Friday, June 3, 2011

See What Happens? What Next for Terelle Pryor and Coach Tress

In my house when Lil' Man does something he's not supposed to do, or is warned not to do, he's met with a "See what happens?" from either the Mrs. or I when he hurts himself jumping on the couch or spills juice all over the floor because he was running around with an open cup. As I watch the mess unfold with THE Ohio State University football team, "See what happens?" is the phrase that comes to mind because the warnings have been there for YEARS about how dirty big-time college football is, particularly in the most prominent conferences. My beloved Miami Hurricanes have been sanctioned following years of dominance, the LA pro team, USC, fell to a similar fate, and Auburn is potentially going to face penalties even though they won a National Championship this year. The thing that is maddening about THE Ohio State is that at the head of it all is Coach Tressel, who has built a coaching brand based on integrity rivaled only by Coach K at Duke, and in the aftermath, when Pandora's Box has been unlocked, that integrity still remains largely unquestioned by most lay people because of how many games he won and because Coach is taking the easy escape of plausible deniability aka the "I didn't have first hand knowledge this was going on" excuse. So I'm bringing heat to Coach Tressel because as a coach myself, I believe you take responsibility for the welfare of the athletes in your care as if they were your own children. This means you are accountable when you knowlingly let them break the rules without consequence. It sets a bad precedent that you can profit so greatly off of a facade of morality, and the complementary demonization of the players, but then not face the music when those morals come into question.

My disdain for the Coach Tressel mode of leadership began to grow with the way he handled the initial "Tattoo 5" incident in December 2010 where it came out that prominent players Terrelle Pryor, Dan Herron, DeVier Posey, Solomon Thomas, and Mike Adams, had traded team memorabilia for tattoos. Instead of suspending the players on the spot for their missteps, Coach Tressel, backed by THE Ohio State and the Sugar Bowl arranged it so the players would play, and their punishment would be to sit out 5 games at the beginning of the 2011 season, games against "powerhouses" such as Akron, Toledo, and a decimated Colorado program. Instead of teaching the players a valuable lesson as a man of high integrity would, Tressel put the interests of his University and a Corporation first. Turns out the rabbit hole was much deeper, and the contrast between what we saw of Coach Tressel and the reality of his character was very large. When I read the George Dohrmann Sports Illustrated article delineating the yearly history of transgressions by players under Coach Tressel's leadership, I was not surprised, but disappointed because this story has happened before, whether with SMU, Alabama, or Florida St. There is a great deal wrong with the current college athletic model, and until the players in these hugely profitable sports receive compensation for their efforts, these scandals will continue to happen. Parents know the game, and just like Cecil Newton (father of NFL 1st overall draft pick, Cam), they will be less shy about putting a value on their child's talent and asking for those benefits up front. This mindset leads to athletes feeling entitled to not have to earn anything, and the vicious cycle will continue. Unfortunately, when it all blows up, coaches will continue to walk away with millions of dollars and a slap on the wrist while many student-athletes get nothing, particularly if they are not pro-level talent. So as much as I hope Terrelle Pryor and his teammates take this lesson and make sure to get a degree from THE Ohio State University, I won't be surprised when that does not happen.

I also hope somewhere on THE Ohio State trustee board there are those who are as equally disgusted and disappointed as I am and move swiftly to replace the athletic director and president who allowed this to happen. For E. Gordon Gee to stand up and say "I hope he [Coach Tressel] doesn't fire me." in a press conference is a clear indication of how far his priorities have shifted in the wrong direction. To give tacit approval to the leadership Coach Tressel has provided the football team given what has come to light is ridiculous, and it's even more ridiculous to think he had no idea what was going on either. The same can be said for the athletic director, Gene Smith. Terrelle Pryor took shoulder pads from the equipment room and pawned them. Is it really that easy? Was there nobody to answer to on the football staff? I know at PENN, I could barely get a towel to dry off after swim practice without showing my ID, so to say nobody in the athletic department knew about the equipment leaving the building is ludicrous. I'm going to stop now so I can try and think of ways to keep the next "See What Happens?" moment from going down with Lil' Man. It continues to be obvious that big-time athletic universities are more concerned with getting what they can out of student-athletes than with providing the academic program, which they were built on.

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