As much as it’s impossible to be excited about this and interested in writing about it, there’s still something about this whole fiasco that bothers me. Basically: all of it. All of it bothers me, and especially the idea that the Sugar Bowl CEO would have a say in keeping the Tat Five eligible for this game.
He said athletic director Gene Smith said to him that OSU was trying to push the suspensions back to the 2011 season, and Hoolahan then told Smith how strongly he felt about the players participating in the Sugar Bowl.
“I made the point that anything that could be done to preserve the integrity of this year’s game, we would greatly appreciate it,” Hoolahan said. “That appeal did not fall on deaf ears, and I’m extremely excited about it, that the Buckeyes are coming in at full strength and with no dilution.”
“I appreciate and fully understand the Midwestern values and ethics behind that,” he said. “But I’m probably thinking of this from a selfish perspective.”
So, yes, the Sugar Bowl CEO intervened to preserve the integrity of this year’s game, while pressuring the Buckeyes to hijack additional games (you know: important regular season games, as opposed to unimportant January exhibitions) of their 2011 season. The tickets are already sold — and, if you’re an ArKansas fan, 95% of the fans will be Razorbacks fans anyways. There should be little left to preserve and no damage to this year’s event, certainly none that could not be compensated by the 2012 Sugar Bowl. And still, Paul Hoolahan had to get his say.
That much will draw the attention of the cynical college football fan that cringes and looks the other way thinking of the extent to which a game played by amateurs is dominated by cold, hard cash. Hoolahan may come off as a bogeyman to those reactionary fans clinging to a pre-BCS past or progressive fans who long for a post-BCS future. While Hoolahan’s comments will lure the fan to make their own commentary, Buckeye fans (most of whom I gathered want the five to be suspended for the Sugar Bowl) should be even more suspicious about the extent to which this whole fiasco is dumb. Hoolahan is getting the heat, and yet Ohio State appears to be admitting that they are being dishonest somewhere along the way. Gene Smith (per Hoolahan) informed Hoolahan of the ongoing investigation and that Ohio State was trying to push the suspension back into 2011. Gene Smith, in the press conference announcing the suspensions, said that the athletic department declared them ineligible for the bowl game before the NCAA intervened. The timeline is as follows.
Dec. 19 – Ohio State officially self-reports secondary violations to the NCAA, initially suspending Terrelle Pryor, Boom Herron, DeVier Posey, Mike Adams, Solomon Thomas and Jordan Whiting for the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Dec. 21 – NCAA does player interviews with the six players in question. No other players suspected of wrongdoing. Players leave for holiday break.
Dec. 22 – NCAA rendered decision, reinstating all six players for the Sugar Bowl, but suspending five of them for the first five games of next season, including Pryor, Posey, Herron and Adams.
Dec. 23 – Ohio State holds press conference with Gene Smith and Jim Tressel announcing suspensions to the media and stating that they plan to appeal severity of suspensions.
In order to meet the criteria for that obscure NCAA loophole (a withholding condition) that would allow bowl participation, Ohio State had to demonstrate that the Tat Five “did not receive adequate rules education during the time period the violations occurred.” That is, Ohio State had to throw its compliance department under the bus, inviting or tempting institutional control charges should future, “isolated” incidents arise. Gene Smith praised his compliance department, but they needed to take one for the team in order for part of that withholding condition to be satisfied. Smith stressed the particulars of not selling personal items given by the university was not made explicit to the players. Yet, every indication from past players, like Thaddeus Gibson, was that compliance stressed everything else that would make this ill-advised. Jeff Svoboda noted that compliance’s motto of the past few years has been “ask before you act”. Even if we permit that this minutiae was not drilled into the players, the actions of these five (albeit in their freshman years) were not consistent with what compliance preached. That does not mean their intentions were malevolent or motivated by capitalizing on their fame, but it was inexcusably negligent, viz, dumb.
It would be dumb to admit a program-wide error to excuse the disregard of these five players in their freshman year. It would be dumb to do so in order to allow them to play in a consequence-free exhibition at the expense of hijacking the 2011 season. Beat ArKansas as a result, and the “SEC cherry” (for lack of better words) lives in controversy forever. Lose to ArKansas and Ohio State has nothing to show for it. Everything about this scandal is dumb. It was dumb for these five (Jordan Whiting included as an addendum) to do what they did. I think it got dumber from there.
So far, I’ve said little about Mike Adams, Dan Herron, DeVier Posey, Terrelle Pryor and Solomon Thomas themselves. I’m disappointed in what they did; we all are. It was dumb. They apologized for their actions in a 6 minute question-free session yesterday. Cynical fans are still disappointed, uncertain if they were sorry for what they did or sorry they got caught. I am inclined to give the benefit of the doubt. Sure, the repeated mentions of “Buckeye Nation”, “I’m sorry” and the ubiquitous closer of “Go Bucks” may remind disappointed fans of the South Park spoofs of the Tony Hayward apology. However, these are not trained public speakers and I would probably be very suspicious myself if any one of those five delivered a performance on par with Jimmy Swaggart’s infamous “I have sinned” speech. Little of note came from that session, though Posey vowing to return, serve the suspension, do right by the university and graduate was a nice touch. That’s it for details.
I’m disappointed in them, but I’m more disappointed for their future selves. A very good friend of mine from my college days at The Ohio State University has a boss you may have heard of: Scott Schaffner. No, Schaffner wasn’t a famous Buckeye. He was the Minnesota quarterback in the famous 1989 Miracle at the Metrodome, where Ohio State rallied from a huge 2nd quarter deficit to ultimately beat the Gophers in the final seconds of the game. Schaffner enters this discussion for a reason, though I fear I’m getting there in a roundabout way. I was watching the Big Ten Network’s “Greatest Games” feature on this game several months ago, featuring Schaffner. He recapped the game as it was developing, talked briefly about his college experiences and his campus life as a quarterback. All the while, he was videotaped in what appeared to be his office, where he had a miniature shrine from his playing days at Minnesota (including a framed letterman jacket). I expect all five will want to extend their football playing days longer than Schaffner, who rather quickly enrolled in Stanford’s business school after he graduated. When they get to that age, however, they will have that same itch that Schaffner had (and presumably countless additional former college football players across the country) to collect and organize all the memorabilia they have from what we, as fans, desperately hope is one of the best times of their lives at the university we all love. That is why I think you see alumni like Dustin Fox expressing a particular dismay about what happened. Terrelle Pryor may not fully regret what he did right now. Fifteen to twenty years from now, he will look at whatever tattoo(s) he got at the time and ask himself if this is truly worth the 2008 Big Ten championship he sold to get it. It’s a piece of artwork you will take for granted after a while. Leading your team to a Big Ten championship as a freshman quarterback is impressive and is not to be taken for granted. If this is not a criminal case involving these five players, then I’m uncertain of the extent to which the players or the university can quickly recover what they sold. The absence of these pieces will stick out in the jewelry case or the office shrine. I’m more disappointed for future Terrelle Pryor than I am in present-day Terrelle Pryor. I expect that Terrelle Pryor, like this author, will think of the decision to swap memorabilia for tattoos as dumb and unfortunately myopic.
As always, the pressing concern for Buckeye fans should not be how strongly we can wring our hands over what happened. The question we should be asking under these and other circumstances is “now what?” These suspensions have profound implications for the 2011 team and season. They will create interesting dilemmas in the winter, spring and summer. For the Tat Five themselves, “now what?” will mean asking how they will go from there. DeVier Posey vowed to make good on this in his own way by returning for his senior season and serving the suspension in a manner expected by a veteran member of the team. That was a nice touch. Still others were mum about this and it may provide incentives for promising NFL prospects like Mike Adams and Dan Herron to forgo the suspension and enter the NFL Draft. If they do, there’s still ample opportunity to atone for this black eye, for themselves and for the program they represent. Nothing is irreparably damaged, but this whole thing has been irreparably dumb.
- By the way, I absolutely would too if this situation were reversed. Any outrage is justified. [↩]