The Suspended Players Starting A Bowl Game Debate… Bowl Games Really About Benjamins

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

The 2010 college football regular season is in the books, and it has made me realize one thing—I miss Tim Tebow!

Since the universally admired Florida quarterback departed for the NFL, college football has been a parade of negative headlines. The pre-season NCAA probe into illegal contact with agents, the Cam Newton inappropriate benefits controversy, and the Reggie Bush Heisman relinquishing melodrama were all tabloid quality mainstays of the media that defined college football in 2010. So it should come as no great surprise that the 2010 Bowl season should be overshadowed by yet another scandal.

Five Ohio State players, including QB Terrelle Pryor, have been busted for selling championship paraphernalia and receiving improper benefits at a tattoo parlor. The NCAA investigated the matter and ruled that all five players must be suspended for the first five games of the upcoming 2011 season (Ohio State is appealing the ruling to reduce the suspension). Although the case against the players was fairly straightforward, and the action against them swift, it left many pondering the question, “Why didn’t the NCAA suspend them from the Sugar Bowl?”

The answer is simple, but discomforting to many. College football is all about the money.

At one time collegiate sports were a bastion for the STUDENT-athlete, but for most schools those days are long gone. Football programs are revenue generators and major attracting forces for potential clients… I mean students. There is so much wealth and revenue wrapped up in college sports that today’s game no longer tries to hide its commercialism.

Just looking at the names of bowl games clearly illustrates the profit driven commercialism of the modern “amateur” game. Bowls names, such as the Meineke Car Care Bowl, the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, GoDaddy.com Bowl and the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl have virtually no connection with the sport other than a cooperate sponsorship, and that is to say nothing of the formerly sacred bowls – such as the (Discover) Orange Bowl, (AT&T) Cotton Bowl, and Rose Bowl (Presented By VIZIO) –which have sold out their naming rights to maximize revenue. Even the national title game bears the imprint of big business with its new moniker the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game.

My point in all this name nonsense is that there is nothing wrong with a sport making money, but it seems that the NCAA is in a ludicrous state of self denial continuing to purport the antiquated image of non-professional, uncompensated athletes in the profit driven big business of sports. We see it time and time again in college sports. Each year it seems that more and more college stars are revealed to have accepted some sort of illegal benefit or to have had in appropriate contact with an agent. Why? Because college sports are all about money.

It is that fixation with money that clearly drove the decision to ban the Ohio State five from games next season and not this year’s Sugar Bowl… correction that’s the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The absence of these five players, especially Pryor, would have hurt the competitiveness of Ohio State and in turn undermined the competitive validity of the gme. Watching a Pryor-less Buckeye team take on the Arkansas Razorbacks is a far less compelling game to watch. A less exciting game makes for poorer attendance and poorer ratings. Poorer ratings make for weaker commercial endorsement and the profitability of the whole bowl game decreases as a result.

Paul Hoolahan, Sugar Bowl CEO, validated my argument in his statement about lobbying to keep the suspensions from impacting the bowl game when he said, “I made the point that anything that could be done to preserve the integrity of this year’s game, we would greatly appreciate it… That appeal did not fall on deaf ears, and I’m extremely excited about it that the Buckeyes are coming in at full strength with no dilution.”

He is right. A punch-less Ohio State team would have undermined the entire bowl. Although I believe Mr. Hoolahan was looking at it from purely financial eyes consider the fans stake in the game. Fans that purchased Sugar Bowl tickets did not do so to watch backups play, they came to watch the REAL Ohio State take on Arkansas. Anyone who has ever bought a ticket to watch a sports team play only to find that their favorite superstar attraction is missing, for whatever reason, understands the disappointment I am describing. Recently I purchased tickets to watch the Miami Heat play. Had LeBron James been M.I.A. I would have been S.O.L., and would have been very upset about it. It would definitely impact my future ticket purchasing decisions, and the Sugar Bowl is no different.

Last, I’d like to consider the suspension itself. Players were punished, in essence, for selling their personal effects and getting discounted tattoos. TATTOOS! To channel my best Allen Iverson, we are not talking about cheating or a crime or the game that they go out there and die for and play like it’s their last. We are talkin’ about TATOOS. I simply don’t see the need for such drastic measures over something so very inconsequential. Does anyone really believe that Ohio State has a competitive advantage in signing recruits because of discounted tattoos?

These five guys are being punished enough. The NCAA would only hurt the sponsors and the fans by suddenly taking a principled stand against minor infractions. Where were all these so called principles when the naming rights for bowl games went up for bid anyways? The punishment is fine the way it is. It will be a deterrent to future devious tattoo discounts and will make Ohio State be more accountable for their athletes. But enough is enough; let them play in the Sugar Bowl.

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