The recent experience at Ohio State finally strips away the veil. Jim Tressel is the football coach—he is 7-1 against Michigan—remember that; it matters. He has collected a bunch of bowl wins and one national championship. While he can be sanctimonious, he has largely run a clean program. I even taught a chapter form one of his books. The chapter explores the role of love in sport and coaching.
The entire NCAA governance structure depends upon the concept of Presidential control. When the NCAA moved from a membership based voting at conventions to a strong Presidential Board, it achireved a range of serious academic reforms that the Presidents pushed through.
The whole philosophy depends upon the ideal that Presidents will weigh academics more seriously and protect student welfare more seriously than athletic directors and coaches given modern pressures upon them. It also means the Presidents will act with courage and stand up to boosters.
By and large the approach is right. Athletic directors mutter that the Presidents are too removed from the real world and don’t understand their “business.” This can be actually a good thing when the Presidents demand that the coaches and schools live up to accountability standards.
Gordon Gee, onetime President of Ohio State and Vanderbilt and now President again of Ohio State, has just made a mockery of this critical principle. With his actions around the case of his football coach Jim Tressel, he demonstrates the utter failure of the approach if President lacks courage or common sense.
The entire edifice of control falls apart when super star coaches become more powerful than Presidents. I have written on this before. We see regular examples of it at Louisville where the president supports a married super star coach who has sex on table at a bar; or at Tennessee where a President tolerates a coach who lied to the school, the papers and the NCAA; or at Kentucky where the President hires a superstar coach who has had two titles vacated. I could go on, but the point may be that President’s have lost control of the sports too.
Turns out Tressel is NOT one of the good guys anymore. Maybe he never was.
Tressel’s story has played out in the media. He discovered that his players had violated NCAA rules and kept the knowledge to himself for eight months! He had an obligation to report it to his superior and the NCAA; he did none of the above. So his team won games while the coach knew about the violations. He demanded that his players stay at school next year even though they have been suspended for five games.
Now it all comes out. Even as his players were suspended for five games, the coach withheld information, misrepresented the facts, punished the athletes while knowing of the deed and essentially lied to everyone.
Now the two kickers. Ohio State, after immense and thoughtful deliberations, yeah, suspended the coach for two games—Toledo and Akron—and docked him 1/16 of his salary, that is three games less than the players. So Ohio State joins the parade of schools afraid to demand that coaches live up to their own ideals and words.The school has been justly ripped for this nonpunishment punishment that sends a clear message to athletes about what really matters in life.
The second issue strikes at the heart of the NCAA governance model. We know that the NCAA reform movement deeply depends upon Presidential control. The athletic directors and coaches will NOT lead the charge to reform college athletics or the preserve the academic welfare of student athletes. They might like to but the pressures to win and make money are too great.
Only the Presidents can do this; this was the power of the movement that swept Myles Brand to power and can be harnessed by new NCAA President Emmert. The Tressel mess not only besmirches Tressel and Ohio State, it reveals frailty of the reform and control effort when the President has little courage or common sense but a strong survival instinct..
Gordon Gee announced the death knell of real Presidential control by admitting what many of us fear, that Presidents really are afraid and have no control over their super-sized coaches.
When asked if he considered dismissing his lying and misrepresenting coach , Gee, bow tie bobbing, laughed and said, "No, are you kidding me! Let me be very clear, I just hope the coach does not dismiss me."