Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ohio State better start raising hell

Over this:

Quarterback Jacory Harris and 11 other Miami players who accepted extra benefits from former booster Nevin Shapiro will be allowed by the NCAA to play again, the first sanctions in a scandal that continues to overshadow the Hurricanes.

Of those, eight will miss at least one game, and all 12 must pay restitution.

The harshest penalties handed down Tuesday were reserved for those who took gifts from Shapiro while being recruited. Defensive lineman Olivier Vernon will sit out six games, while Ray Ray Armstrong, considered among the nation's top safeties, and tight end Dyron Dye will miss four games apiece. Among the players sanctioned, only Vernon will miss more than one Atlantic Coast Conference game.

''It was probably fair,'' Miami coach Al Golden told The Associated Press on Tuesday night. ''Clearly, whatever transpired, it wasn't as over the top as everybody was initially reporting and all of those things. The NCAA and the university felt there was mistakes made ... and I've accepted that. And now we're moving forward.''

Miami opens its season at Maryland on Monday night.

The Hurricanes still might face many more sanctions as the NCAA's investigation into Miami's compliance practices continues. And with Tuesday's ruling, the school has joined a growing list of schools with major football programs to be investigated by the NCAA for rule-breaking in the past 18 months. Others include Southern California, Ohio State, Auburn, Oregon, Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and LSU.

''Our members have continually stressed that involvement of third parties during recruitment will not be tolerated,'' NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs Kevin Lennon said.

Harris, Sean Spence, Travis Benjamin, Marcus Forston and Adewale Ojomo — all of whom were likely starters — must sit out one game and make restitution for accepting benefits after enrolling at the school. Four other players must repay small amounts, all under $100, but will not miss any games.
It was probably fair? Right.

Let me see if I got this straight:

Miami Hurricanes received improper benefits from a booster with the intent of attracting them to or keeping them in the Hurricane football program.  The NCAA determines these are rules violations and suspends them for one game.

Ohio State Buckeyes traded their own property -- awards they had received in full compliance with NCAA rules -- in for tattoos, just because they, for reasons unfathomable to me, wanted tattoos.  The NCAA determines, accurately, that these trades are rules violations and suspends them for five games. And effectively wipes out the 2010 season.

So, in other words, in the world of the NCAA, trading your own properly-obtained property for tattoos is worse than receiving benefits from a booster.

Is it any wonder why we Ohio State fans and grads are outraged over the treatment of "Tattoogate" by the NCAA and the media, especially ESPN?

The big issue with Ohio State was that Head Coach Jim Tressel lied about his knowledge of the tattoos.  H Tressel, allegedly, did not tell the athletic department about the issue.  I can't say that I agree with his conduct as I understand it, but I also can't say it's a black-and-white call: the tattoo issue was tied up in a federal investigation into the tattoo parlor owner for racketeering, and there was some concern over the players' safety.  Only in the world of the NCAA does compliance with NCA rules trump players' safety.  I do not agree with the (effective) firing of Tressel, but I understand it.

That is, assuming the story we are being told is accurate.  There is considerable suspicion in Columbus that Tressel did tell Athletic Director Gene Smith about the issue, as he should have, and that Smith is covering it up, hanging Tressel instead, to save his own job.  Smith's handling of the NCAA investigation has basically involved rolling into a fetal position.  Firing Tressel is understandable, but Smith's forfeiting the 2010 season is inexcusable.  Make the NCAA do that, don't offer to do it on your own.

Smith's tenure as athletic director has in general been bad.  Between Tressel, Smith's handling of the 2011 NCAA Tournament brackets and attempting to drive students and alumni out of Ohio Stadium to pack in more big donors has alienated most of the members of the alumni association, most of whom join primarily to get football tickets.  Small donations to the athletic department are apparently down, and there is likely war on the horizon between the alumni and Smith.  His performance has been so bad that there is talk that Smith, a Notre Dame graduate, is a Notre Dame plant with the intention of destroying the football program.

With that background, it is highly unlikely that Smith will stand up for the school he purports to represent in this latest outrage.  So, to Smith, it is OK for Ohio State and its tattoos to be lumped in together with Miami (improper benefits on a massive scale, prostitutes, at least one abortion, etc.), North Carolina (academic fraud), Oregon (use of an agent to recruit) and Boise State (massive vioaltions).

At least at the University of Southern California, they had and have athletic directors willing to stand up for their school.  Maybe because they actually attended the school.  Former USC athletic director Mike Garrett may have been an arrogant, incompetent jerk, but at least he tried to defend the program, however wrong he was to do so, when the issues with Reggie Bush and OJ Mayo came out.  Current USC athletic director Pat Haden expressed frustration that the NCAA infractions committee that handed down the penalties to the Trojans was headed by Paul Dee.

As in, former University of Miami Athletic Director Paul Dee.  As in, the guy who was in charge when Nevin Shapiro was running around the Coral Gables campus.

Which begs the obvious question of why anyone from the University of Miami is adjudicating compliance issues anywhere.

And the answer is, because the NCAA plays favorites.  Just like ESPN.  Why else would Barry Alvarez be seen as a dean of football coaches when practically every other school in the Big Ten had evidence of his shady practices?  The NCAA didn't care.  And they won't care about Miami.  The "punishment" here is indicative that Hurricanes will get off lightly, probably far more lightly than the Buckeyes, even though their violations were more serious, more widespread and continued for a far longer period of time.

The NCAA is a complete disgrace.  Ohio State is a rich and politically powerful institution.  It's time they use that power to push back against the injustices being done to us.

But Gene Smith is probably too much of a self-serving coward to do it.

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