There is no doubt that the suspended players for Ohio State played a substantial role in the team’s performance in the Sugar Bowl. But the supposed redemption for the Big Ten that Ohio State was playing for is tainted because of the players the program agreed to use to meet the goal. Players that broke rules and should have been suspended for the Sugar Bowl were allowed to play and defer the start of their suspension until the 2011 season. This debate decides if the players should have been allowed to play, or if they should have been forced to begin their suspensions immediately.
Loyal Homer points out a disturbing fact that is unavoidable – the Sugar Bowl CEO, Paul Hoolahan, gleefully recounts his successful attempt to the lobby the NCAA in an effort to ensure Ohio State’s most notorious and talented players would play in one of the most high profile games of the season. Sponsors had to get what they paid for, television ratings had to be high. So, the only logical move is to ensure the top stars are available to play, or else risk a disaster of a game and a business opportunity squandered.
While I understand what Hoolahan did and his reasons, it undermines the integrity of college football. For the NCAA, it either stands for enforcing rules that preserve the amateur athlete and the sanctity of the sport, or it is willing to compromise its principles to make some extra money. The NCAA chose the money, but I choose Loyal Homer as the winner of this debate.
I reject the notion put forth by Babe Ruthless that college football – and its celebration season known as The Bowl Season – is reduced to a pure cash cow. Money is an unavoidable part of the college football business in modern times, but it should not force the sport to morph and evolve in a way that makes it indistinguishable from professional football. The decision to sacrifice earned punishment for wrongdoing in favor of television ratings and pleasing sponsors makes college football no different than professional football. Simply, that is a sad fact. Emphasis on the sad.
The idea of the punishment is correct on the part of the NCAA. The basic belief system seems in place. Babe Ruthless is correct that the players did something wrong and should be suspended. But, I disagree with the Babe that college football must be all about the money. If the punishment is just, then carrying it out must also be. The NCAA made a mistake by letting these players play in the Sugar Bowl.
I also part ways with Babe Ruthless when he attempts to draw a connection between suspended players and sponsored bowl games. There is nothing wrong with bowl games securing sponsorship. But that sponsorship – or any business interest – should never influence which players play in a game. Regardless of suspension or not, sponsorships and money should never dictate which players take the field – on college or pro sports.
To Babe’s last point – the suspensions are not about the players gaining unfair advantage. It is about amateur athletes selling items they earned through their relationship with the NCAA and then receiving special benefits from a local business because of their status. Those are clearly stated NCAA rules and the players are all in violation. The rules are clear, the punishment just.
The BCS is here, for better or worse. The existence of the system mandates an emphasis on financial payout. If a program is going to be a member of the BCS, then it must also resign itself to a pursuit of money. That is what Ohio State has done, but that does not make it right.
Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel should have suspended the players for the Sugar Bowl anyway. No doubt he would be pressured not to, but rules are rules. The players broke the rules, and must serve their punishment. Instead Tressel abided by the NCAA ruling, then trumped it by using the pending suspension – and stay of execution for the bowl game – to leverage those players into staying for the 2011 rather than turn professional. It is a disappointing move from a coach and community leader many revere as much for integrity as for sweater vests. If those players turn pro, it seems now all he has are the sweater vests.
Integrity matters most when it is the hardest to show. It is not until situations get difficult that true colors shine through. In this case, the NCAA, the Big Ten, and yes, even Jim Tressel, showed what matters most – money. If that really is the case, let’s just stop masquerading around squawking about the honor of the sport.
For BCS haters, Ohio State’s willingness to oblige the system only makes it stronger, and that fact should be upsetting. Ohio State blew a chance to show it stands for something. It had an opportunity to show the world that blind, lemming-like pursuit of the BCS payout was not all that mattered. Until high-profile programs stand up for what’s right, the BCS will continue to gain strength, and the amateur nature of college football will become a distant memory.