Big 12

Tressel, Pryor Taking Bullet for Ohio State; Texas Next Scapegoats?

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Red herring. Noun.
1. A herring cured by salting and slow smoking to a dark brown color
2. [from the practice of drawing a red herring across a trail to confuse hunting dogs] : something that distracts attention from the real issue

NCAA President Mark Emmert is sitting in an office somewhere breathing an enormous sigh of relief as the beneficiary of brilliant planning, excellent luck or a combination of the two.

It was only a couple of weeks ago that conference commissioners were openly discussing the NCAA’s worst nightmare – paying players. With nothing else going on in college football or basketball, the subject was in position to become a center of heavy debate and discussion. Instead, the Ohio State controversy stole the stage when former OSU receiver Ray Small told the school’s student newspaper NCAA violations ran rampant in his era. When further public scrutiny commenced, Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel resigned. Feeding Tressel to the fire didn’t work for Ohio State, as the NCAA started investigating quarterback Terrelle Pryor for his use of multiple cars. The controversy reached its conclusion Tuesday when Pryor announced via his lawyer that he would not return to Ohio State for his senior season. 

If I were an Ohio State football fan, I’d be absolutely livid at the NCAA for making Tressel and Pryor the scapegoats for something that is going on all over the country. As has become its modus operandi lately, the NCAA waited until the evidence and public uproar was insurmountable to act, but once it acted it acted without mercy. Replace a few proper nouns, and you have the same story as you did this past fall with Auburn and Cam Newton. The only difference between the two situations is Auburn played its cards better, and forced the NCAA’s hand in making a ruling on Newton’s eligibility before enough evidence against him could be gathered. Try as it might, Ohio State couldn’t achieve the same results, despite its best efforts.

In all fairness, Ohio State bent over backwards to be proactive in its investigations of Pryor, other Ohio State players and Tressel. However, it wasn’t enough, because the NCAA’s sharks smelled blood in the water. As has been the case for a while now, the NCAA’s reaction to scandal is to identify scapegoats and make an example of them as if they are the only ones in the world violating NCAA provisions. The NCAA pressured Ohio State’s football program until it lost both its coach and quarterback, but has not said anything regarding how widespread illicit benefits are.  The controversy has diverted attention from what is really going on in college football.

The NCAA is out for blood, and will not stop until its dominance has been re-established.

The constant speculation last summer over conference realignment embarrassed the NCAA, as it was left in a state of flux while it had no control over which teams would go where. Individual teams and conferences wielded more power than ever before, and the drama ended with the University of Texas strong-arming the Big XII into creating a $300 million TV network exclusively for broadcasting UT sports.  Since the realignment buzz died down, the NCAA grasped the headlines by launching massive investigations into the University of Southern California, the University of North Carolina, Auburn University and now Ohio State University.

The NCAA’s unprecedented number of investigations into high-profile programs has helped foster the illusion that the NCAA is serious about fixing its problems. However, the core of fixing its problems rests in the idea of paying players, an idea the NCAA fears more than anything because of how difficult it would be to implement in a way that doesn’t destroy college sports completely. For this reason, the NCAA will keep offering violating schools to the media as sacrificial lambs. Big XII commissioner Dan Beebe and University of Texas men’s athletic director DeLoss Dodd should be sweating bullets right now, because the Longhorns are about to have their horns sawed off.

As mentioned already, Texas slapped the NCAA in the face with its charade over conference realignment, which threatened to completely dismantle the Big XII because other teams were prepared to follow Texas. With former Longhorn Colt McCoy’s wife Rachel telling ESPN’s Colin Cowherd Tuesday morning that some of McCoy’s teammates accepted benefits, the NCAA now has a weapon it can use as an excuse to investigate UT. Like nearly any Division I football program, there is sure to be dirt at UT the NCAA can dig up. When this happens, the NCAA can bury Texas, which will both get payback for the realignment drama and keep the media’s focus on a school’s bad behavior instead of the NCAA’s flawed system.

Even the BCS, which has for years been the most protected (and exploitative) institution in college football, is not safe from the NCAA’s attempts at self-preservation.  In fact, the NCAA has already thrown the BCS under the bus. Barack Obama’s pre-election comments to ESPN that he would “throw my weight around a little bit” to help create playoffs in college football have turned out not to be empty words after all – the United States Department of Justice sent a letter to the NCAA in May, warning the NCAA “”serious questions continue to arise suggesting the current Bowl Championship Series system may not be conducted consistent with the competition principles expressed in the federal antitrust laws. Your views would be relevant in helping us to determine the best course of action with regard to the BCS.”

Additionally, Utah attorney general Mark Shurtleff has declared he intends to file an antitrust lawsuit against the BCS. There is no way the BCS can honestly expect to win an antitrust case – polls and computer rankings aside, at the end of the day the only two teams with a chance at winning the national championship are the two teams the BCS says are allowed to play in the national championship. Rather than continue to defend the BCS, Emmert abandoned it like a rat escaping a sinking ship, telling the Department of Justice “the NCAA has no role to play in the BCS or the BCS system. There is to directive for the (NCAA) to establish a playoff. These questions can best be answered by the BCS and the group of institutions that operate the BCS system.”

The NCAA can throw Ohio State, Texas, the BCS and any other unfortunate scapegoat under the bus, but it is only treating symptoms of the problem. At its core, the NCAA is a flawed system, and the sun is setting on its unquestioned authority over college sports. In the near future, the NCAA will have to either adapt majorly or die.

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Hank Koebler is an NFL / NCAA Football Writer and On-Air Personality. Hank's work as a journalist has been widely published and he's received numerous citations for his NFL coverage. You may email Hank @ [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @HankKoebler