As most of the (sporting) world knows by now, five Ohio State Buckeye football players sold some of the awards they garnered for tattoos (and who knows what else). The NCAA has ruled all of the culprits ineligible for the Bucks’ first five games next year. Their reason for delaying the punishment, i.e. not rendering them ineligible for their BCS Sugar Bowl game wasn’t due to the fact that would certainly lower TV ratings and almost certainly cause OSU to lose to Arkansas but because 1) the NCAA felt the players were inadequately educated on the penalties of such actions and 2) the players didn’t gain a competitive advantage.
The decision to allow or suspend the players for the bowl game was then left up to Buckeye head coach Jim Tressel who came up with an interesting solution: if you want to play in this bowl game, he told them, you must commit to returning to The Ohio State University next year, i.e. not play in the bowl game and then avoid punishment for your misdeeds by declaring for the NFL draft.
This ultimatum by Tressel serves as fuel for the (all-too) numerous cynics out there, many of which would say, “Of course they’re going to agree to their coach’s demand, they need the sweet swag they’re going to haul in from the Sugar Bowl to trade for more tats” (or whatever else they can barter).
The first legitimate question (which has already been posed on ESPN) is, “Is this even legal?” The follow up query would be be, “What if they pledge to their coach and university, and then renege?” An insightful television interview with former Ohio State running back Robert Smith was aired. Smith recalled an early season meeting he had with Tressel (of whom Smith openly says he greatly admires) where the coach admitted to him that he was troubled with how easily players lied to his face. In spite of that statement, Smith thinks Tressel’s mandate to the players is a “brilliant move.”
One reason is something that all of us should take to heart - and that is that Jim Tressel, through his actions, has built up so much equity throughout not only Buckeye Nation but the entire country, that for the players to go back on their word would have a much greater impact on public opinion (and possibly, the opinions of NFL people) toward the players than the coach. This is a coach who walks his walk more so than the average head man in intercollegiate athletics.
Tressel certainly can be seen as naive, especially after his comment that he was disappointed that the items the players traded represented “important keepsakes” of their college careers. This can be seen as out of touch with today’s current player, one who values such mementos far less than those players of yesteryear. One of those awards was a gold trinket given to players for beating Michigan. For this one item, people can understand how it doesn’t mean as much to these guys as it would to former players simply because Ohio State has been so dominant over Michigan that the players can’t possibly see the value it might have.
How most people think of this situation is probably predicated on their feelings toward the Buckeyes. Anyone who thinks this is the defining issue regarding Ohio State needs to take heed of Robert Brault’s line:
“The thing about family disasters is that you never have to wait long before the next one puts the previous one into perspective.”