigan game.

There’s Woody the old coach who never said Michigan — rather that team up north — and who basically spent 12 months a year every year planning how to beat Michigan.

There’s Bo — linked to Woody as student, player and assistant coach — who took a nothing football program at Michigan and turned it into one of the most successful.

And their stories are told against the backdrop of America during the protests and controversy that engulfed the country during the war in Vietnam. Yes folks. There was a time in this country when people had bigger fish to fry than lining up at Best Buy to dash for a discounted wide screen TV. Oops. I digress.

Anyway, here’s an excerpt from the book, as posted on the Barnes and Noble website:

As Schembechler and his staff settled into Ann Arbor, Woody Hayes and Ohio State wrapped up the 1968 national championship by beating Southern California in the Rose Bowl. It was the fourth time Hayes had won at least a share of the national championship-among modern-day coaches, only Alabama’s Bear Bryant had comparable credentials. Hayes celebrated by staying up until 6 a.m. editing the game film, then catching a flight to his favorite vacation spot: Vietnam.

OK. Back to Saturday’s game. Here’s from USA Today:

In the 107 editions of the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry, things have never been this bad for the Wolverines.

No wonder coach Rich Rodriguez is mad.

“I’m ticked, he said, moments after his Wolverines got blown out 37-7 on Saturday — an unprecedented seventh straight loss to the Buckeyes.

“What do you want me to do? Hold hands with all the Buckeye fans and sing ‘Kumbaya’?”

Ah, wonder what Woody and Bo would think?