The coaches’ preseason poll was released by USA Today Friday, and I’m pleased to report that Ohio State is sitting in the No. 1 position.
(Actually, “pleased” is a bit of an understatement: When I saw the Friday paper in the box outside Eat ‘N’ Park Friday evening, I almost knocked over a group of senior citizens while I was dancing on the sidewalk.)
Unfortunately, the notoriety of being No. 1 also brings a new flood of stories about the “scandal-ridden” athletic program at Ohio State. Among the things you’re likely to hear in the next few weeks:
@ Jim Tressel is actually a vice president for Halliburton.
@ The football team’s kickers use puppies and kittens during practice instead of footballs.
@ Boosters who give players high-pay, no-work jobs are rewarded with football tickets and crack.
@ The real reason Ohio State went 14-0 and won the national title during the 2002 season was the ritual blood-letting sacrifice of several freshman cheerleaders at the Woody Hayes Athletics Center during two-a-days.
@ Maurice Clarett has been named a Rhodes Scholar.
Wait. That last one doesn’t make any sense.
There is already a lot of hysteria about everthing Ohio State’s been through in the last several years, and I’ve already noticed several outlets that, while breathlessly ticking off the allegations against the athletic department apparently forgot to mention the outcome. For example Stephen A. Smith, on ESPN’s “Sports Reporters” this morning, had a lot to say about the scandals, but offered little information about the results of several investigations, by police, by the university and by the NCAA.
So here’s a rundown on what’s actually happened:
1) After the 2002 season, Maurice Clarett reported to police that a car he was driving was broken into and a bunch of stuff was stolen. An investigation into that incident began.
2) A short time later, Clarett — and several other former players, all of whom had been dismissed from the program or flunked out of school — told ESPN The Magazine they had been given impermissible academic help while at OSU. This prompted two investigations, one by the university’s faculty and one by the NCAA.
3) The university self-reported that Troy Smith had accepted $500 from a booster. He was suspended for two games, and the booster was banned for life from all OSU athletics functions.
4) The university self-reported the admission of Jim O’Brien, the former men’s basketball coach that he had given a buttload of money to a recruit. O’Brien’s rationale was that the guy wasn’t actually eligible to play in the NCAA and needed a loan to help him with a bad family situation. (Not only was this self-reported, but former athletic director Andy Geiger was in such a hurry to fire O’Brien that he ended up making a legal breach of O’Brien’s contract, which resulted in the $2.2 million in damages awarded to the coach last week.) As a self-imposed penalty, OSU cut scholarships for the basketball program and held a successful team out of post-season play for a year. An NCAA investigation, obviously, resulted from this report as well.
Whew. That’s a bunch of bad stuff. Let’s look at what happened, point by point:
1) Clarett was not only found to be lying about the value of the stuff that was in the car, but the university found that he had taken benefits from a friend back home in Youngstown. He was suspended from the football team for a year, and eventually dropped out of school. He tested the NFL’s eligibility rules and lost; when he finally was eligible for the draft he was fat and slow at both the scouting combine and his own private workout. He was drafted by the Broncos, but cut before the season began. He’s now awaiting trial on an armed robbery charge.
2) Investigations by the faculty, and more importantly, the NCAA, found no evidence of academic favors for athletes. As far as Maurice, see No. 1 above.
3) The NCAA ruled that a major violation occurred. No further penalties were assessed.
4) According to the NCAA’s final report on this — and all the other allegations — several major violations had in fact occurred. Besides the self-imposed penalties, the NCAA placed the athletics program on probation for three years and ordered that the men’s basketball program give back income from several post-season appearances during the O’Brien era and vacate records from the same time period. And besides the thing with Troy Smith — an incident that the report calls “an isolated event” — there were no findings against the football team. Interestingly, the same NCAA ruling essentially banned O’Brien from coaching at an NCAA institution through 2011 and banned former assistant Paul Biancardi from recruiting through 2007. Biancardi subsequently resigned his head coaching position at Wright State.
So, yeah, bad stuff did happen, although most of it involved the conduct of the men’s basketball program. I don’t think it’s unfair to recount all this stuff now that the football team has been given the distinction of being No. 1 in the preseason coaches’ poll, but I think it’s equally important to state the results of the following investigations. The USA Today story did a decent job of that; Stephen A., however, didn’t do such a hot job on ESPN this morning.
I don’t expect that this kind of stuff will go away anytime soon, so it’s something that Ohio State fans are just going to have to deal with all season. And as our Buckeyes roll through the season kicking everyone’s asses, we’ll have to cope with jeers about cheating from opposing fans.
Fine. No problem. As long as we know the whole story.