*(Miniature American flags for others)
Let's step back for a second and imagine ourselves in a parallel universe. One in which the NCAA has a clear vision of what it should do to guard the status and sanctity of collegiate athletics, and that it follows this mission with grace and tact. Where scholarship's aren't allowed to be given out merely on a year by year basis -- in case the school finds someone better to fill your spot -- but are granted for all four years. Where athletes aren't nailed to the wall for trying to earn a few bucks off the same merchandise that fills the athletic department coffers. Where scholarship offers mean something, and LOI's aren't just a way for a bunch of 18-year-olds to sign away their rights without any recourse or benefit. Where the governing body of intercollegiate athletics has enough control over college football's postseason to ensure that teams don't lose money before even showing up while "non profit" bowl committees rake in cash hand over fist.
In this bizarro-NCAA, we might expect that the bomb dropped on Columbus -- after some fine reporting by the folks over at Yahoo sports -- would mean that heads would roll. This isn't a case of a broke ass college kid trying to make money off some useless trinket that won't put clothes on his back or food in his mouth. No, this is a bit worse than that. If Jim Tressel flat out ignored potential NCAA infractions for almost a year (and thanks to the fact that emails, like diamonds, are forever, we now know this to be true), with the knowledge that doing so would put his team in a much better position to win games than it would be in after dealing with the somewhat minor infractions that follow from a few players actually selling memorabilia, then he blatantly spit in the face of the NCAA and it's messy, unevenly enforced rulebook.
But, this isn't the bizarro-NCAA, and it would be foolish to expect much more than the response we received from all over. Tressel gave a bad press conference and the OSU administration stood steadfast in support of him, while giving him a slap on the wrist and a fine to make it official. Columnists all over the country took it upon themselves to exclaim, "this is turrrrible!" in as many one sentence paragraphs as they could muster before editors all over the country rolled their eyes and cut out 65% of the worthless, moralizing crap. Some wondered what took so long. Others simply wondered how the NCAA would react with egg all over its face. Spencer Hall, as he is wont to do, made fun of the whole thing (Once again proving that he is little more than a kitten and the messy world of college football is his gigantic ball of yarn. He plays with it, and nerds all over the internet -- myself being one of them -- watch and laugh hysterically, grateful that such a thing exists).
Part of me is glad that the Vest is most likely going to come out of the other side of this thing relatively unharmed. While I can't honestly say that I would turn down any Buckeye shadenfreude at this point in time, it would be disappointing for me if Tressel left the rivalry before losing at least one more game to Michigan (please, is that too much to ask?). There are very few people in history that can match Tressel for the level of hatred and contempt held against him by legions of Michigan fans everywhere. Sure, we may root for him to crash and crash hard, but the victory would be much sweeter if it came at our own hands. Not to nerd this piece up too much, but the rebels would still have celebrated on Endor had the emperor been arrested and hauled off by the galactic revenue service for tax fraud committed in the process of financing the Death Star, but you've got to imagine Luke, Leia, Han, and all those Ewoks enjoyed it a whole lot more knowing they fired the shot that brought the empire to his knees. (Does this make Michigan a bunch of Ewoks? Is Charlie Weis Jabba the Hut? Is there probably someone out there who has put a whole lot more time and energy into thinking this whole thing out than I have? Probably yes to all three.)
In a few
days weeks months, when the NCAA finally decides to take some action in this matter, I won't be surprised when it is more "business as usual". Think about what the NCAA has done as of late...
- Allowed Lane Kiffin to continue coaching despite breaking rules everywhere he goes.
- Let Cam Newton play for half of a season and in the BCS championship game while his father was under investigation for soliciting payment from another school, all because Cam didn't know.
- Let USC sign a class of 30 despite a severe scholarship limit from the Bush scandal.
- Continued to defend the money guzzling BCS and its quest to name a MNC.
- _______________________ (insert any number of complaints about how dirty college basketball recruiting is here).
One of my friends is an ardent Michigan State fan, and he has spent the past few months growing steadily more disheartened with college football. First, he was shocked that Newton would be allowed to continue playing football despite everything going on around him. Second, he was pissed that Michigan State was given no serious consideration for the Big Ten's Rose Bowl birth (while I think that ultimately the right teams went to the right bowls, he still has legit beef when his team had a 1-0 record against the only other tied-for-first team it played). Finally, today he snapped. He said that if Tressel wasn't fired and all OSU's wins vacated, that he would go cold turkey on college football. "Its too corrupt for me." I simply replied that while the 2010 wins might get vacated and Tressel might have to sit out a few games next year, but in the end he will still have a job. "Welcome to college football. The king stay the king."
Last weekend I spent some time reading a couple different pieces by Brian Phillips and a response on the differences between the way American sports and European soccer view the importance of parity. The gist of it was that leagues like the NBA, NFL, and to an extent the MLB are slightly socialist setups that emphasize doing things "for the greater good" (unless it cuts into profit margins, am I right? /goodellhighfive) while European soccer leagues are strictly capitalist ventures that are driven by market values and wealth. If these are the analogies for professional sports, the best I can come up with for college football is the wild west -- complete with its hired guns, bumbling sheriff, and lots and lots and lots of outlaws.
If your interest is in justice, parity, and the true spirit of amateur athletics, you are in the wrong place. However, if you just like good old fashioned drama mixed in with some awesome football every fall, the latest scandal out of Columbus proves that there's no better place to be than at the center of the college football universe taking it all in. It is a year round soap opera that specializes in backstabbing, lies, and ridiculous plot twists. Try to take it seriously, and you'll drive yourself crazy. But if you just learn how to laugh a little and roll with the punches, you'll enjoy the ridiculous spectacle that much more. Just ask Spencer Hall. He's been keeping a seat warm for you.