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On Smoking Guns and Perceived Knives in Backs: Is the System Broken?

The latest bombshell out of Columbus comes courtesy of their student paper, the Lantern, and one Ray Small, who some of you with excellent memories may recall was a little-used WR who spent time bouncing in and out of Jim Tressel's doghouse. In sum: Ray Small told the Lantern he sold his memorabilia, didn't care about the rules, and that "everyone" was doing it as well. Recall how heavily the NCAA frowns upon the "atmosphere of noncompliance". Recall how heavily the NCAA chooses to frown upon, well, anything it feels like... and recall how lightly the NCAA has chosen to go after OSU thus far. Can this continue? In light of the recent Small matter, I've got two more questions relating both to Small's actions and the ongoing case.

1) What pushed a member of the so-called "sacred brotherhood" of OSU football players to leak all this to an OSU paper? Many Buckeye players feel betrayed, as evidenced by their Twitter accounts. Where does the "brotherhood" end?

2) How many smoking guns does the NCAA need to punish major violations, and what does this mean for the ongoing investigation? More importantly, what does this mean for the NCAA's enforcement policy and other policies that may have contributed to the source of the problem?

Maybe Ray Small did need the money. One of the more interesting things I've heard is a spin on this scandal relating to the recent Delany proposal of giving players "walking-around money". The Yahoo! story on Small states that

Small said he used the money he got to cover routine expenditures. "We have apartments, car notes," he said. "So you got things like that and you look around and you’re like, ‘Well I got (four) of them, I can sell one or two and get some money to pay this rent."’

Eleven Warriors points out via some player tweets that perhaps Small simply agrees with the B1G proposal and this is his way of showing it...? (By the way, the 11W tweetdump is excellent. Check it out)

Anyway. Clearly things are not right at OSU and have not been right for several years, ever since the Clarett era and perhaps even before. Perhaps the NCAA will actually use the investigation (apparently roughly fifty deals with Columbus-area auto dealerships are now under scrutiny) to not only punish the violators, as many Michigan fans and OSU detractors would like, but also to remedy the source of the problem.

What is the source of the problem? Are, as Delany might indicate, athletes vastly under-compensated ('paid" is a bad word, right?) for their services? The debate for "paying" college athletes legitimately has been going on for years, and is no closer to a resolution. Small seems to indicate that beyond the cost of tuition, some players are losing money on their college experience. Maybe that's something that should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, as some college students certainly manage money better than others, but if it's a systematic problem, the NCAA should be much more concerned about players losing money and looking for "alternate" ways that are against NCAA rules to cover their costs. I'm not saying what the players did is justified, and I'm not blaming the system. Plenty of players get by, as far as we know, with cost-of-living stipends and their tuition paid for. Plenty of students without financial aid (even walk-on athletes) manage to do just fine without having to sell their memorabilia. So this isn't an excuse.

Perhaps the ongoing investigation will actually shed some light on the process that led to the violations, rather than just uncovering violations and meting out subjective punishment. I'm not too hopeful. But like many out there, I'm getting sick of reading all these allegations. Michigan has been through similar situations, and it's horrible as a fan of the program to watch. Sure, it's easy to laugh with glee in the general direction of Columbus, but really, I wouldn't wish this kind of thing on my worst enemies, let alone a (heated) rival. I'd love to see OSU never win another game. Sure. But not like this. So the NCAA needs to start moving on its investigation and hopefully uncover the process and the environment, not just the violations themselves. As a college football fan, I want to root for my program knowing that if kids come play for it, they will be taken care of by the program they give four years of their lives to, and in return get a college education. I want to know they did it within the rules, and I want transparent knowledge of the process. That isn't too much to ask, is it? Right now it seems like it is. I don't like this one bit. If college players really aren't getting compensated enough, fine. Do something about it. But if some players can't resist the allure of a few grand for selling memorabilia, or can't shy away from instant celebrity treatment around campus, then come down hard on them and the program that allowed it.

As far as Ray Small is concerned, if I were one of his ex-teammates I'd be pissed off too. He "tattled" on them. Sure. Sounds like he was pretty disgruntled throughout his OSU career, and maybe he was looking for a way to get OSU back. Who knows. Did he stab the program in the back? I can't honestly say. This doesn't make the Buckeyes look good, or even decent. But what really needs to be covered up if a program is following the rules? Teammates should look out for each other, sure. It's certainly a brotherhood. I can't really speak for what happens on the inside of Big Ten and NCAA football locker rooms, but someone had to step up and say "Hey, Ray, don't sell that..." Right? Isn't there always one kid who's the downer, who doesn't want to go TP the teacher's house after a lousy grade? Did no one think that this might come back and bite them in the ass? Ray Small doesn't look good for telling all, especially after he admittedly sold his items as well. Fingering the program as a whole is undoubtedly going to leave many Buckeye players and alums feeling violated. Brian Rolle, a former Buckeye player, Tweeted that "it's not snitchin" but went on to say he didn't condone what Small did. Conflicting reports from Buckeyeland.

Eleven Warriors goes so far as to title their piece "Smalltime". I don't blame them. Jonathan Thoma's (another former player's) tweets are particularly interesting, talking about "being (his) brother's keeper" and talking about how he did live within his means. I'd love to see what Thoma had to say about this. HT to 11W for showing these too. Ramzy says it well:

Whether the national media or general outsiders realize this now or not, they soon will: This is not the whistleblower whom you seek. This is not the evidence you desire. This is not the character witness you want.

Ray Small isn't a model citizen. He's not the guy the NCAA should be counting on. But unfortunately, it's what they've got right now.

So, let's return to the two questions I asked earlier, and see if any ranting to the internets has clarified anything.

1) (on brotherhood) Small was clearly not a happy camper at OSU, and he felt the need to share his experiences. Whether this is ratting out the program and stabbing it in the back or merely bringing something out that needs to be said, I'm not sure. Small's motivations were probably not "I want future athletes to be compensated fairly" and "The system needs to be fair" because he obviously benefited even when others (Thoma, allegedly) were not. He knew what was going on and was happily complicit in it.

2) (on the investigation, and the process) I can't say the NCAA will actually do much when the investigation is finally over. I hope they do. But I can't put much faith in the completely subjective and roundabout way the NCAA has investigated this case and has done so in the past. I can only hope that if it uncovers a flawed process or a flawed method of compensation, something is done to fix it, because these athletes deserve a fair shot. That shot means not having to sell treasured (to some) memorabilia and it certainly also means not having to read the Lantern about a former teammate exposing violations at the program.