The college sports world was rocked over the weekend upon hearing that Jim Tressel, coach of The Ohio State University football team, had resigned. Due to his actions in not reporting unethical behavior among five of his players and lying about when he knew what, Tressel decided to hightail it and run before the NCAA started handing out sanctions and asking questions he would rather not answer. How upstanding of Coach Tressel, a former author of two books on faith and integrity. Maybe he was planning to be a case study in his third book. He'll have plenty of time on his hands to write it.
If Tressel's behavior could be attributed to a single character flaw residing in a single big time college sports coach, the issue would be minor at best. But that isn't the case. The pressure brought to bear on Tressel, who who had the third most wins (106) and the second highest win percentage (88.2%) in Ohio State's history, was caused primarily by two things: people fed up with college programs turning a blind eye to inappropriate athlete behavior; and advocacy groups and sports fans angry at the NCCA for dishing out slaps on the wrists to rulebreakers like burnt hot dogs at a bad Memorial Day cookout. The NCAA had yet to rule in Tressel's case, and to their credit, sports journalists were anticipating the that they would hand out a bevy of sanctions and conduct an exhaustive review going all the way back to Tressel's years at Youngstown State University, his previous coaching gig.
Few relationships are as complicated as the one which exists between the black community and big time college sports programs. On one hand, it is these programs, particularly football and basketball, which grant hundreds of black athletes full-tuition scholarships (to universities that would otherwise be unaffordable for the majority of them) and coveted media attention that can propel star athletes to the pro ranks, bringing forth millions of dollars in salary and endorsements; yet on the other hand, there is the parasitic nature of these programs which far too often break nearly any rule as they track and “recruit” kids younger and younger every year. After athletes are enrolled they are hustled through a broken system where the priority is on university coffers and corporate balance sheets not athletes. Of course in Tressel's case it wasn't so much a recruiting problem that brought his downfall as it was turning a blind eye to the clear and convincing NCAA violations his players were racking up year after year.
While the two problems are different, they stem from the same mindset: college athletes are disposable and their value is strictly appraised based upon their performance. But a coach is not just a mini sports agent shuffling college athletes from an unpaid forum in which to exhibit their talents to a paid one (the pro ranks). Instead, a coach should help model appropriate behavior to these young men and ensure they follow the rules and get their education. Or is that asking too much?
In Tressel's case and unfortunately too many coaches like him, it is. Sports Illustrated (SI) has uncovered numerous violations among Tressel players dating back to the 1990's. In one particular case “he claimed not to know that his star quarterback had received a car and more than $10,000 from a school trustee and his associates -- even though it was later established in court documents that Tressel had told the player to go see the trustee.” In a more cynical case, when Tressel was an assistant coach at Ohio State back in the 1980's he helped run their summer camp. Most of the kids who attended weren't Ohio State material but a few were clearly prospects. At the end of camp a raffle was conducted and kids would buy tickets hoping to win cleats and Ohio State gear. Turns out, according to a fellow assistant back then, Tressel would rig the raffle so that the recruits Ohio State wanted would win. Not only is this a possible N.C.A.A. Violation, it's Jim Tressel at his best. His assistant tells SI, "in the morning he would read the Bible with another coach. Then, in the afternoon, he would go out and cheat kids who had probably saved up money from mowing lawns to buy those raffle tickets. That's Jim Tressel."
NCAA infractions plague all big time college sports programs. A recent review by Inside Higher Education found “53 of the 120 universities in the NCAA's top competitive level, the Bowl Subdivision, were found by the Division I Committee on Infractions to have committed major rules violations from 2001 to 2010.” It's a pervasive problem the NCAA has yet to properly address. That same review also uncovered that “fifteen of the 64 major cases involving Bowl Subdivision universities from 2001 to 2010 pertained to academic fraud or other academic violations.” And who is hurt the most? It isn't the coaches. Sure, fans of Jim Tressel are crying crocodile tears for him now but how long will it be before he is on the sidelines of another big time coaching program? Not long. He'll be coaching again before Ohio State comes off their sanctions, that's for sure.
If the NCAA is serious about reform and academic honesty where athletes are concerned they will make coaches and their staffs more accountable. Don Wilson, one of my brothers, recently shared a great idea with me: have sanctions applied to the university and the coach. If he leaves the sanctions go with him like a scarlet letter. And I'll go a step further. George Dohrmann, a writer at SI, was on to something a little over a year ago. Taking a hint from Wall Street, he suggested that college athletic programs use clawback clauses in coaches contracts. The clawback clauses “enable companies to recover compensations such as bonuses for a variety of reasons, including the uncovering of a scandal or if certain performance goals are not reached, said Dorhrmann. By forcing college coaches to own up to their misdeeds the NCAA will restore the integrity and faith in the process that existed before the sponsorships and TV contracts. Maybe Coach Tressel could be the first ginny pig. Now that's something he's worthy of writing about.
About the Author
john [at] policydiary.com
A proud graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, John is currently a Master's of Public Health candidate at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University where he is studying health policy & management. He is also a weekly contributor to theloop21.com, and founder of So Educated (www.soeducated.com), an education policy and reform blog focused on widening the debate surrounding education and empowering parents and teachers - frequently the least thought of.
Areas of interest include health care reform and education reform, particularly: access to health care, health care exchanges, and Medicare and Medicaid; in addition, charter schools, K-12 funding, and educational equality.
John is wholeheartedly determined to contribute to the rapidly changing dialogue in the health care and education communities. He has made continuous contributions by conducting research, publishing articles, interviewing practitioners and professors, and engaging students through on-campus organizations.
John's publishings have appeared in fora such as: The Orlando Sentinel, The Daily Voice, Frum Forum (formerly New Majority) Wiretap magazine, Black Web 2.0, The Daily Californian, Club Relaford, HipHopRepublican.com and Policy Net. In addition, his commentary has been dissected on Countdown with Keith Olbermann, CNN, Think Progress, Yahoo News, and Mediaite.
Previously, he served as a legislative fellow in the offices of the Honorable David Englin (D) and David Bulova (D) of the Virginia House of Delegates, in the 2009 and 2010 legislative sessions, respectively. John also interned in the office of the State Attorney General of Virginia, and completed a Governor's Fellowship in the Office of Gov. Bob McDonnell where he worked with the deputy secretary of health on projects regarding aging, HIT and disability.