Goodbye, Columbus – The Blame Game

Someone Must Be To Blame

Poor Terrelle Pryor. Slinking out of Columbus without an education in his used Nissan 350Z, the only fans waving goodbye are those waving good riddance. Unless he invested his memorabilia cash in a slush fund for a rainy day, Terrelle can remember his victories over Michigan, the Big Ten titles and bowl victories forever only when he gazes at his tattoos. At least he obtained a driver's license before hitting I-70. No Buckeye for life for Terrelle.

Even the Buckeye boosters that hawked his signatures on items that he somehow got from The Ohio State football program and sold him cars have deleted him from their speed dial. An investment in Terrelle memorabilia is worth about as much as Enron stock or Maurice Clarett memorabilia nowadays.

Someone else must be to blame. Not Terrelle, who was protected from his quarterback coach and from discipline for his pouts and tardiness by Jim Tressel. Big Ten Commissioner, Jim Delaney, even went to the wall for Ohio State, Tressel and Pryor so the Buckeye Five could play in the Sugar Bowl. Terrelle got more memorabilia and headlines to feed his ego with that last game in an Ohio State uniform.

At the press conference announcing the suspensions of the Buckeye Five starting with the 2011 regular season, Ohio State Athletic Director, Gene Smith, thanked Jim Delany: "Let me publicly thank (Big Ten commissioner) Jim Delany for also assisting in this process. He's got a lot of experience, and he gave us some good advice when we were putting together our self-report. He also made a phone call on our behalf to the reinstatement team."

The NCAA rules permit suspensions to start with the next regular season if the players involved did not know they were violating NCAA rules. You can drive a Nissan Z through that loophole.

Money, Money, Money

The US attorney's office says the autographed jerseys, Big Ten rings, gold pants charms and other memorabilia that Ohio State players sold to the tattoo parlor owner were worth $12,000 to $15,000. ESPN reports Pryor made $20,000 to $40,000 for autographing memorabilia through another booster, who has denied the accusation made by a friend of Pryor who has stated he witnessed transactions.

If you believe Terrelle's mother that she bought him his Nissan 350Z and, perhaps, half a dozen cars, Pryor clearly did not need the money to support a financially-strapped mother. According to the Columbus Dispatch: "Pryor and the cars he drives have been an issue since he arrived on campus three years ago. Pryor has been connected to more than a half dozen vehicles during his time at Ohio State, according to sources."

It's hard to hide those cars and that kind of largess from teammates and other students and to tell your mother that you need another car. Compliance had no clue. Jim Tressel had no idea. Terrelle's achievements made him special in Jim Tressel's eyes. Shouldn't Tressel be to blame?

Responsibility and Necessity

Poor Jim Tressel. He and Ohio State knew their responsibilities, making the NCAA rules clear to his players. "I think ultimately we as coaches feel as if the buck stops here – that we’re the ones that need to make things even more crystal clear than when a compliance officer might spend time with our team or an outside speaker or whatever it happens to be. The bottom line is that we feel as if that’s our responsibility, so obviously we don’t feel good about the fact that we fell short."

As a coach for twenty-five years, he just did not know he needed to report memorabilia for tattoos violation by his star player to Ohio State Compliance when he first learned of it in April 2010.

Didn't Tressel skate away from NCAA violations at Youngstown State, from Troy Smith's violation, from Maurice Clarett's allegations. Clarett claimed six and a half years ago that Tressel, certain members of his staff and boosters provided him with improper benefits including "lucrative landscaping jobs" and "thousands of dollars".

Tressel has always sounded like a forgiving father in these situations. Tressel on The Buckeye Five's suspensions, 2010: "We all have a little sensor within us, 'Well, I'm not sure if I should be doing this. And sometimes it gets overrided by what you think your necessity is. … I would have to think that there was no way that they just thought that [selling items] would be common practice."

Tressel's necessity was winning. That overrided a quick call to Compliance last April.

Tressel on Troy Smith's suspension, 2004: "We’re dealing with humans. We’re dealing with kids and dealing with people who impact kids and people who sometimes don’t give kids great advice. I think you go all the way to the bitter end with a stiff upper lip and try to figure out better ways you can get messages across even better. You handle it when you haven’t."

Blame the Compliance Department

Good thing that The Ohio State Compliance department did an exhaustive investigation into Clarett's claims and into Pryor and the other Buckeye Five. Ohio State Compliance discovered that Clarett's claims were groundless and that the tattoos were the only violations and limited to those five players. John Cooper, the former Ohio State football coach, blames the Compliance Department: "Compliance is not doing their job when this kind of stuff happens and they act like they don’t know about it. When I was coaching over there, compliance was around everywhere. It’s almost like they were trying to find us violating a rule."

A Sports Illustrated reporter needed only a couple of days without access to players to find out that the extent of the tattoo benefit violations could be twenty-eight to thirty players. The Columbus Dispatch discovered one salesman sold cars to nearly fifty Ohio State athletes and their families. Many of the football players' compliance forms were incomplete, lacking such details as sales prices, dates of purchase, co-signers and other required information.

The Ohio State Compliance Director said to the Dispatch: "As with any monitoring system, we are continually refining and improving our program. We set the bar high and then look for ways to raise it even higher. When we benchmark ourselves, we do more than most."

If only they could have kept a cap on it.... Someone else must be to blame. Not Terrelle. Not the Senator.

Maurice Clarett today blames the athletes for Ohio State's troubles with the NCAA. "Anything that any player goes and gets is all based on him and who he meets in the community. The coaches and the university have no control over what the young guy's doing."

Blame the System

Back in 2004, Clarett blamed the system: "I'm thinking, 'NFL GMs know college players take money. It was nothing like I stole something. Nothing like I'm running from the law or I'm dragging a girl down the stairs. No domestic violence. No nothing."

Clarett justified his poor memory in front of the NCAA in 2004 about other Buckeyes taking improper benefits according to ESPN: "'What would have become of Ohio State if I said everything?'' Clarett told (ESPN) The Magazine. 'Half the team would have been suspended, and it would have been worse for everybody. I was like, 'Why don't I just take it?'"

Maybe someone outside of Ohio State is to blame.

DeVier Posey's mother blames the NCAA for DeVier selling his championship ring: "You have to have a car. You’ve got to have insurance. You’ve got to have gas money. What they give them for rent and stuff is not enough. It’s just not enough… So it’s already a financial strain on a family. The whole thing requires money, but they – the NCAA – don’t want to give it to them. The NCAA is saying, ‘Well, if they gave them money, they no longer have amateur status.’ Well, guess what? College football and basketball players are the only amateurs not receiving any money that I see plastered all over the TV and on magazines. They’re not amateurs. Who do they think they’re kidding? The NCAA certainly doesn’t look at them as amateurs. If they did, they wouldn’t be making money off them."

Julie Posey's compliance education is similar to Maurice Clarett's. None of the players deserved any blame: "They didn't do anything that any other person wouldn't have done. They looked around to see what they could do to help (their families). There's no crime here. None. They're not involved with agents. They didn't steal anything. They didn't borrow anything from anybody. It was theirs. Nobody told them it 'almost belongs to you.' It belonged to them."

Star football players and their rewards deserve special treatment beyond that of the normal college student.

Needs

Poor scholar-athletes. They need to be paid more than a college education for four or five years. They need cars, insurance, gas money, tattoos, spending money for clothes and entertainment that other students and their families have to do without. They are special and need more than their scholarships plus any cost of attendance for those players who meet financially needy standards.

Jim Tressel, however, was disappointed in his young men but philosophical in the Dispatch: "Obviously, that's very disappointing because I suppose the older you are, the more you understand the difficulty in what's gone into having a chance to earn those things (championship rings). But I think the biggest disappointment I have is knowing that there are mitigating circumstances in all of our lives; we have to seek the right solutions."

Solutions

The solution for Terrelle Pryor may be a minor pro football league and ignominy. For Jim Tressel the initial solution meant a fine of $250,000, a public apology, a public reprimand by the NCAA, and now the forfeiture of the rest of his contract at $3.5 million a year. Neither will have to face the NCAA Infractions Committee, though Tressel faces possible disciplines. Don't hold your breath for Jim Delany and the Big Ten strip Ohio State of its championship for playing an ineligible player. For the remaining Buckeyes, the Athletic Department and The Ohio State University, the solution means NCAA sanctions.

In the end, there's no one else to accept the blame. Someone has accept responsibility.

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