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Football, racism and an unbreakable bond: The tale of Rudy Hubbard and Woody Hayes
The emperor of Ohio State football would periodically check on his players after dark to ensure they were studying.
So one night when a tailback named Rudy Hubbard hosted a poker game in his dorm with a few teammates and a couple of non-players who smoked cigarettes, the telling taps on the door shot pangs of hot fear into Rudy's belly.
He knew those knuckles belonged to Woody Hayes, and the coach tossed everyone out of the room. Everyone but Rudy. After heaving an ashtray at the wall, he sat Rudy down and told him that if any other authority caught him pulling this garbage, he would have been dismissed from the team.
"He could have you scared to death and at the same time make you love him for the fact that he cared about you," Rudy says now. "I just saw that as Woody being Woody."
Woody and Rudy had little in common. Woody cherished his friendship with former president Richard Nixon. Rudy remains a steadfast Democrat. Woody often wore a white, short-sleeve, button-down shirt with a tie and a baseball cap. Rudy preferred bright-colored tops and suits.
Still, as their stories intertwined, they grew close -- as close as anyone could become with the bullish coach -- and formed a bond that transcended an era largely defined by racial tension and football prominence.
"When I think back about it," Rudy says, "I think there was something about me that he liked all along. I just never knew what it was."
To this day, one regret haunts Rudy Hubbard.
It isn't that he unleashed his temper on the night watchman who shoved a pistol into his spine. It isn't that he left Ohio State to coach at Florida A&M. It isn't that he opted not to retaliate against those who burned a cross in his front yard.
Rudy never asked Woody why he offered him a coaching job. At the time, it didn't add up.
"I wish at some point I had gone to him and asked him what he was thinking," Rudy says. "I never did. I've thought about it a lot since."
Rudy arrived at Ohio State in 1964 with aspirations to play professional football like his idol, Jim Brown. However, he spent most of his time blocking for Jim Otis, Paul Hudson or Bo Rein. In his final game in 1967, a 24-14 win at Michigan, Rudy rushed for 103 yards and two touchdowns, matching his career total.
The performance validated what Rudy had thought all along, that he could excel as the focal point of an offense. After the game, running backs coach Larry Catuzzi, aware of Rudy's frustration, asked him: "You're glad to be leaving here, right?"
His high school held a banquet that winter to honor his college achievements. Rudy stood before friends, family and former classmates and delivered a rant fueled by the animosity that flowed through his veins for four years as he watched quarterbacks hand the ball elsewhere.
"I was disenchanted," Rudy says. "I thought I would have a much better career than what I had."
Woody was in attendance, but Rudy didn't care. He figured he would never again see his old coach, since his eligibility expired.
"He was not afraid to speak his mind," says former Ohio State running back Archie Griffin. "He never has been. I think Coach Hayes respected that about Rudy."
Rudy returned to Columbus to finish his degree in physical education. A few weeks later, Woody called him and made an appointment to meet with him. The coach never supplied a reason for the rendezvous, but Rudy figured Woody planned to admonish him for his heated remarks at the reception.
Instead, Woody offered Rudy the opportunity to be the first African-American football coach at Ohio State.
"I was blown away," Rudy says.
The Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League had drafted the rights to Rudy. They invited him to the Grey Cup, though a knee injury he suffered in high school and again in his freshman year at Ohio State had him weary of putting on the pads.
So, despite receiving a letter threatening his life if he took the job, Rudy accepted Woody's offer.
Rudy almost didn't make it to his first game as an assistant coach.
In the summer leading up to the '68 campaign, Rudy shared an apartment with a white roommate. To stay in shape, he embarked on nightly sprints in the neighborhood. He would walk to the far end of the path, sprint back and lean against the building while he caught his breath.
One evening, he watched a car whip around the corner behind him. Rudy didn't have his glasses on, so he couldn't make out the driver. When the man exited the car, stuck a pistol in his back and bent him over his vehicle, Rudy realized it was the night watchman.
Rudy's roommate peered out the window and shouted to the man to stop.
The watchman apologized to the roommate. Rudy responded with a beating.
"I thought I had lost my job before I even started," Rudy says.
He called Woody and told him what transpired. The two discussed the situation in person the following day, and Woody offered his support.
The racial challenges didn't end there, though.
Woody assigned Rudy to recruit in southern Ohio. As the sun set on a long day of work, Rudy searched for somewhere to spend the night.
He pulled up to a motel. No vacancies, he was told.
He pulled up to another place. No vacancies.
Rudy approached a man walking down the street and asked for a recommendation of a spot to stay.
"He said, 'You won't be able to get one around here. You better go to the black side of town,'" Rudy says. "Man, I was hurt."
Woody reassigned him to Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia and some areas around Columbus.
"That was a relief knowing that he was going to stand behind me," Rudy says. "He felt like nobody should have to go through that."
We were all scared of Woody. I wasn't any different.
Woody told his coaches that if everyone kept driving cars, there would be an energy crisis. So the coach walked to work.
By the time the team wrapped up practice, Woody was so exhausted to hoof it back home. The rest of the staff had families to hurry home to. Rudy, on the other hand, was a single guy in his 20s who wanted to go out on the town.
Woody rarely afforded him the opportunity. The old coach routinely asked him for a ride home, but Woody would make them detour for a pecan roll and they would chat for hours.
"He dominated the conversation most of the time," Rudy says. "Most people ended up doing whatever he wanted them to."
Rudy suggested to Woody that they implement an audible system that would allow the quarterback to alter the play at the line of scrimmage if the defense lined up in an unfavorable formation. Woody told him to compose a presentation, so Rudy devised a scheme based on colors and numbers, but Woody still rejected the concept, citing that the players "had too much on their plate."
Rudy brought the idea with him to Tallahassee when he took over as head coach of Florida A&M in 1974. Woody helped him interview for that position.
At Ohio State, Rudy eventually convinced Woody to let him design plays for the running backs. He employed them when Griffin joined the Buckeyes' backfield in 1972.
Rudy had a hand in luring Griffin to Ohio State. He was a student-teacher at Eastmoor High School in Columbus for Bob Stewart, who was Griffin's coach.
He also was responsible for Griffin's emergence as one of the top tailbacks in the nation. Griffin fumbled away the only carry of his first career game. A week later, he rushed for a school-record 239 yards against North Carolina.
"The reason I got in that North Carolina game is because he spoke up for me," Griffin says. "He had to skip over some other backs to put me in the game and in those situations, you better be right, because otherwise, you put your job on the line when you're dealing with Coach Hayes."
Woody told Rudy that if he worked his tail off, he could rescue any rock-bottom program and restore it to respectability in four years.
In Rudy's fourth season at Florida A&M in 1977, his Rattlers posted an 11-0 record. The following year, they went 12-1 and captured the inaugural I-AA Championship. In 1979, they shocked the University of Miami, 16-13.
Some took exception.
One day, Rudy discovered a burned cross in his yard. Another day, he walked outside to see a dummy -- dressed in a football jersey -- that had been shot at and burned. Another day, he found a giant "KKK" scrawled across his fence.
"The only thing that saved me," Rudy says, "was I didn't know where to go."
Rudy coached at Florida A&M for 12 years. He racked up 83 wins, the third-most in school history, and was inducted into the university's Athletics Hall of Fame in 1990.
Woody died in 1987. Rudy had two decades to ask why the Buckeyes legend hired him on that winter day. He has had nearly three more decades to ponder it himself.
"We were all scared of Woody," Rudy says. "I wasn't any different."
After Rudy berated him at that banquet, perhaps Woody identified something that signaled they could have a healthy bond. In the end, they did.
"I look back on it now and I'm really glad for the opportunities that I had," Rudy says. "There were rough times, but there were good times in between, too."
Now, Rudy serves as a disciplinarian at a middle school. He likes that he doesn't have to sketch out lesson plans or instruct tailbacks how to pass-protect. He has accepted that his coaching days are behind him.
It's a fitting final chapter to his career. He won't throw ashtrays against the wall, but he knows how to enforce a stern hand.
Message not resonating with some Ohio State players
A sign on the wall near the players’ entrance and exit to the Wexner Football Complex is marked by the word “Decisions” in red, followed by black-and-white reminders that Ohio State football players are supposed to take with them wherever they go:
Honesty. Treat women with respect. No drugs, stealing, weapons.
It’s a relatively short list, but the message is clear. If you’re an Ohio State football player, you have a pretty good gig. You have a free education from one of America’s great institutions, you’re playing major college football for one of the nation’s premier programs and you someday might have a chance to earn many times more money in a few years of pro football than most hard-working Americans earn all of their lives.
How do you weigh all of that against one wild night in a bar or at a party? Is it worth giving all of that up in order to react when a loudmouthed drunk bumps or challenges you? Decisions.
Yesterday, we learned of the possibility of bad decisions by two of the most prominent players on this year’s team: running back Carlos Hyde and cornerback Bradley Roby. Hyde was suspended after being named as a person of interest in a weekend assault against a female in a Downtown bar; given coach Urban Meyer’s strong views on violence toward women, if Hyde isn’t innocent, he could be gone. Roby reportedly got into it with bouncers at a Bloomington, Ind., bar after he was asked to leave and might have punched one of them. He’s in limbo while Meyer and his staff investigate .
No matter how these cases turn out, the blame game that starts every time a player gets arrested is cranking up again. Was this a bad decision by a good guy or a sign the coach is sacrificing character for talent on the recruiting trail? Does a culture of permissiveness pervade the team? And shouldn’t the coaches be watching these guys?
Meyer has been in the news a lot lately, in part because he coached at Florida when Aaron Hernandez played there. Four years later, the New England Patriots player has been charged with murder, and some have tried to trace the blame to Meyer. This makes no sense, but the blame game has no rules. A lot of Gators got in trouble during Meyer’s tenure there — how many and how much trouble is again subject to interpretation — and some practically see that as proof that Meyer conducted classes on deviant behavior.
Meyer’s discipline at Florida is difficult to judge from a distance of 1,000 miles and three years, but he has shown no reluctance to come down hard on offending players during his 11/2 years at OSU.
Current Florida coach Will Muschamp, miffed because he believes Meyer turned his staff in for secondary recruiting violations, took a couple of shots at OSU at the Southeastern Conference media days, and then added, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, that a coach is “100 percent responsible” for the actions of his players.
It took all of five days for one of Muschamp’s players, linebacker Antonio Morrison, to get arrested and charged with barking at a police dog and resisting arrest. What’s wrong with Muschamp, anyway? Didn’t he ever tell his players not to bark at police dogs?
Blaming the coach for actions of college students always has seemed crazy to me. Coaches at the top schools recruit basically from the same pool of players, recruiting talent first and character second because talent is needed to win. Some coaches let their players get away with more than the others, but none can follow their players around at 2 a.m. and stop them from drinking too much and thinking too little, any more than the players’ parents can.
“I expect our players to conduct themselves responsibly and appropriately,” Meyer said, in a statement, “and they will be held accountable for their actions.”
So it is that the opening of preseason camp is just 12 days away and an OSU team many see as a national title contender faces the possibility of losing two standouts before the first snap.
BuckeyeSports.com finishes our countdown of the Greatest Wins in Ohio State history with the biggest game there is, the Michigan rivalry. Which victory is the Buckeyes' best against their hated rivals? You get to decide.
It might go without saying, but we’re going to say it anyway: More than a couple of deserving games did not make this list, but such is the way it goes with a rivalry that has burned so hotly for so many years.
Among those we had to cut were the 34-0 in 1934 that kicked off a four-year run in which the Buckeyes were unbeaten and unscored upon by the Wolverines, a 21-7 win in 1942 that was part of a national championship season, a 50-20 demolition in ’61 when Woody Hayes went for two because he couldn’t go for three, a 20-7 victory in 1970 that avenged the most painful loss in school history, Tom Klaban’s four-field goal day that decided another top-5 matchup in 1974 and thrilling upsets in 1981 and 2004.
Ohio State 13
The double-decker front-page headline in The Columbus Dispatch said it all: “Harley-led Buckeye gridiron warriors bring back to Columbus town that long-coveted Wolverine scalp…” This was Ohio State’s first win against Michigan, and it was and 15 games and 21 years in the making. The star of the contest was Ohio State halfback Chic Harley, a Columbus schoolboy legend who was more than a dual threat for the Buckeyes. Not only did Harley score a touchdown on a 42-yard run, he also kicked an extra point, punted 11 times for a 42-yard average and intercepted four Michigan passes while playing defense. The Buckeyes dominated the contest, outgaining the Wolverines 176-85. All of Michigan’s yards came on the ground as Fielding Yost’s team completed none of its 17 pass attempts.
Yost personally congratulated Harley and OSU head coach John W. Wilce after the game, telling the Buckeyes (per The Dispatch), “You deserve your victory. You fought brilliantly. You boys gave a grand exhibition of football strategy, and while I am sorry, dreadfully sorry, that we lost, I want to congratulate you. And you, Mr. Harley, I believe are one of the finest little machines I have ever seen.”
No. 1 Ohio State 21
No. 12 Michigan 7
The game was deadlocked at 7 as the teams entered the fourth quarter, but Michigan has the ball inside the Ohio State 5-yard line and was threatening to go in front. Instead, the Buckeye defense made a goal line stand, setting up the offense for a 99-yard drive that put the Buckeyes on top.
Howard “Hopalong” Cassady made the biggest play of the ensuing drive, a 52-yard sprint that had the Buckeyes on their way. Quarterback Dave Leggett capped the drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass to end Dick Brubaker, and the Ohio State faithful could start to smell the roses – and a Big Ten championship.
Cassady then struck again, this time on defense, as he picked off a Michigan pass and returned it to the Ohio State 39. The Wolverines wilting now, Cassady capped a 61-yard scoring drive with a touchdown that iced the game. Next the Buckeyes were headed to the Rose Bowl, where they would beat No. 17 USC to clinch Hayes’ first national championship and undefeated season.
No. 2 Ohio State 50
No. 4 Michigan 14
Quarterback Rex Kern and halfback Jim Otis combined to scored six times and accounted for 239 of Ohio State’s 421 rushing yards as the No. 2 Buckeyes crushed No. 4 Michigan, 50-14, in Columbus. They equalled Ohio State’s largest winning margin in series history by scoring 36 unanswered points after the Wolverines tied the score at 14 in the second quarter.
The teams traded leads in the first half, with Michigan taking the lead with a touchdown on the opening drive, only to fall behind 14-7 to its hosts. After the Buckeyes fumbled a punt deep in their own territory, Michigan was able to tie the score at 14 with a run by Ron Johnson with just over seven minutes remaining in the half. From that point, the Buckeyes took the ball at their own 14-yard line and never looked back. Otis scored on a 2-yard touchdown run with 0:36 left to cap an 86-yard drive and give the Buckeyes a 21-14 halftime lead, and the Buckeyes never looked back.
Jack Tatum led the defense with 12 total tackles, forced a fumble and intercepted a pass, while Art Burton and Doug Adams also had interceptions and Jim Stillwagon recorded nine tackles. Otis ran for 143 yards while Kern added 96 and halfback Larry Zelina went for 92.
The meeting was the second in which both teams entered with top five rankings, following the Buckeyes’ 21-7 victory in Columbus in 1942. That win, like the 1968 victory, set up a national championship for the Buckeyes.
No. 9 Ohio State 14
No. 3 Michigan 11
The Buckeyes denied Michigan twice at the goal line and halted the Wolverines’ 15-game Big Ten winning streak. They also clinched a trip to the Rose Bowl while stunning the favored and previously unbeaten Wolverines at Ohio Stadium. After Champ Henson put Ohio State on top 7-3 with a 1-yard run in the second quarter, but Michigan looked poised to go into the locker room on top as the Wolverines drove to the OSU 1-yard line. The Buckeyes had other plans, though, as they stuffed three straight Michigan runs then recovered quarterback Dennis Franklin’s fumble at the 2-yard line on fourth down. Michigan answered an Archie Griffin touchdown run with a touchdown and two-point conversion to cut the lead to three, but that was as close as they would get. Ohio State’s second goal-line stand came in the fourth quarter when Franklin was stuffed on a fourth-down sneak attempt that followed a controversial 1-yard run by Michigan tailback Harry Banks. Michigan head coach Bo Schembechler argued Banks had scored on the play, but he was not awarded the points. Schembechler could have salvaged his undefeated season and a trip to Pasadena had he opted for a field goal, but he said afterward he never considered it.
No. 1 Ohio State 21
No. 4 Michigan 14
Down 14-7 midway through the fourth quarter, Ohio State rallied with two touchdowns in less than a minute to become the only Big Ten team to reach the Rose Bowl in four consecutive seasons. One of the game’s heroes was a Griffin, but perhaps not the one most would have expected. While Archie Griffin’s NCAA-record 31 consecutive 100-yard rushing game streak came to an end, his younger brother, Ray, played hero with an interception in the fourth quarter that set up fullback Pete Johnson’s 3-yard touchdown run with 2:19 on the clock. Johnson, who tied the game less than a minute earlier with a 1-yard run, scored all three OSU touchdowns on the day and led the Buckeyes with 52 yards rushing. Archie Griffin added 46 yards on 19 carries. Ohio State took its No. 1 ranking to the Rose Bowl, where the Buckeyes were denied a national title by a 23-10 loss to No. 11 UCLA.
No. 2 Ohio State 18
No. 13 Michigan 15
Ohio State used special teams to rally from a 15-12 deficit in the fourth quarter. Todd Bell was the hero as he scooped up punt Jim Laughlin had blocked and returned it 18 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
The Buckeyes snapped a three-game series losing streak and made new head coach Earle Bruce 1-0 against the Wolverines. They also improved to 11-0 and moved up to No. 1 in the national polls, but hopes of a national championship were dashed by a one-point loss to No. 3 USC in the Rose Bowl.
Shaun Gayle led the Buckeyes in rushing with 72 yards on nine carries while quarterback Art Schlichter completed 12 of 22 passes for 196 yards with an interception.
Ohio State 23
Neither team was ranked, but this game produced one of the iconic images in Ohio State history as the Buckeyes carried Bruce off the field in his finale game as their head coach.
Bruce had been fired at the beginning of the week and saw his team fall behind 13-0 early in Ann Arbor, but the Buckeyes charged back to take a 20-13 lead in the third quarter. Michigan tied the score at 20-20 at the end of three periods before Matt Frantz connected on a game-winning, 26-yard field goal with 5:18 remaining. Frantz had missed a potential last-minute, game-winner in OSU’s 26-24 loss to Michigan in 1986. In support of their head coach, Ohio State players wore white headbands displaying “Earle” on the front as they helped their departing leader finish his career with a winning record against Michigan (5-4).
Ohio State 26
No. 11 Michigan 20
Although this one lacked the Big Ten title ramifications of most of the memorable Ohio State wins over Michigan, it makes the list for its significance in the arc of the career of one of the Buckeyes’ national championship head coaches. It also marks the turning point in a series that had been dominated by the Wolverines for more than a decade prior.
Jonathan Wells and Mike Doss made sure new coach Jim Tressel kept his hiring-day promise to make Ohioans “proud of our young people in the classroom, in the community and, most especially, in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan.” Wells scored three touchdowns in the first half and Doss picked off a pair of Michigan passes as the Buckeyes beat the Wolverines, 26-20, for their first victory in Ann Arbor since 1987. The second of Wells’ TD runs, a 46-yard sprint on fourth-and-inches in the first minute of the second quarter, kept the momentum with the Buckeyes as they surged to a 23-0 halftime lead before a stunned crowd at Michigan Stadium. Doss and Will Smith, who had a pair of sacks, spearheaded the OSU defense that forced five turnovers and scored a safety. Doss’ second interception set up Ohio State’s final score, a 33-yard field goal by Mike Nugent. Quarterback Craig Krenzel, a Michigan native, won his first game as Ohio State’s starting quarterback, completing 11 of 18 passes for 118 yards. Wells finished with 129 yards on 25 carries despite missing the second half with an injury.
No. 2 Ohio State 14
No. 23 Michigan 9
The Buckeyes exorcised some demons and clinched a chance to play for the national championship with a fourth-quarter rally. After Michigan took an early 3-0 lead, Maurice Clarett fired up the Ohio Stadium crowd by bouncing outside for a 2-yard touchdown run that put the Buckeyes on top for the first time. He had earlier logged a 28-yard run in his return from a shoulder injury that had kept him out of an overtime win at Illinois one week earlier and limited him throughout the second half of the season.
Michigan remained poised, however, and quarterback Jon Navarre drove the Wolverines for two more field goals to take a 9-7 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Ohio State mounted a comeback in the fourth quarter capped when Maurice Hall took an option pitch from Krenzel and scooted around right end against a Michigan defense outflanked by a play the Buckeyes had not run all season. Clarett ran for 119 yards on the afternoon and again played the catalyst on the game-winning drive with a 26-yard catch on a wheel route.
The Buckeye defense forced two turnovers after Ohio State took its final lead, first a fumble recovery by Will Smith that sent the Scarlet and Gray faithful into a frenzy as it appeared the game was iced, then on a final-play interception by Will Allen with the sell-out crowd holding its collective breath as the ball sailed toward the goal line in the south end of the stadium.
No. 1 Ohio State 42
No. 2 Michigan 39
Troy Smith was again the man of the match but he got plenty of help as Ohio State beat Michigan in the first meeting of the ancient foes as the nation’s two top-ranked teams.
Smith improved to 3-0 as a starting quarterback against the Wolverines as he completed 29 of 41 passes for 316 yards and four touchdowns. The Buckeyes spread out and shredded the vaunted Michigan defense as Antonio Pittman ran for 139 yards and Chris Wells added 56 more. Each member of the Akron-born duo notched a long touchdown run, Pittman sprinting 56 yards on a version of the famous “Dave” play in the third quarter after Wells had brought the Ohio Stadium crowd to its feet with a stunning 52-yard draw-play touchdown run.
Tressel and offensive coordinator Jim Bollman had the Wolverines off balance all day, including on a 39-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Ted Ginn Jr. on which Ginn lined up as the team’s third tight end in a tight power set.
Ill-timed Ohio State turnovers helped keep Michigan in the game in the second half, and a late touchdown drive engineered by Wolverine quarterback Chad Henne cut the OSU lead to three. The Buckeyes recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock with a trio of Pittman runs, including a 6-yarder on the final play that converted a third-and-2 and put the Buckeyes over 500 total yards on the day.
What happened at Florida? Not what some of the media has been reporting. Written by somebody who observed the Gator program from the inside for an entire season.
Go ahead – throw tomatoes at me. Call me a “homer.” You’ve got your mind made up about Urban Meyer and nothing I write is going to change that.
Let me try, anyway.
I saw Urban Meyer’s Florida football program from the inside for an entire season. Between the Gators’ two national championships, while writing his authorized biography, Urban’s Way, I was granted unparalleled access for a journalist.
I attended coaches meetings; observed dozens of closed practices; ate meals with the team, including during Family Night; rode the bus to the stadium with the team; ran through the tunnel on to Florida Field; sat inside the lockerroom during halftime, pre-game and post-game sessions; listened on the headsets as plays were called; conducted one-on-one interviews with every coach and several dozen players; and spoke off the record with school authorities about the off-field problems of every player who had been in trouble with the coaching staff or the law.
Like at almost all other programs, there were some issues with athletes at Florida. I wrote in the book about 17 players who had brushes with the law – most of them driving violations, suspended licenses, substance abuse or alcohol related incidents, or fights. There was only one case of a firearm which a player shot in the parking lot of bar, for which he was arrested, charged and dismissed from the team.
And before you ask, no, I wasn’t asked to pull any punches in the more than 130,000-word narrative published by Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press in 2008.
As a condition, I did sign a confidentiality agreement, which I continue to honor. Only now, however, after the recent Aaron Hernandez scandal, do I come forward with some of this information.
So if Urban Meyer is undergoing Trial by Media, what are the charges? That he harbored the criminals? That he knowingly coddled renegade athletes and looked the other way at their indiscretions? Or that he was loose with facts about his intentions to leave the job at Florida and therefore hypocritically portrayed his program as clean when it was overrun by the criminal element? To the well-informed those charges are almost laughable.
If Meyer was harboring criminals or hiding axe murderers in helmets and pads, I must have overlooked them.
Now Meyer is being characterized by some critics as someone who recruited troubled players and allowed them to run amok – not at all what I saw or heard.
As a matter of fact, the “30” which is often used to define the Meyer as the number of players who had been arrested was not even the most in the SEC. That distinguished achievement belonged to Georgia.
There was this huge controversy over how Meyer left Florida for Ohio State, which some critics have tried to lump together with his Aaron Hernandez connection as Acts One and Two of a morality play. But if there was a conspiracy to fleece The Gator Nation and play a Jedi Mind Trick on the fans by pulling off a disappearing act from Gainesville, I’m sorry – I totally missed it, too.
How I know? I lived in his world for almost 12 months.
* * *
I was in the Meyer’s residence on numerous occasions and their lake home several more times. I went with the coaching staff to Longboat Key and cruised Tampa Bay on two occasions. And I was in contact with Urban on a regular basis.
Bitter fans and a few hardheaded columnists will continue to portray him as Jesse James and Benedict Arnold. But I can tell you first-hand that the Urban Meyer they claim to know is not the one I befriended starting in 2007.
Neither was he Al Capone.
Some suggest it was a promiscuous atmosphere around Meyer’s program which led to one of his former players becoming a major suspect in one or more murders.
I would not characterize Meyer’s program as “renegade” or “permissive.” In fact, I venture to say he and his coaches spent more time mentoring/babysitting their athletes than any coaching staff I’ve ever known.
This is not to deny Hernandez got in trouble at Florida. Some bloggers have implied that Hernandez failed multiple drug tests at UF – as many as nine – but Meyer and other insiders I spoke with say that’s grossly exaggerated. The records are sealed.
The Orlando Sentinel reported that Hernandez was among several Florida Gators questioned after Corey Smith was shot in the head at about 2:20 a.m. on Sept. 30, 2007, while driving a Crown Victoria past 1250 W. University Avenue.
According to the Orlando newspaper: “Two men were shot, including one in the head, prompting Gainesville police to categorize the incident as an attempted homicide. No charges have been filed and the case is still considered open.’
The man who drove Hernandez to the police station for questioning told me he sat downstairs for six hours awaiting the outcome. Hernandez was told by police they would get back to him. The next time they did, Hernandez had employed the services of prominent defense attorney Huntley Johnson. The Gainesville cops never interrogated Hernandez again.
When Urban broke his silence on the Hernandez case recently, he vehemently denied that his former tight end had a long rap sheet or was allowed to operate by a different set of standards as a Gator in Gainesville. When interviewed in Columbus: “He was questioned about being a witness (to a shooting), and he had an argument in a restaurant (in which Hernandez allegedly struck an employee in an argument over an unpaid bill), and he was suspended one game (reportedly for a failed marijuana test). Other than that, he was three years a good player. That was it.”
As for the reports that Hernandez failed multiple drug tests?
“This is absolutely not true,” said Meyer. “Hernandez was held to the same drug-testing policy as every other player.”
* * *
This is what I learned about how Hernandez got to Florida. He was recruited by an assistant coach from Connecticut, who knew of his checkered past.
Meyer balked at recruiting him. Partly because one of his assistant coaches was so passionate about signing Hernandez and partly because he became convinced “the mission” could change him, Meyer recapitulated.
Urban brought Hernandez to early morning bible study. He even assigned Aaron as Tebow’s roommate his first year and asked the Pouncey brothers, Mike and Maurkice, to stay close by his side.
Does this sound like a man coddling a criminal?
Or maybe like Patriots owner Robert Kraft and his celebrated coach Bill Belichick, perhaps Urban Meyer was “duped.”
* * *
I can’t say I really know Hernandez, but numerous times I had been in group with other media when he was interviewed. When I talked to Hernandez one-on-one for the Urban Meyer book, he was very expressive about his strong feeling for his coach. This is what I wrote:
” … As Tebow points out, part of the mission is helping young men get their lives on track. One of those most appreciative is Aaron Hernandez, who came to Florida in January 2006, just after his father had died. He was feeling lost and drifting, ‘headed down the wrong path,’ admitted Hernandez.
“I (Hernandez) had a little emptiness in me. He (Meyer) kind of filled it—a father figure, someone I could look up to,” said the junior tight end from Connecticut. “He was always there for me. Even when I made bad decisions, he always took me through them and taught me the right direction. And he showed me the love I needed at the right time.”
Only now has Hernandez come to understand why Urban Meyer was so hard on him for not paying attention to studies, or doing the wrong things off the field.
“He always wants the best for his players. Sometimes it seems like he doesn’t like you. He knows how to play mind games with you to make you reach your potential. Not many coaches in this world really care about their players. He cares about his players. Wants the best for them. Wants them to have a great education. Wants them to do stuff out of football once they’re done. He and I have a bond. I love him as a father figure as well as a coach.”
* * *
As to the inference that Meyer coddled the criminal element, it is true that his home was open to many players who often came over and swam in the Meyer’s pool, feasted on Shelley Meyer’s cupcakes and enjoyed family activities. Including Hernandez.
Would a man allow “criminals” to roam free in his home with his family?
Meyer demanded that all his position coaches “babysit” their players and know everything from their test scores, to their girl friends problems to their after-hours conduct.
Maybe Meyer could be charged with being naive enough to think he could help rehabilitate a soul in a Christian-like atmosphere where forgiveness is the underpinning.
Those who suggest that players with criminal records were held to a different standard should remember that a Heisman Trophy winner who won a national championship for Auburn was run out of the Florida program. Cam Newton was playing behind Tim Tebow when he quit school before he was about to be tossed out.
This isn’t to suggest Meyer ran a school for Girl Scouts.
Know this about his modus operandi: He will take every permissible competitive edge, but he abhors cheaters.
Continuing to recruit players who had verbally committed to other schools before they had signed a grant-in-aid didn’t win him any popularity contest with other coaches.
Media members were miffed that he wouldn’t go public with many of the team injuries – and would not comment on them. The Florida coach was accused of masking suspensions by holding out players with minor injuries.
This bred an air of suspicion and perhaps led to an assumption that Meyer had manipulated the truth when he quit as coach, came back, then announced his health was forcing him to get out of coaching, which he did for a year when he worked for ESPN as a college football analyst. When Ohio State came calling and Urban said “yes,” the I-told-you-sos lambasted him as a hypocrite and a liar.
I can tell you for a fact that Meyer did not orchestrate the Ohio State deal. In the second month of his 2011 season with ESPN, on a weekday, he invited me to come to his home for an off-the-record chat. He was cleared eyed, calm and had put back on about 15 pounds that he had lost due to stress. That day he openly admitted that he wanted to coach again one day but was enjoying broadcasting immensely. “Maybe in a couple of years,” he said of his coaching future.
He knew he wanted to coach again, but wasn’t ready to even tell his wife Shelley about it – let alone make a public pronouncement.
Meanwhile, he still had an office at the Florida athletic department and was sort of a good will ambassador for the program.
At that point, there were still rumors about Joe Paterno, pre-scandal, stepping down and that some alumni had targeted Urban as his successor. Penn State had never been on his so-called short list of coaching jobs, which included Ohio State, Michigan and Notre Dame.
* * *
In the end, all the legal hassles and problematic behavior of his athletes began to wear on Meyer.
With two national championships under his belt, Meyer had the program on elite status in December 2009. Then the bomb exploded. One of his star defensive players went to the birthday party of a teammate, had too much to drink and was found passed out in his car at a stoplight, motor running. Oddly enough, he wasn’t even known among his teammates as a drinker had rejected a ride from a designated driver.
Carlos Dunlap was kicked off the team just five days prior to the Dec. 5 SEC Championship Game vs. Alabama. That Saturday night, had the Gators beaten the Crimson Tide as they had the year before, Meyer had a legitimate shot at becoming the first college coach ever to win three BCS titles in four years. Instead, without Carlos Dunlap as a defender, Nick Saban’s team ran roughshod over the Gators, 32-13, and went on to win the national title. Maybe Dunlap’s presence would have altered that outcome, maybe not. But it certainly had a huge negative impact on the team and the coach.
Later that same night, Meyer fell out of bed clutching his chest and his wife called 911. He was hauled away in an ambulance thinking he was having a heart attack. A few days later he resigned. When he tried to come back, it was never the same. He left behind a legacy of 65 wins, 15 losses as the school’s winningest coach, plus two SEC trophies and a pair of crystal mementoes.
* * *
The real morality play about evil vs. good is still playing out among the triumvirate of Urban Meyer, Tim Tebow and Aaron Hernandez. Little revelations here and there add up to an intriguing scenario about three men who came together on a football field to perform remarkable athletic accomplishments, but are now miles apart in geography and ethical forensics.
After being bashed by those who charged Meyer with a coverup of Hernandez’s alleged criminal conduct at Florida, the Ohio State coach broke his silence in an interview with Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch. He explained why he chosen to so:
“Whenever someone attacks your character, our staff — people aren’t aware of all the things we do in terms of being a mentor, dealing with issues and all that. Yeah, I have been avoiding talking about this because you’re talking about a serious crime; you’re talking about families that have been very affected by this. And to pull something back personal that isn’t true from four to seven years ago, that’s mind-boggling to me.”
Tebow has yet to weigh in on Hernandez. A story recently characterized the quarterback as a willing participant in an attempt to rehabilitate Hernandez who went as far as to try and extricate his teammate from a barroom incident in which he punched somebody.
Squeaky clean Tebow in a bar? “Yes,” so the joke now goes. “He was there to bless the wine.”
So powerful has Tebow’s living testimony been that even troubled stars like Daryl Strawberry have embraced his virtue.
“I look at Tebow. He gets bashed because of his faith. Let ‘em laugh. Let ‘em talk. He’s a greater man than anyone who might be greater than him as an athlete. He’s a real man,” Strawberry recently said in an interview with Bob Nightengale of USA Today.
The fact is that not even one of the most revered athletes in college football history who wore his faith on his sleeves and his eye black could not reverse the ill-fated fortune of someone accused of such heinous crimes as mob-style execution.
So why couldn’t Meyer and Tebow change Hernandez? Insiders say if he’d been able to play for the 49ers or Cowboys or Packers and avoided going back to his old neighborhood maybe there would have been a shot, so to speak. Meyer talked about that in the Dispatch article.
“At the end of the day, there is free will,” said Meyer. “You can’t change people. You can set the table and try to help them, make sure there is a spiritual component in their life, make sure there is a family atmosphere. And that’s what we try to do — it’s what we’ve tried to do everywhere.”
In a poignant commentary for FoxSports.com, columnist Jason Whitlock blamed the conduct of Hernandez and other criminals in sports on a diseased culture, saying he was “a natural byproduct” of a group that glamorizes the prison/gangster/hip-hop lifestyle and has “installed Tony Soprano as America’s most celebrated icon above Joe Montana.” Whitlock, who is African-American, went on to say that rapper/agent Jay-Z was “this generation’s Babe Ruth and Beyonce (his wife) is Marilyn Monroe.” He suggested that those so-inclined athletes favor the image of Soprano’s loose-cannon nephew Christopher Moltisanti over LeBron James.
* * *
In his first season at Ohio State, Meyer led the Buckeyes to a 12-0 season although they were ineligible for the post-season. His OSU team is already ranked as one of the favorites to win everything this fall.
Meanwhile, some people seem to want to portray Meyer as the villain — and I don’t mean the fans at Michigan or Alabama. His biggest battle seems to be not against the Big Ten rivals, but against the perception that he fostered an environment that bred the likes of Aaron Hernandez.
In the end, as suggested by Whitlock, perhaps it is the glamorization of evil icons in a drug-idolizing American culture which has stacked the deck against the Meyers and the Tebows of the world.
Coach Woody Hayes poses with the 1978 captains, from left, Tom Cousineau, Byron Cato, Tim Vogler and Ron Springs.
Among the hundreds of “football as war” analogies too often used to describe the ferociousness of a simple game, one seldom-mentioned similarity bypasses the tired blood-and-guts comparison to strike an intelligent chord.
College football players, like soldiers, follow orders and do as they’re told, while the outside world watches and worries. Few among the teens and early 20-somethings — in the military or in shoulder pads — have the inclination to question their situation or consider the context of their circumstances in the midst of daily life.
During the course of a 12-game season, Ohio State players do not ponder their condition nearly as often as the fans who follow them. Instead, they keep their heads down and grind toward the finish.
“Everything goes so fast. When you’re playing, you’re in a zone,” former Ohio State lineman Ernie Andria said. “You don’t know. You just do it. You’re there to play ball, so you go with the program no matter what.”
Only after the football is placed in a glass trophy case do the former athletes reflect on what went down back when.
Looking back, Andria and his teammates now see the 1978 season for the 7-4-1 oddity it was.
“It was a different and difficult year,” Andria said. “Very sad.”
It is easy now to get lost in how the season began and ended — the controversial debut of freshman quarterback Art Schlichter in the opener and the stunning firing of Woody Hayes after the OSU coach punched a Clemson player during a Gator Bowl loss. But to do so would overlook the last bright spot of Hayes’ 28 years at the helm: the Buckeyes defeated Indiana 21-18 on Nov.18 for the Old Man’s final win.
For players, the game in Bloomington meant that Michigan was a week away. Otherwise, the Hoosiers were off the Buckeyes’ radar. Considering that Hayes had lost just once to IU — a 32-10 setback in his first season in 1951 — it is no wonder the Buckeyes were looking ahead.
Not to mention that Ohio State was tired of looking behind. The Buckeyes opened with a 19-0 home loss to Penn State, punctuated by Schlichter’s five interceptions. Two games later they tied Southern Methodist and followed with a loss at Purdue.
The players sensed something was wrong. Starting Schlichter over senior Rod Gerald had created resentment among the upperclassmen, and Hayes was struggling to get the more pass-heavy offense going. But as Andria noted, college athletes typically lack big-picture awareness.
That said, it was hard not to notice signs of slippage, especially in Hayes, who at age 65 seemed more distracted as he struggled with medical issues.
“My whole senior year he called me Bill Jobko, who was a player of his in the 1950s,” former tight end Bill Jaco said. “The coaches listened to him, but they weren’t really listening to him. You could see a big difference.”
Still, no one thought the Indiana win would be his last. And it almost wasn’t, because the Hoosiers nearly won.
Indiana entered with a misleading 4-5 record that masked a solid team coached by Lee Corso, who closed practices all week in preparation of trying to break an 0-21-1 streak against the Buckeyes.
The Hoosiers led 10-7 at halftime but could not sustain it. They had one last chance to pull the upset, but defensive back Mike Guess intercepted a trick-play pass with 1:37 left to secure Hayes’ 205th victory at the school. The Buckeyes lost to Michigan 14-3 a week later.
By then, Hayes’ focus was out of sorts. In a telling episode — one that even myopic college players could not miss — Hayes called a team meeting that turned into a political rally.
“He didn’t even know he was in a football meeting,” Jaco said. “It was a political speech and everyone is looking around like, ‘What the heck is he doing?’ He started it out, ‘Ladies and gentlemen.’ When it got done we were all clapping and yelling, ‘Vote for Woody.’ Then he kind of perked up and told us to get out of there.”
Andria said that only then did players begin to realize what was happening.
“That’s when everybody said, ‘Oh my gosh, Woody has lost it,’” Andria said.
Less than two months later, Hayes landed the punch heard ’round the college football world. And he was gone.
Urban Meyer will be home for dinner Ohio State's new coach is committed to balancing work and family
Before you join Urban Meyer, who is walking toward the exit of the Ohio State football office, there's a scar you need to see. A few years ago in Gainesville, his middle child, Gigi, planned a celebration to formally accept a college volleyball scholarship to Florida Gulf Coast University. It was football season, so she checked her dad's calendar, scheduling her big day around his job. As the hour approached, she waited at her high school, wanting much, expecting little. Some now-forgotten problem consumed Meyer, and he told his secretary he didn't have time. He wasn't going. His beautiful, athletic, earnest daughter would have to sign her letter of intent without him. Meyer's secretary, a mother of four, insisted: "You're going."
Eighty or so people filed into the school cafeteria. Urban and his wife, Shelley, joined their daughter at the front table, watching as Gigi stood and spoke. She'd been nervous all day, and with a room of eyes on her, she thanked her mother for being there season after season, year after year.
Then she turned to her father.
He'd missed almost everything. You weren't there, she told him.
Shelley Meyer winced. Her heart broke for Urban, who sat with a thin smile, crushed. Moments later, Gigi high-fived her dad without making eye contact, then hugged her coach. Urban dragged himself back to the car. Then -- and this arrives at the guts of his conflict -- Urban Meyer went back to work, pulled by some biological imperative. His daughter's words ran through his mind, troubling him, and yet he returned to the shifting pixels on his television, studying for a game he'd either win or lose. The conflict slipped away. Nothing mattered but winning. Both of these people are in him -- are him: the guilty father who feels regret, the obsessed coach who ignores it. He doesn't like either one. He doesn't like himself, which is why he wants to change.
Meyer strolls through the Ohio State football parking lot with his 13-year-old son, Nate. Years from now, when Urban either succeeds or fails in remaking himself, he will look back on these two days in June as a dividing line. On one side, the past 18 months of searching, and on the other, the test of that search. In the car, he turns right out of his new office, heading some two hours north. There's vital business at hand, which requires him to leave the football bunker on a summer afternoon.
"All right, fun time today," he says, amped and smiling at his son.
Fun? Smiling? Urban? There's gray in his brush cut, weight back on his hips. The radio in the car, as always, is tuned to 93.3, the oldies station. "I Got Sunshine." Tomorrow he will meet with the 2012 Buckeyes for the first time, beginning the countdown to the first practice, the first game, the first loss. Today he's driving to Cleveland to take Nate to an Indians game.
In front of him is a second chance. Behind, there's his old dream job in Florida, which he quit twice in a year, and the $20 million he left on the table, unable to answer the simplest of questions: Why am I doing this? During the break, he studied himself for the first time in his life, looking for a new him or maybe trying to get the old him back -- the person he was before a need for perfection nearly killed him. At least he can laugh about it now. During one of his many recent visits to a children's hospital in Columbus, he told a group of nurses on an elevator, "My wife's a nurse."
They turned and he said, "A psych nurse," which is true.
"I'm her patient," he said.
Though Urban Meyer hasn't won a game in Columbus, he still has lots of fans who want his autograph.
Like any man who destroys himself running for a finish line that doesn't exist, Meyer often longed for the time and place where that race began: Columbus, 1986. As a 22-year-old graduate assistant for the Buckeyes, right up the road from his hometown of Ashtabula, Ohio, each day brought something new. He romanticized the experience; in later years, when the SEC's recruiting wars got too dirty, he waxed about the Big Ten, where it was always 1986, which was just another way of hoping he could look in the mirror and see his younger, more idealistic self. After Jim Tressel resigned in shame a year ago, a joke passed among SEC insiders: "Who's gonna tell Urban there's no Santa Claus?"
It might have been genetic. His father, Bud, idolized Woody Hayes, who died a year after Meyer arrived in Columbus. Bud Meyer thought Woody offered the perfect template for a man: Hard work solves every problem. Never accept defeat. Stay focused on the future; reflection is weakness wrapped in nostalgia. Urban grew up in a house free of contradiction. Bud Meyer believed in black and white.
"No gray," Urban says.
Bud studied three years to be a priest before he met Gisela, who escaped Nazi Germany as a child. They raised three children and never missed a game or a recital. A chemical engineer, Bud enjoyed Latin and advanced mathematics, but when his son struck out looking in high school, he made him run home from the game. The Braves drafted Urban after his senior year, and when he tried to quit minor league baseball, realizing he wasn't good enough, Bud told him he no longer would be welcome in their home. Just call your mom on Christmas, he advised. Not only did Urban finish the season, he told that story to every freshman class he recruited. His whole life had been unintentionally preparing him to coach; after baseball, he played college football at Cincinnati, and the stern men in whistles seemed familiar. Some boys rebel against demanding fathers. Urban embraced his dad's unforgiving expectations, finding a profession that allowed him to re-create the world of Bud Meyer: the joy of teaching, the lens of competition, the mentoring, the pushing -- the black and white.
He discovered more than a calling in college. He met a beautiful woman named Shelley, and after he got his first job in Columbus, she moved to town. Once, a possum peeked its head over the television, and Urban and his roommates screamed and stood on the couch, yelling for Shelley, the Ohio farm girl, to do something. Urban made less than his rent. He lived on happy hour egg rolls. Staying up all night during the season, he cut 16 millimeter tape, nursing a six-pack of beer through the tedious job.
Meyer still romanticizes the time when his career began, at Ohio State in 1986.
He loved it. To make ends meet, he picked up shifts at Consolidated Freightways, driving a forklift. Shelley calls it his "Archie Bunker job." He bought steel-toe boots, and three or so nights a week during the offseason, he pulled the graveyard, getting off at 6 a.m., showering and heading to the football office. At the warehouse, they got a breather about 2 a.m., those callow faces yellowed in break-room light, eating peanut butter sandwiches, maybe a bag of chips. He looked around and saw the same question on every face, one he knew they could see on his: Why am I doing this?
Often he lets in only what he wants; you can watch him listen to a story and pick certain details, turning the facts into an allegory that either confirms some deeply held belief or offers a road map to one he'd like to hold. For instance, there's a book he loves, written for business executives, called "Change or Die," which shaped his ideas about altering the behavior of athletes. He has talked about the book in speeches, invited the author to Gainesville, handed out copies, and never, not once, did he realize the book almost perfectly described him.
"I know," Shelley says, laughing. "He didn't have any self-awareness at all."
In the car on the way to Cleveland, he is read a paragraph from page 150:
"Why do people persist in their self-destructive behavior, ignoring the blatant fact that what they've been doing for many years hasn't solved their problems? They think that they need to do it even more fervently or frequently, as if they were doing the right thing but simply had to try even harder."
Meyer's voice changes, grows firmer, louder. "Blatant fact," he says.
He pauses. A fragmented idea orders itself in his mind. "Wow," he says.
He asks to hear it again. "Blatant fact," he says. "It should have my picture. I need to read that to my wife. I'm gonna reread that now. Self-destructive behavior?"
The car is quiet. Those close to Meyer say he lives in his head, with a constant interior monologue, which is why he'll zone out at dinner with his kids or start calling people he knows by the wrong name.
"Wow," he says. "This is profound stuff. Profound. Now as I sit here talking about it, I know exactly what happened."
He lost 15 pounds during every season as the head coach at Bowling Green and at Utah, unable to eat or shave, rethinking things as fundamental as the punt. Purging the weak, he locked teams inside a gym with nothing but bleating whistles and trash cans for their puke, forcing the unworthy to quit. The survivors, and their coaches, were underdogs, united. His children often asked why they kept moving. Shelley always said, "Daddy's climbing a mountain."
His desire to mentor battled with the rage that often consumed him, a byproduct of his need for success and his constantly narrowing definition of it. He threw a remote control through a television. Players whispered about Black Wednesday, about Full Metal Jacket Friday, about a drill named Vietnam. His own body rebelled against the intensity: During his time as an assistant, a cyst on his brain often sent crushing waves of pain through his head when he was stressed. He kept coaching, moving up, each rung of success pulling him further away from his young wife and kids. A voice of warning whispered even then. "I was always fearful I would become That Guy," he says. "The guy who had regret. 'Yeah, we won a couple of championships, but I never saw my kids grow up. Yeah, we beat Georgia a couple of times, but I ruined my marriage.'"
At Bowling Green, at Utah and finally at Florida, the teams celebrated with something he called Victory Meal. They'd gather after a win, eating steak and shrimp, watching a replay of the game. They'd hang out, enjoying the accomplishment. Players and coaches loved Victory Meal, and Meyer often sat at the front of the room, glowing inside.
Jamie Sabau for ESPN The Magazine
Meyer isn't convinced the Buckeyes have everything they need this year.
Then he won the 2006 national title.
Bud Meyer joined him in the locker room. They hugged, cried, and before Urban left, he took his nameplate from his locker as a souvenir. Back at the office, he gave his secretary his credit card and told her to buy everything she could find from the game. She spent around $5,000 on blown-up photographs. Urban essentially scrapbooked, collecting mementos of the success he couldn't really enjoy. There was something melancholy about it. Truth is, he loved reflecting -- his favorite song, Jimmy Buffett's "One Particular Harbour," is about someone who imagines an escape, dreaming of being an old man able to look back -- but he'd learned that reflection is weakness, so he didn't indulge beyond the pictures on the wall and those moments in the locker room with his dad.
He lost even that.
Success didn't bring relief. It only magnified his obsession, made the margins thinner, left him with chest pains. After the 2007 season, he confided to a friend that anxiety was taking over his life and he wanted to walk away.
Two years after he cried with his father, Urban Meyer stood on the field with his second national championship team, the 2008 Gators, singing the fight song. After the last line, he rushed into the tunnel and locked himself in the coaches' locker room. He began calling recruits as his assistants pounded on the door, asking if everything was okay. Back in Gainesville, his chronic chest pain got worse, and he did test after test, treadmills and heart scans, sure he was dying. Doctors found nothing, and the pain became another thing to ignore. "Building takes passion and energy," Meyer says. "Maintenance is awful. It's nothing but fatigue. Once you reach the top, maintaining that beast is awful."
A few months later, during the 2009 SEC media days, a reporter asked what it felt like knowing anything but perfection would be a failure. Meyer tried to laugh it off, but he walked away from the podium knowing the undeniable truth of the question.
Success meant perfection.
The drive for it changed something inside him. For the first time, Meyer needed an alarm clock. Shelley called his secretary to ask whether he was eating. Unopened boxes of food sat on his desk. He lost even when they won, raging at his coaches and players for mistakes, demanding emergency staff meetings in the middle of the night. He stopped smiling. Days ended later and later. He texted recruits in church. He ignored his children, his fears realized: He'd become That Guy.
The tighter he gripped, the more things slipped away. The blatant fact. The Gators beat Georgia, another step closer to perfection. He'd been skipping Victory Meal, heading straight to his office to watch film, but after that win he stopped in. The room was almost empty.
"Where the hell is everybody?" he asked.
His strength coach and friend Mickey Marotti didn't want to answer.
"Where the hell is everybody?" he repeated.
"Coach," Mickey said, "they don't come."
The unbeaten streak reached 22 games.
Four days before the SEC title game against Alabama, Meyer got an early-morning phone call: Star defensive end Carlos Dunlap had been arrested and charged with drunken driving, threatening the perfection, triggering the rage, which had always been connected for Meyer. He wanted order, and this desire had turned him in a circle, or, more accurately, a spiral: Losing filled him with loathing, for himself and everyone connected to the loss, and over time his personality came to define losing as anything short of perfection. His rage was the exhaust of whatever hidden motor turned inside him. After the campus police officer delivered the news about Dunlap, Meyer went to the office, overcome, driving in the dark. That week, everything came apart.
He popped Ambien but couldn't sleep.
The morning of the game, early in a quiet hotel, Meyer waited to do an interview, and when his public relations guy, Steve McClain, saw Meyer gaunt in the television lights, he felt panic. Meyer's pants sagged off thin hips. McClain called Shelley Meyer and asked her to come down: They needed to talk. An intervention loomed. That afternoon, Florida lost to Alabama, and afterward, the cheers from the Crimson Tide echoed in the concrete halls of the Georgia Dome. Meyer limped to the bus, ghost white, settling next to Shelley in the front right seat. His head slumped. An unopened box of chicken sat on his lap.
He'd lost 35 pounds that season.
Six or seven hours later in Gainesville, around 4 a.m., Meyer said his chest hurt, and he fell on the floor. Shelley dialed 911. She tried to sound calm, but a few shaky words gave her away.
"My husband's having chest pains," she said. "He's on the floor."
"Is he awake?" the operator asked.
"Urban, Urban," Shelley pleaded, "talk to me, Urb. Urban, talk to me, please."
Meyer lay on his stomach, on the floor of his mansion, his eyes closed, unable to speak. Soon he'd resign, come back for a year and resign again, but the journey that began with hope in Columbus in 1986 ended with that 911 call and the back of an ambulance.
Meyer didn't just give up a job. He admitted that the world he'd constructed had been fatally flawed, which called into question more than a football career. Follow the dots, from quitting to asking why he'd lost control to trying to understand himself. Who am I? Why am I that way? When the facade fell down, the foundation crumbled too, so he needed more than a relaxing break. If he came back and allowed the rage to consume him again, his quitting would have been meaningless. He didn't need a piña colada. He needed to rebuild himself. His dad sneered at the weakness when he quit, leveling his stark opinion: "You can't change your essence."
Five months after retiring, Meyer woke up early in a hotel near Stanford University, there for his new job as an ESPN analyst. His chest didn't hurt; a doctor finally thought to suggest Nexium. Turns out esophageal spasms mimic the symptoms of a heart attack. That morning, he went for a run, on a whim grabbing a book he'd started the night before: LEAD … for God's Sake!
He ran with the book in his hand, stopping on campus to sit and read. He ran an hour, read an hour, back and forth. The sun climbed, and he couldn't turn the pages fast enough. He finished that day and emailed the author from his phone, saying, "That is the most profound book I've ever read."
The novel tells of the winningest high school basketball coach in Kentucky, a man consumed by success. When players make a mistake, he punishes their weakness, destroys watercoolers, but he doesn't understand why his star breaks his hand punching a wall. They skipped Victory Meal because I did. Finally, his family fades away. The character's son begs him to shoot baskets, and the coach can't make time. When things collapse and his team can't win, the man is forced to ask, "Why do I coach?"
"That hit home," Meyer says. "That was in my backyard. Even closer, that was in my living room. It brought me back to 1986 and why I made a decision to get into coaching, as opposed to what was going on in 2009 -- chasing perfection. Never one time did I say, 'To go undefeated at Florida.' All of a sudden, every step, every time I had a cup of coffee, every time I woke up in the morning and shaved, it was all about somehow getting a team to go undefeated at Florida."
The coach in the book forms a relationship with the school janitor, a mystical Christ figure, who becomes a spiritual guide in his search for himself. Meyer left Stanford looking for his own guides. "Without anyone really knowing it," he says, "I went on a yearlong research project. How can you do both? How does Bob Stoops be a good dad and husband and still have success?"
Meyer traveled to Norman, Okla., and met with Stoops, who said, "Live your life. When you go home, go home."
He flew several times to Texas to sit with Mack Brown, who told him to remember when he loved the game. Before you wanted a perfect season, before million-dollar homes and recruiting wars, once upon a time you loved a game.
Meyer visited West Point, stayed with Nate in coach Red Blaik's old house. He sat with Army coach Rich Ellerson in the little café behind the cemetery, in the shadow of General Custer's grave. Holding hot cups of coffee, they talked about the essential truths often hidden by the contradictions, the things obscured by money and success. Ellerson told Urban that football itself helped nurture and protect its values. The snippets of life lived between the snap and the whistle could purify everything bad that people did to the game. "It clarifies," he said. Meyer, who'd seen the lines blurred in the SEC and within himself, said he wasn't sure. Ellerson offered his sermon on MacArthur and the Corps and the West Point mission: "To educate, train and inspire … " Urban stared at him. "Wait a minute," Meyer said, "you really believe this." They talked about why they loved a game, following the question: Why do I coach? At Bowling Green, he'd loved tutoring his players in math. Could he have that back again? The game was the problem, but maybe it could be the solution too.
West Point came in the middle of a 13-day road trip with Nate, maybe the best 13 days of Urban's life. The two helicoptered to Yankee Stadium, hung out for almost a week in Cooperstown, where they held Babe Ruth's bat. "I was 7 years old again," he says.
Back home, Urban slept in. Shelley couldn't believe it, getting up around 7:30 to work out, leaving Urban in bed. When he finally dressed, he'd walk a mile to a breakfast place he loved, lounge around and watch television with the owner, then walk a mile back.
"His mind shut off," Shelley says.
Shelley begged him to do this forever. She'd never seen Urban so happy. He coached Nate's baseball and football teams. He played paintball. The family went out for dinners, and Urban was present, cracking Seinfeld jokes and smiling.
But he still felt empty. He'd ask, "Is this it?" He missed the ability to make an impact; he'd gotten into coaching to be a teacher. A challenge grew from his trip to West Point: What if he could have the feeling of Bowling Green on the scale of Florida? What if he could answer the question posed in the novel: Why?
Yet beyond the intellectual journey, he missed football on an almost biological level, deep down in the place where his ambition -- where his love, and his rage -- hibernated. In early November, he stood on the sideline at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. The crowd roared. God, he loved the crowd. Sometimes, when it felt as if they'd never lose again at the Swamp, he'd slip his headset off just for a moment and let the noise cover him like a hot rain. In Tuscaloosa, with LSU and Alabama waiting to take the field, the stadium lights bright on the green grass, something awoke. The person standing next to him looked over to find the old Urban Meyer, eyes dark and squinted, arms crossed, muttering, "I miss this."
In late November, Meyer wanted to accept the Ohio State job. Shelley demanded a family meeting. They had all gathered around Thanksgiving in the Atlanta apartment of their oldest daughter, Nicki, who played volleyball at Georgia Tech. Shelley told the kids to ask anything. He heard the fear in their voices: How could he be sure he was ready to go back?
During the fall that Urban spent searching, as the rumors circled about his return to the game, Bud Meyer was slipping away. Lung disease had left him frail and weak. Urban used his freedom to visit whenever he wanted. Around the LSU-Alabama game, Urban and Bud watched a television news report about the open Ohio State job. Urban's picture appeared on the screen.
"Hey, you gonna do that?" Bud asked.
"I don't know," Urban said. "What do you think?"
Bud turned to face him, gaunt in the light. An oxygen tube ran to his nose. Twenty seconds passed, the silence uncomfortable. Thirty seconds.
"Nah," Bud said. "I like this s--- the way it is. I don't care who wins or loses."
His response couldn't have been more out of character. Never before had Urban asked his dad for his opinion and not gotten direct, blunt advice: "I think you should … " In his father's answer, there was a measure of absolution -- maybe for both of them. Sometimes walking away isn't quitting. Sometimes, when the fire burns too hot, walking away is the bravest thing a man can do. Bud offered the best mea culpa he could, in his own way. Maybe he knew this would be one of their last conversations. Ambivalence was his final gift. Whatever Urban chose to do with his future, he could walk through the world knowing he had his father's blessing. They never discussed coaching again.
Two weeks later, Bud Meyer died in his son's arms.
Three days after his father's funeral, five days after his family demanded promises, Meyer accepted the Ohio State job. During his first news conference, he reached into his suit jacket and pulled out a contract written by Nicki, which he'd signed in exchange for his family's blessing. These rules were supposed to govern his attempt at a new life, as his father's example had governed his old one. So much was happening at once, and as he said goodbye to the man who molded him, he began undoing part of that molding.
He went to work.
Meyer unpacked his boxes, setting up little shrines on the blond wood shelves of his Ohio State office. To the right, positioned in his most common line of sight, he placed a blue rock with a word etched into it: balance. Behind the rock went a collage of photographs, the orange of a sunset from his lake house -- his particular harbor -- and of his old church in Gainesville. The shrine was a gift from his pastor in Florida, a prayer from people who love him that he won't lose himself again.
Framed above his desk hung the contract he signed with his kids, written on pink notebook paper.
1. My family will always come first.
2. I will take care of myself and maintain good health.
3. I will go on a trip once a year with Nicki -- MINIMUM.
4. I will not go more than nine hours a day at the office.
5. I will sleep with my cellphone on silent.
6. I will continue to communicate daily with my kids.
7. I will trust God's plan and not be overanxious.
8. I will keep the lake house.
Andrew Hetherington for ESPN The Magazine
Meyer signed two agreements when he was hired by Ohio State: one with the school that demands performance and another with his family, which demands much more.
9. I will find a way to watch Nicki and Gigi play volleyball.
Seven months later, Meyer drives through the outskirts of Cleveland, 60 miles from Ashtabula, past the refineries and smokestacks, his son Nate in the backseat. They're almost at the Indians' stadium, where Urban is scheduled to throw out the first pitch in a few hours. Meyer's living his life, keeping the promises he made.
"I've really been working on that," he says. "I'm gonna do that in the fall. I'm gonna go home. I'm not gonna bring my work home with me and not be able to sleep at night. I'm not …
"… that's easy to say now."
The season is still a few months away. He hasn't lost a game yet. That's what pushed him into the darkest corners of his own personality. He squeezes the steering wheel.
"Can I change?" he asks.
The question hangs in the air. In public he talks a good game, but he knows how hard the next year will be. Maybe, deep inside, he already knows the answer. The skies darken. Rain will soon land on the windshield with heavy thumps.
"TBD," he says. "To be determined."
Andrew Hetherington for ESPN The Magazine
When Meyer wanted to accept the Ohio State job last November, Shelley demanded a family meeting. "We wanted him to make promises," she says.
Father and son play catch in the rain, standing in shallow left at Progressive Field, the bowl of seats empty around them. Urban smiles when Nate backhands a grounder, a schoolboy grin, the one that believed what the girls whispered in the hall back in the day. Meyer's enthusiasm is as powerful as his rage. Halfway is for other people. When he took his girls to Rome and Israel for nine days, they begged to sleep in just once. Nope. "We attacked Rome as hard as you possibly can," he says and then mimics his own stern voice: "'We are gonna have fun on this vacation!'"
Urban throws one high into the air, watching as Nate settles underneath it, the scoreboard right on top of them, thunder clapping in the air, the drizzle coming and going.
"I can't believe they're letting us do this," he says.
These are the things he lost in Florida, and the things he's found in Ohio. He's missed only one or two of Nate's baseball games since taking the job, an astonishing change. Nicki is entering her final year at Georgia Tech, and her coach scheduled Senior Night on the Saturday of the Buckeyes' bye week. Urban will walk onto the court with Nicki, a walk he's made with other people's children but never with his own. He's eating, working out, sleeping well, waking early without an alarm clock. On the night before the 2012 Buckeyes gather for the first time, he's playing catch with his son in Cleveland.
"Bucket list," Urban says.
The Indians arrange for Nate to throw out the first pitch with Urban, and in the dugout, the team gives Nate a full uniform, No. 15, with MEYER on the back. Urban pulls out his phone and takes a picture, sending it to Shelley. He follows his son into the clubhouse, calling out in his best announcer voice, "Leading off for the Cleveland Indians, Nate Meyer."
Two hours fly past, and they're led back onto the field. Now the bleachers are full. The speakers echo their names. Urban loops it a bit, but Nate throws a bullet for a strike.
"What a night, Nate!" Urban says, turning to the Indians guy following them with a camera. "Get me those pictures. I'm gonna blow them up. My man brought it!"
They find their seats. Nate holds a slice of pizza. Urban pours a cold Labatt's and digs into a bowl of popcorn. The sun sets over the Cleveland skyline, and the lights shine on the grass. Urban's mind and body are in the same place. Urban and Nate recite favorite movie lines and list the ballparks they've visited. "I'm melting inside," Meyer says finally. "You can't get this back. Remember That Guy? I'm not That Guy right now."
The next morning begins back in Columbus with heavy metal music grinding out of the weight room. Shouts and whistles filter in from the practice field. No other place in the world sounds like a football facility, and the effect is seductive, pulling anyone who's ever loved it back in, like a whiff of an ex-girlfriend's perfume. Outside, hundreds of youth football campers run around like wild men. This week, Meyer's constant nervous pacing -- "I'm so ADD," he says -- includes laps around the camp, taking pictures with parents, urging moms to make their meanest faces for the camera. He spots Godfrey Lewis, one of his former running backs at Bowling Green, who's now a high school coach.
"What's up?" Meyer asks, beaming.
"You," Lewis says. "That's what's up, Coach."
"You look good," Meyer says. "You got kids?"
"My son is over there," Lewis says.
"Make sure I meet your son. Where's he at?"
"Alex!" Lewis yells.
A boy at the water station turns his head, finding his dad standing with Urban Meyer.
"Your dad played for me," Meyer says. "He was a great player. Good father, good guy, right? How old are you?"
"Can you run?"
"Yes," Alex says.
A cocky, curious kid comes over too, poking his head into the conversation, popping off about how he's faster than Alex. A look flashes across Meyer's face, his eyes bright. He cannot help himself.
"Right now!" he barks.
Meyer calls to Lewis. "Godfrey," he yells, "this guy says he's faster than your boy. We're gonna find out right now."
Godfrey is wired too.
"Right now!" he says.
"Right now!" Urban yells. "Right now! You ready?"
He calls go, and the kids break, Alex Lewis smoking the opposition. Urban and Godfrey stand together, elated, a messy world shrunk to a 10-yard race. Someone wins and someone loses, and there's no ambiguity, no gray. The heat makes the air smokehouse thick. The morning smells like sweat and rings with whistles and coach chatter, the game always the same no matter how much the men who love it change, a simplicity that waits day after day, beautiful and addictive.
Meyer grimaces and wipes a streak of sweat off his face with his shirt. Lunchtime racquetball is war. The football ops guys know to ask Meyer any difficult questions before the game, because losses blacken his mood and rewire a day. It's a running joke: Did Coach win or lose? Today Meyer's playing Marotti, his friend and strength coach. Best of three, tied at one game apiece. Meyer works the angles, lofting brutal kill shots that just die off the wall. Marotti smacks the bejesus out of the ball. Muffled curses echo through the glass door. Meyer chases after a ball and doesn't get there. He cocks back his racket, about to smash it into the wall, but he pulls back. Be calm. The end is close, a few points away. Shoes squeak, and the ball pops off the strings, laid over the backbeat of Marotti bellowing, "F---!" Meyer loses another point, then another. About to lose the match, he grimaces, flexing his racket to slam the ball off the floor in disgust, then checks his rage. Be calm.
The football facility pulses with the rush of building, and through a series of decisions and coincidences, Meyer has somehow managed to go back in time. He feels like he felt in the beginning: unproven, energized by the challenge. Beneath the surface is the idea that maybe this time, with his father's absolution and the lessons he's learned about himself, he could return to 1986 and not make the mistakes that led him to 2009. There's joy in starting a climb, for a 48-year-old coach and for the newly arrived freshmen sitting in the team meeting room, waiting for Meyer to welcome them to Ohio State. The recruiting class, Meyer's first, is nervous, unsure what to expect. He senses their fear and stands at the podium relaxed and calm. All their dreams are right there, waiting to be grabbed.
I've seen life-changing stuff happen," he tells them.
He describes walking across a graduation stage, your family in the crowd crying, and when you reach out to shake the president's hand, there's a fist of diamonds: championship rings. Meyer bangs his fist on the podium, asking if they've ever heard how much noise five rings make when they hit something.
"I'll do it for you sometime," he says. "It's loud as s---. Some guys get to do that. I've seen it."
Eager faces stare back. He does not tell the story about his dad threatening to disown him for quitting. Reflect, he says. Look around this room.
"These guys will be in your wedding," he says.
They will come back to Columbus as grown men, bringing their sons and daughters to this building, walking the halls. They will point at old photographs, smile at out-of-style haircuts, telling stories about 2012.
Courtesy of The Ohio State University Athletic Dept
Will there be balance? Time will tell.
But even in his new world, nostalgia must be earned. Contentment must be bought with work, with sacrifice and, since competition is still black and white, with wins.
"That team that goes 47, how many reunions do they have?" Meyer says. "How many times does that senior class come back? You never see 'em."
This is the difficult calculus of Meyer's future, of any Type A extremist who longs for balance. They want the old results, without paying the old costs, and while they'll feel guilty about not changing, they'll feel empty without the success. He wants peace and wins, which is a short walk from thinking they are the same.
How about that 2002 national championship team?" Meyer says, his voice rising, the players leaning in. "All the time. When they hit their hands on the table, what happens? It makes a lot of noise. It makes a lot of noise. Let's go make some noise."
Another coach is on the phone, asking for advice about a player who got into trouble. Meyer gives his honest answer, a window into the murky, shifting world of big-time athletics, into how nobody emerges from the highest level of anything with every part of himself intact.
The first year at Bowling Green, Meyer tells him, he'd have cut his losses. His fifth year at Florida, when he needed to win every game, he'd have kept him on the team.
The caller asks about the Buckeyes. "I like it," Meyer says. "I don't know how good we're gonna be, but I like it. We've got one more week, and then we get on the ship to the beaches of Normandy."
On the northwest side of town, Shelley Meyer sits in their new house, praying, literally, that this time will be different.
He's made promises before.
She believed his first news conference at Florida in 2004 when he said his priorities were his children, his wife and football -- in that order. She believed in 2007 when she told a reporter, "Absolutely there's a change in him. There's definitely an exhale."
She wants to believe today. His willingness to admit the possibility of failure is oddly comforting. He knows he could end up back in 2009, which is worth the chance to reclaim 1986. "There's a risk," he says. "What's the reward? The reward is going back to the real reason I wanted to coach."
There's confidence in his voice. She's heard it, seen how calmly he handled the arrest of two players or his starting running back getting a freak cut on his foot.
"Man, I just feel great," he'll say.
"But you haven't played a game yet," she'll remind him.
Shelley moves to the bright sunroom overlooking the golf course, with pictures of the girls when they were little, grinning with Cam the Ram, the Colorado State mascot. There's a Gator on the table and Ohio State pictures on the walls. Another room contains a helmet from every school where Urban has coached and all the memories, good and bad, evoked by each. Once they sat in a gross apartment with a possum over the television, young and in love, wondering where their journey would lead. It's led here, to this dividing line. All the things they want are in front of them. So are all the things they fear.
"I've seen enough change already," Shelley says. "I'm convinced. We still have to play a game, though."
She bites her fingernail and sighs.
"The work he's done," she says, "the books he's read, people he's talked to. He's gonna be different."
She stops between sentences, little gulfs of anxiety.
"He's gonna be different. I totally believe it … "
The door shuts, and his last meeting of the day begins. For the first time, the freshmen and veterans gather, the 2012 Buckeyes in full. Meyer sits calmly at the front of the room, as composed as the crisp lines on his shirt. A quote on the wall is from Matthew, 16th chapter: "What good is a man that gains the world yet loses his soul?" Behind him in his office, there's a blue rock and a pink piece of paper. He's been at the facility almost 12 hours. Breaking No. 4 -- working no more than nine hours a day -- couldn't be helped. Meyer lived up to all but one of his promises today.
His calm lasts until a player giggles.
From the back of the room, it's not clear who laughed, or why exactly, only that the players were making fun of a teammate while an assistant coach gave a speech. Meyer listens, waiting for the coach to finish, stewing, simmering, slowly beginning to burn. If he were transparent, like one of those med school teaching dummies, maybe you could see exactly where his rage lives and how it spreads. In imagination, it's a tiny, burning dot, surrounded by his humor and love for teaching, by the warm memories of 1986, by his desire to grow old and gray with Shelley, and the dot spreads and spreads until there's nothing but fire.
Meyer rises and interrupts the flow of the meeting, looking out at his team. His voice holds steady, but he says he's struggling not to climb into the seats and find the offending giggler. The fire is growing. He paces, back and forth, back and forth, waving his finger toward the center of the room. The air feels tense. Nobody makes a sound. There is one voice.
"Giggle-f---s," he says.
He slips, his language rough and mean, giving himself over to his rage: f-bombs, a flurry of curses, pounding on the soft and the weak, the unworthy who'd rather giggle than chase something bigger than themselves.
In 43 days, he says, Marotti will hand him a piece of paper with a list of names. "Grown-ass men," he says. That's who belongs on his team. No "giggle-f---s," he promises, pointing toward the big pictures of Ohio Stadium to his right.
"We're talking about our season," he roars. "We're going to that place."
His mind is there already.
The players will gather in the tunnel, walking out in scarlet, sunlight blinking off their silver helmets. He'll raise his fist and call the first-team defense. He can see it, a personification of his hopes and fears, of his contradictions: first the grown-ass men moving as one, then the giggle-f---s who can destroy what he spent months building. The sun will shine on silver helmets. The crowd will roar. The band will play. Maybe he'll slip off his headset for a moment, feeling the hot rain. Nothing else will matter. The helmets will sparkle, and the Buckeyes will advance, an army of gray. Standing before his players in the meeting room, he can smell it, hear it -- feel it even, in places he doesn't understand and can't control. Nobody makes a sound. Meyer's shirt is wrinkled, untucked a bit. Thick veins rise on both sides of his neck. He squints out at the team, his eyes dark, hiding everything and nothing at all.
For those college football fans who do not understand, no other team compares with the Ohio State Buckeyes. I have always lived in Ohio -- and I know.
Here are 25 reasons why:
1. The History. The football program began at OSU in 1890 (1). It has legendary games, coaches and players. With all that has happened in this history, you either love us or you hate us. There is no in between.
2. OSU's Size. As OSU moves to over 65,000 students, it is approaching the status of an Empire. But, not The Evil Empire. We would be Glenda, the good witch in the "Wizard of Oz." (Michigan would be the munchkins.)
3. You know someone who went to Ohio State. Of course you do. Everyone does. When the size of the graduating class approaches the population of a city, I can guarantee you know someone who is rooting for the Bucks.
4. The Atmosphere. There is nothing like spending an afternoon with 103,000 of your closest friends in "The Shoe". (2)
5. Buckeyes are mostly homegrown. This is not Michigan, where most players are imported from other states. Ohio State players are mostly Ohioans. (3)
6. Script Ohio. For natives, the band spelling out "Ohio" draws on our emotions. It is a beautiful thing to experience.
7. Dotting the "I". When a non-band member gets to dot the "I" on Script Ohio, he or she is king or queen of the day. It is an honor few have experienced.
8. O-H, I-O. The code is performed throughout the world. Twenty-five years ago, my wife and I were sitting in a small outdoor bar watching the sunset off Grand Cayman. The bartender smiled, pointed at me and said, "O, H", to which I responded, "I,O". It happened to a friend of mine in an OSU shirt at the Eiffel Tower; to my wife on a beach in Hawaii. What do Cornhuskers do?
9. People all over the world wear OSU jerseys. Even the French want to be Buckeyes.
10. The Legendary Coaches. Start with Woody Hayes, Wes Fesler, Earle Bruce, Jim Tressel, John Cooper, Paul Brown and Urban Meyer. No other school can list a lineup like that.
11. I am a Born and Raised Ohioan. Those of us fortunate enough to be born Buckeyes bleed scarlet, not red.
12. Upper Arlington is my home and I swear 90 percent of OSU employees live here, too. Buckeye loyalty increases the strength of our community.
13. Mirror Lake. The Thursday before we slaughter Michigan, students jump into Mirror Lake to bring the team good luck. This doesn't make a lot of sense, but it is a cool tradition.
14. Brutus. He is America's best mascot and probably the one only modeled after a poison nut.
15. Columbus is Not Ann Arbor. There are actually things to do in Columbus after the game. The only thing to do after a game in Ann Arbor is leave.
16. Buckeye Grove. Every time a Buckeye player is named a first team All-American, a buckeye tree is planted in Buckeye Grove in their honor. (4)
17. Walking across the Olentangy River as you approach the Shoe. Being among the thousands crossing the river as the stadium comes into clear view is like having the Red Sea part as the Jews fled the Egyptians. Honest.
18. Listening to Chris Spielman cover a game on television. It is always good to have a commentator who is not afraid to tell you who he wants to win.
19. OSU Football is an Industry. Jobs are created by people's desire to own Buckeye T-shirts, chairs, key chains, underwear, dog collars, notebooks, and anything else that can be created.
20. Craig Krenzel. He was the quarterback of the 2002 national championship team who majored in a subject so difficult that Michigan players could neither spell it nor pronounce it.
21. Our coach is not named Brody Choke. Michigan eeked out a win last year when the Buckeyes were in true turmoil and did not have a head coach. That streak ends at one. Choke will be at West Virginia Tech by 2015.
22. The Crowd Noise. I don't live quite within the shadows of the stadium, but I am close enough that on a clear fall day I hear the cheers from my house. It's exhilarating.
23. The Fans. We understand football and appreciate a good game. Unless you crawled in from the state up north, we are happy you are here.
24. Michigan Week. The week before "The Game" is intense and filled with tradition.
25. Michigan Stinks and We Aren't Them. If for no other reason, you should root for the Buckeyes because we are not Wolverines.
I can pledge allegiance to Ohio State not just for the reasons you have read. I was a graduate student there in the '80s and I have two daughters attending now. My Dad, a graduate of Purdue, took me to the OSU-Purdue gamein Ohio Stadium+ in 1968. Purdue was ranked number one. OSU upset them and never looked back. It has been a love affair with Ohio State for me since then.
Ex-OSU, NFL star Byars cherishes ties to Dayton (& Ohio State)
Keith Byars always has made his presence felt.
On the football field, he was a star running back at Roth High, an All-American at Ohio State and an All-Pro in the NFL.
Off the field, he teamed for years with fellow pro Martin Bayless to put on the free Byars-Bayless football camp that brought scores of NFL players to Dayton and benefited thousands of Miami Valley youngsters.
Earlier this month, he joined several other former pro players as plaintiffs in a suit filed in federal court in Philadelphia that claims the NFL intentionally and fraudulently misrepresented and/or concealed neurological risks of repetitive trauma brain injury and concussions.
And early Thursday morning at the Mandalay Center, Byars — who now lives in Boca Raton, Fla., where he has coached high school football and now does a Miami Dolphins pregame radio show — was the keynote speaker at the annual Miami Valley Council Leadership Breakfast, a fundraiser for area Boy Scouts that helped bring in $176,403.
Yet, if you are looking for a moment in Byars’ life when he truly made an indelible impression, it had to be when he took his first college recruiting trip to Michigan at the request of Bo Schembechler.
Thursday, once he was sure the several hundred in attendance had finished their breakfasts, he gave a detailed account of that teenage trip that he called “the worst college visit of any I took.
“They gave me food I never heard of. Oysters. Porterhouse steak — what’s that? I’d been to Ponderosa and seen T-bones. But Porterhouse? They said it was the biggest steak. And shrimp cocktail. I said, ‘It’s not even cooked. Shouldn’t it be boiled or something?’
“But I shoveled it all in. Then as we’re going back to the hotel, I say, ‘Coach, you got to speed it up.’ But he’s explaining this and explaining that and I say, ‘No Coach, you’ve GOT to speed it up.’
“Well, he’d just pulled into the parking lot — in his brand new car — and well, there came all that food. I finally looked up at him and said, ‘Well, you still want me to come here?’ ”
The crowd roared with laughter.
In the 13 years the Scouts have put on this breakfast, they’ve had a variety of name speakers from Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit to Pete Rose, Steve Garvey and Jim Kelly.
But none of them shared any more of a heartfelt connection with them than did Byars, who is still Dayton through and through.
“You know that old African proverb about how it takes a village to raise a child? Well, my village is Dayton. There are a lot of people in this town who had a hand in helping me become who I am today. And wherever I go now I take Dayton with me.”
The only place he wears more visibly on his sleeve is Ohio State, where from 1982 through 1985 — even with being injured most of his senior season — he amassed 4,369 total yards, rushed for 3,200 and scored 50 touchdowns. His junior year he rushed for 1,764 yards and 22 TDs and finished second to Doug Flutie for the Heisman Trophy.
“My four years at Ohio State were the best years of my life,” he said. “I absolutely adored them.”
He spoke on several OSU topics Thursday, either to the crowd or privately afterward.
He supported ousted football coach Jim Tressel, praised new coach Urban Meyer and said of the players involved in the memorabilia-for-tattoos scandal:
“I still don’t know what they did wrong. Although I cherish my Big Ten ring and think those guys don’t recognize how important they are, they still had the right to do with them what they wanted. They belonged to them.”
Some of his most glowing OSU memories went back to Woody Hayes. While Earle Bruce was his Bucks coach, Hayes was a bigger-than-life presence to him.
He told how Hayes initially “browbeat” him on the phone about looking at other colleges besides OSU. But he said when he went with his parents for his official OSU visit, Hayes sat down and talked to his mom and dad:
“After that, for my four years at Ohio State, every time I saw him or had a one-on-one conversation with him, he asked how my mother and father were. And he didn’t just say Mr. and Mrs. Byars, he’d say, ‘How’s Reggie and Margaret?’
“He made a real impression on me. He stressed how you have to be a difference maker not just on the football field, but in life. He wanted you to make an impact.”?He said another of his coaches, Bill Parcells with the New England Patriots, hammered home the idea how you “don’t want to be a JAG. That means Just an Average Guy. ... And I’ve tried to use those lessons.”
After 13 seasons in the NFL, Byars knows the toll all the pounding takes on the players.
After watching one of the game’s greats from the 1960s, hall-of-fame tight end John Mackey, have inadequate medical care as he succumbed to dementia almost certainly brought on by football, Byars was spurred to act on what has become a recurring problem for many players after their careers have ended.
Having played much of his own career on one of the lousiest fields in the NFL (the Astroturf at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium “was like playing on the parking lot outside,” he said Thursday), Byars was concussed more than once in a game.
That’s what got him involved in the lawsuit and when pressed Thursday he was reminded of one specific hit that left him “out of it.”
He told of running a sweep against Detroit and being hit near the sideline by a Lions linebacker who flattened him and caused his head to bounce off the Vet turf.
“I got up from muscle memory, I guess, but I was out on my feet,” Byars said. “In the huddle my teammate, Mike Quick, was talking to me but it sounded like he was calling me from down the street. I looked at him but I couldn’t hear. I was in a fog. But back then they just called it getting my bell rung and I played the rest of the game.
“I don’t know if I ever felt so out of it as I did that day.”
Well, except maybe for that recruitment meal in Michigan when he christened a coach’s car and made an impact that surely made Woody Hayes proud.
Mark Emmert, the president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the almighty overseer of American college sports, likes to think of himself as a reformer. A few months ago, after he’d been on the job for a little more than a year, he pushed through a series of improvements, including slightly higher academic standards for college athletes, a full-scale review of the N.C.A.A.’s fat rule book and a new provision giving universities the option of offering four-year scholarships. The current one-year deals are, believe it or not, renewable at the discretion of coaches, who can effectively cut injured or underperforming “student athletes,” as the N.C.A.A. likes to call them.
And one other thing: With Emmert’s backing, the N.C.A.A.’s board of directors, composed of college and university presidents (Emmert himself is a former president of the University of Washington), agreed to make it permissible for Division I schools to pay their athletes a $2,000 stipend. When I saw Emmert in November, shortly after the new rule went into effect, I told him that the stipend struck me as a form of payment to the players. He visibly stiffened. “If we move toward a pay-for-play model — if we were to convert our student athletes to employees of the university — that would be the death of college athletics,” Emmert retorted. “Then they are subcontractors. Why would you even want them to be students? Why would you care about their graduation rates? Why would you care about their behavior?” No, he insisted, the extra $2,000 was an effort to increase the value of the scholarships, which some studies estimate falls on average about $3,500 short of the full cost of attending college annually.
At the time I spoke to Emmert, high-school athletes were signing binding letters of intent to attend a university — letters that said they would get the $2,000. But over the next month, college athletic directors and conference commissioners began protesting the new stipend, claiming they couldn’t afford it. Within a month, more than 125 of them had signed an “override request.” And so it was that just a few weeks ago, the N.C.A.A. decided to suspend the payment. For legal reasons, those athletes who were already promised the $2,000 will most likely still get it. But any athlete granted a scholarship after the stipend was canceled may not. (The N.C.A.A. plans to review the issue on Jan. 14.) In other words, some lucky handful of incoming freshmen will be handed $2,000 without jeopardizing their status as amateurs. Yet any other college athlete who manages to get his hands on an extra $2,000 — by taking money from an overenthusiastic booster, say, or selling some of their team paraphernalia, as a few Ohio State football players did — will be violating the N.C.A.A.’s rules regarding amateurism and will probably face a multigame suspension. Behold the logic of the N.C.A.A. at work.
The hypocrisy that permeates big-money college sports takes your breath away. College football and men’s basketball have become such huge commercial enterprises that together they generate more than $6 billion in annual revenue, more than the National Basketball Association. A top college coach can make as much or more than a professional coach; Ohio State just agreed to pay Urban Meyer $24 million over six years. Powerful conferences like the S.E.C. and the Pac 12 have signed lucrative TV deals, while the Big 10 and the University of Texas have created their own sports networks. Companies like Coors and Chick-fil-A eagerly toss millions in marketing dollars at college sports. Last year, Turner Broadcasting and CBS signed a 14-year, $10.8 billion deal for the television rights to the N.C.A.A.’s men’s basketball national championship tournament (a k a “March Madness”). And what does the labor force that makes it possible for coaches to earn millions, and causes marketers to spend billions, get? Nothing. The workers are supposed to be content with a scholarship that does not even cover the full cost of attending college. Any student athlete who accepts an unapproved, free hamburger from a coach, or even a fan, is in violation of N.C.A.A. rules.
This glaring, and increasingly untenable, discrepancy between what football and basketball players get and what everyone else in their food chain reaps has led to two things. First, it has bred a deep cynicism among the athletes themselves. Players aren’t stupid. They look around and see jerseys with their names on them being sold in the bookstores. They see 100,000 people in the stands on a Saturday afternoon. During the season, they can end up putting in 50-hour weeks at their sports, and they learn early on not to take any course that might require real effort or interfere with the primary reason they are on campus: to play football or basketball. The N.C.A.A. can piously define them as students first, but the players know better. They know they are making money for the athletic department. The N.C.A.A.’s often-stated contention that it is protecting the players from “excessive commercialism” is ludicrous; the only thing it’s protecting is everyone else’s revenue stream. (The N.C.A.A. itself takes in nearly $800 million a year, mostly from its March Madness TV contracts.) “Athletes in football and basketball feel unfairly treated,” Leigh Steinberg, a prominent sports agent, says. “The dominant attitude among players is that there is no moral or ethical reason not to take money, because the system is ripping them off.”
It’s a system that enables misconduct to flourish. The abuse scandals that have swirled around Penn State football and Syracuse basketball. The revelation that a University of Miami booster — now in prison, convicted of running a Ponzi scheme — provided dozens of Miami football players with money, cars and even prostitutes. The Ohio State merchandise scandal that cost the coach, Jim Tressel, his job. The financial scandal at the Fiesta Bowl that led to the firing of its chief executive and the indictment of another top executive.
Another consequence of this economic discrepancy between the players and everyone else, though, is the increasingly loud calls for reform. Not the kind of reform that Emmert talks about — change that nibbles around the edges, while trying to maintain the illusion that college football and men’s basketball players are merely partaking in an extracurricular activity like theater or the chess club. That illusion was shattered long ago, surely. “The huge TV contracts and excessive commercialization have corrupted intercollegiate athletics,” says Brit Kirwan, the chancellor at the University of Maryland system. “To some extent they have compromised the integrity of the universities.”
The new breed of reformers, whose perspective I share, believes that the only way the major sports schools can achieve any integrity is to end the hypocrisy and recognize that college football and men’s basketball are big businesses. Most of these new reformers love college sports — as do I. They realize that having universities in charge of a major form of American entertainment is far from ideal, but they are also realistic enough to know that scaling back big-time college sports is implausible, given the money at stake. Instead, the best approach is to openly acknowledge their commercialization — and pay the work force. This is, by now, a moral imperative. The historian Taylor Branch, who in October published a lengthy excoriation of the N.C.A.A. in The Atlantic, comparing it to “the plantation,” was only the most recent voice to call for players to be paid. Like most such would-be reformers, however, he didn’t offer a way to go about it.
That’s what I’m setting out to do here. Over the last few months, in consultation with sports economists, antitrust lawyers and reformers, I put together the outlines of what I believe to be a realistic plan to pay those who play football and men’s basketball in college. Although the approach may appear radical at first glance, that’s mainly because we’ve been brainwashed into believing that there’s something fundamentally wrong with rewarding college athletes with cold, hard cash. There isn’t. Paying football and basketball players will not ruin college sports or cause them to become “subcontractors.” Indeed, given the way big-time college sports are going, paying the players may be the only way to save them.
There are five elements to my plan. The first is a modified free-market approach to recruiting college players. Instead of sweet-talking recruits, college coaches will instead offer athletes real contracts, just as professional teams do. One school might think a star halfback is worth $40,000 a year; another might think he’s worth $60,000. When the player chooses a school, money will inevitably be part of the equation. For both coaches and players, sweet-talking will take a back seat to clear-eyed financial calculations.
The second element is a salary cap for every team, along with a minimum annual salary for every scholarship athlete. The salary caps I have in mind are pretty low, all things considered: $3 million for the salaries for the football team, and $650,000 for basketball, with a minimum salary of $25,000 per athlete. I would keep the number of basketball scholarships the same, at 13, while reducing the number of football scholarships from 85 to a more reasonable 60, close to the size of N.F.L. rosters. Thus, each football team would spend $1.5 million on the minimum salaries, and have the rest to attract star players. Basketball teams would use $325,000 on minimum salaries, and have another $325,000 to allocate as they wish among players. Every player who stays in school for four years would also get an additional two-year scholarship, which he could use either to complete his bachelor’s or get a master’s degree. That’s the third element.
The fourth: Each player would have lifetime health insurance. And the fifth: An organization would be created to represent both current and former college athletes. It may well turn out to be that this body takes on the form of a players’ union, since a salary cap is illegal under antitrust law unless it is part of a collective-bargaining agreement. (That’s why most professional sports leagues embrace players’ unions.) This organization — let’s call it the College Players Association — would manage the health insurance, negotiate with the N.C.A.A. to set the salary caps and salary minimums, distribute royalties and serve as an all-around counterweight to the N.C.A.A.
There have been other pay-the-player schemes put forward recently, in particular a Sports Illustrated proposal that would pay every athlete on campus a small stipend, including lacrosse players, golfers and volleyball players. But I think it’s better to acknowledge forthrightly that those who play football and men’s basketball are different from other college athletes — and that the players in those two revenue sports should be treated accordingly. Baseball and hockey players have a choice that football and basketball players don’t have: they can go pro as soon as they leave high school, thanks to the existence of minor leagues. And sports like wrestling and rowing don’t offer the possibility of a pro career — wrestlers and rowers are true amateurs. As James Duderstadt, the former president of the University of Michigan, told me: “Most sports can be justified as part of what a university does. But big-time football and men’s basketball are clearly commercial entertainment and have been pulled away from the fundamental purpose of a university.” The denial of that central fact is the primary reason those sports are so troubled today. Paying the players will cause the vast majority of the scandals to go away. In economic terms, the players’ incentives will be realigned.
To see how, let’s take a closer look at the elements of the plan.
Bidding for Players
Yes, I know: I had a hard time coming to grips with this, too. Then I met two Bay Area economists, Andy Schwarz and Dan Rascher, who work as litigation consultants and have a longstanding interest in the economics of college sports. (Rascher is also a professor of sport management at the University of San Francisco.) The case they make for using the free market to recruit players makes an overwhelming amount of sense.
One of the N.C.A.A.’s primary arguments against paying players is that the concept of amateurism is what defines college sports and make it special — and that to abandon that amateurism would ruin the college “brand.” But Schwarz and Rascher argue amateurism has nothing to do with why fans love college sports. “What draws us to college athletics is that we love seeing students representing our schools,” Schwarz says. “That would be just as true if they were being paid. The N.C.A.A. likes to conflate paying college athletes with the issue of whether they would still be students. Students get paid all the time.”
What about the argument that football and basketball profits subsidize the other athletic programs? “If having a good lacrosse team is part of what the community values, then the university should pay for it,” Schwarz says. “They shouldn’t ask the football team to subsidize it.” As for the objection that colleges with major sports programs don’t have the money to pay $2,000 stipends, much less free-market salaries, Schwarz and Rascher just roll their eyes. “It’s already an arms race,” Schwarz says. Rascher points not just to the millions the coaches make but also to the money schools spend on facilities to impress recruits. Wouldn’t it make more sense to simply pay some of that money to the recruits instead? “Economically, a big chunk of that money really does belong to the players,” Schwarz says. The fact that they are not getting anything is precisely why everyone else is getting so much.
If it is still hard to imagine schools dangling financial contracts in front of high-school kids, consider that nonathletes get stipends all the time from universities. Besides, how much worse could it be than the status quo, in which parents and hangers-on too often angle for a little something to steer their children to this school or that one? In the world Schwarz and Rascher envision, athletes would hire advisers to help them. Legitimizing relations between agents and college athletes would be another huge improvement, because players could get good advice about their professional prospects. Currently, any player who so much as talks to an agent loses his eligibility to continue playing college sports.
Would coaches sometimes overpay players who turn out to be duds? Of course. But they would learn, just as the pros have had to learn, how to bring a financial perspective to evaluating talent. Actual coaching — x’s and o’s — would become more important. The number of recruiting violations would quite likely shrink to a negligible figure, as would most of the scandals that involve players taking money. They wouldn’t need to take money because they would be paid for their work.
The Salary Cap and the Minimum Salary
Not everybody can be a highly paid star, of course. Teams need right tackles and backup point guards too. The minimum salary is not meant to make anybody rich. It is meant to ensure that no matter what your status on the team, you can still live like other students on campus — maybe even a tad better — even if you come from a disadvantaged background. For all the stereotypes of college jocks living large, the reality is often quite harsh. Indeed, to inquire about the life of college athletes is to hear, invariably, about players who wear the same clothes every day because they don’t own any others. N.C.A.A. rules make no allowance for poverty, yet surely college athletes should be able to go on a date, rent an off-campus apartment, lease a car, have some clothes, visit home and pay for their parents to see them play once in a while. That is what the minimum salary will provide.
As for the salary cap, it is an acknowledgment of two things. First, without a cap of some sort, the wealthiest athletic departments, like Texas’s, with its own sports network, and Oklahoma State’s, which has Boone Pickens’s fortune behind it, could well dominate the recruiting of top players. A salary caps equalizes the amount every team can pay to recruit players. Those who succeed will be those who use that money most intelligently. (Competitive balance is another reason the N.C.A.A. gives for not paying players.)
Second, the salary cap recognizes that university athletic departments don’t have unlimited sums of money to throw at football and basketball players. Andrew Zimbalist, the noted sports economist at Smith College — and a critic of many N.C.A.A. practices — told me he agrees with the contention that schools can’t afford to pay players. In his recent book of essays about college sports, “Circling the Bases,” he also called for federal legislation to cap — and lower — coaches’ egregious salaries. But if the players were paid, the market would probably readjust coaches’ salaries all by itself. At the University of Texas, Mack Brown, the football coach, can earn up to $6 million with bonuses. Texas could pay its entire salary cap merely by hiring a $3 million coach instead of a $6 million one. The point is, if schools had to pay their workers, they would find the money. It would simply mean trimming excess elsewhere.
There is another possible benefit. Schools could turn to boosters to help raise money to pay the players. What an improvement that would be — using booster money to legitimately pay players instead of handing them cash under the table.
One obvious rejoinder is that paying players will create haves and have-nots in college sports. That is true — the Alabamas and Florida States would have a much easier time coming up with $3.65 million for their football and basketball players than Youngstown State. But the big-name college programs already have overwhelming advantages over the smaller Division I schools; paying the players doesn’t really change that fact. What it will most likely do is force smaller schools to rethink their commitment to big-time athletics. Schools that truly couldn’t afford to pay their players would be forced to de-emphasize football and men’s basketball — and, perhaps, regain their identity as institutions of higher learning. Ultimately, I suspect that if schools had to start paying their players, we would wind up with maybe 72 football schools (six conferences of 12 teams each) — down from the current 120 Football Bowl Subdivision programs — and 100 or so major basketball schools instead of the 338 that now play in Division I. Seems about right, doesn’t it?
The Six-Year Scholarship
If you were starting from scratch, you would never devise a system that relies on universities to serve as a feeder system for pro sports. It is not what universities were intended to do, and no other country in the world does it that way. In Europe, where soccer is king, children with professional potential are culled from the educational system in their early teens and often receive separate schooling from their soccer teams. Those who don’t wind up playing professionally are then ruthlessly tossed aside.
College athletes are routinely tossed aside, too — after they have used up their athletic eligibility. Even those who officially “graduate” often do so without getting a real education. It is the unspoken scandal that permeates college sports, and it is corrosive not just for the athletes but also for the entire student body. “Within two or three weeks of coming to a university, players often find out they are woefully underprepared for college work,” Duderstadt says. “Very quickly they give up and major in eligibility. They take the cupcake courses. It is an insidious thing.”
There is another issue: Players who were stars in high school inevitably come to college with big dreams of going pro one day. Yet, as Emmert notes, “we had 5,500 Division I men’s basketball players last year, and only 50 went to the N.B.A.” By the time most players realize that they are not going to make it to the professional ranks, so much time has been lost that they can never catch up academically. In most cases, they also can’t afford to quit football and concentrate on their studies, because that would cost them their athletic scholarships.
The primary purpose of a six-year scholarship is to give athletes whose playing days have ended a chance to get their degrees — and to really have time to focus on classes that can prepare them for a future without football or basketball. It would allow players to take fewer courses during their years of athletic eligibility, giving them a better chance to succeed at the courses they do take. And it would make it possible for those players who do graduate within four years to pursue a graduate degree. The N.C.A.A. would no longer need to obsess over an athlete’s academic performance; as long as he met the same standard the school applied to every other student, he could stay in school and play on the team. The extra two years would place the onus on the athlete to get an education, while also giving him the opportunity. Isn’t that how it should work anyway?
Lifetime Health Insurance and the College Players Association
It is not just professional football players who have concussions. Nor are they the only ones who take painkillers to disguise their injuries — or who suffer chronic pain by the time they are in their 30s thanks to the beatings their bodies took during their athletic careers. Taylor Branch, the author of the Atlantic essay, was a good football player in high school, but he turned down a football scholarship to Georgia Tech because he knew his body was already breaking down just from playing high-school football. “I wouldn’t have had any shoulders left if I had played football in college,” he told me recently. Providing lifetime health insurance as a benefit for anyone who plays at least two years of college ball is a no-brainer.
The College Players Association, which would administer the health-insurance plan, would also represent the players whenever salary caps or minimum salaries are being set, as well as on those occasions when the N.C.A.A. or a college conference is cutting a deal with a television network or a marketing firm. Players would receive a percentage of the revenues — I am thinking 10 percent at first, though that, too, would quite likely rise — to be disbursed after they leave school, giving them a small share of the revenue their team generated while they were there. The organization would handle licensing deals on behalf of players whose jerseys are being sold, too, and collect fees whenever the N.C.A.A. markets the images of former players. (A portion of those fees would be used to pay the health insurance costs.) This clearinghouse role would resemble the system by which songwriters receive royalties from B.M.I. or Ascap whenever their songs are played on the radio or on television.
I borrowed the idea of a college players’ association from Michael D. Hausfeld, a plaintiffs’ lawyer who likes to take on high-profile cases with an element of social justice to them. Since the summer of 2009, he has been representing former Division I college football and basketball players in a class-action antitrust lawsuit against the N.C.A.A. for licensing their images without compensating them. It’s called the O’Bannon case, after the lead plaintiff, Ed O’Bannon, a former college basketball star who led U.C.L.A. to a national championship in 1995. A trial is scheduled for May 2013.
(Full disclosure: William Isaacson, a lawyer with Boies, Schiller & Flexner, is among more than a dozen attorneys from various firms who have assisted Hausfeld in bringing the O’Bannon lawsuit. My fiancée is the firm’s director of communications. She has played no role in the case, and does not stand to profit if O’Bannon wins.)
The case has received attention because it’s a legitimate threat — maybe the first one ever — to the N.C.A.A.’s longstanding refusal to compensate its players. This is partly because the plaintiffs are former players — including basketball greats like Oscar Robertson and Bill Russell — who do not appear to be in it for a quick buck but seem to genuinely view themselves as trailblazers. For his part, Hausfeld has embraced this litigation as a cause akin to a lawsuit he once filed against Texaco for discriminating against minority employees. That case, he says proudly, “resulted not just in a monetary judgment, but a restructuring of the company’s relationship with minorities.”
Hausfeld insists that athletes have rights: “They have rights to a fair allocation of revenue, to health care, to career development, to education and to posteducational opportunities.” He says that he believes that the O’Bannon case could well lead to a “restructuring” of the relationship between college athletes and the N.C.A.A. Which, in turn, might lead to paying the players.
It is possible, certainly, that the N.C.A.A. could win the O’Bannon case. It is also possible that the case could be decided or settled narrowly — allowing former players to be compensated for the use of their images but leaving the status of current players unchanged. But both Hausfeld and the N.C.A.A. have been acting as if the stakes are higher than that. Hausfeld has been attacking the concept of amateurism head-on, and the N.C.A.A. has been defending it with equal fervor. So there is at least a possibility that a judge will conclude that the N.C.A.A.’s refusal to pay its players has less to do with protecting the sanctity of amateur athletics than with its needs as a cartel to illegally suppress wages.
Anticipating the day when a judge might ask him what sort of remedy he would propose for the plaintiffs, Hausfeld has put forward the idea of an organization that would negotiate licensing agreements on behalf of former players and then act to collect and distribute the money they are due. I would take that notion a step further, and have that organization represent current players as well and negotiate a wider range of issues on their behalf. If Hausfeld wins the case, that may be where we are headed anyway.
To those who question why I am willing to pay these two categories of male athletes, but not any female athletes, my simple answer is that football and men’s basketball players occupy a different role on campus — the role of an employee as well as a student — that female (and most other male) athletes do not. If the time comes when women’s basketball is as commercialized and profit-driven as men’s basketball, then yes, the women should be paid as well. But we’re a long way from that point.
There are almost surely Title IX issues surrounding my plan, which would probably have to be settled by the courts. (Title IX is the law that guarantees women equal athletic opportunities in college sports.) But I would argue that the employee status of those who play football and men’s basketball means that paying them does not violate Title IX. It is worth noting that, even now, 40 years after Title IX became the law of the land, many schools still spend far more money on men’s than women’s sports without running afoul of it.
To hear the gnashing of teeth by those who believe that money will soil college sports is to hark back to the days when baseball was on the cusp of free agency, or the Olympics was considering abandoning its longstanding adherence to amateurism. In both cases, critics feared that the introduction of serious and legitimate money would damage the sports, turn off the fans and lead to chaos. Instead, baseball and the Olympics got much better.
College sports will become more honest once players are paid, and more honorable. Fans will be able to enjoy football and men’s basketball without having to avert their eyes from the scandals and the hypocrisy. Yes, it’s true: paying players will change college sports. They will be better, too.
New York Times December 30, 2011
By Joe Nocera, an Op-Ed columnist for The Times and the co-author of “All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis.”
Artlicle Link: Let’s Start Paying College Athletes; A version of this article appeared in print on January 1, 2012, on page MM30 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: Here’s How TO Pay Up Now. E-mail Joe Nocera
The Smartest Guys in the Room
You might not realize it, but all of us at 11W are full-time professionals whose real, day job expertise occasionally bleeds into our fake, part-time expertise here. This is going to be one of those times. Relax; it will be over in four very short paragraphs.
Now begins your 30-second MBA: All corporations have the same primary goal and that is the maximization of shareholder wealth. Whether the company sells bird seed or back rubs, that is why the company exists, period.
Often times there are conflicts between management and the shareholders because occasionally the managers' prudent stewardship of the corporation does not always overlap with that maximization of shareholder wealth.
This is called the Agency Problem. It happens all of the time, even where you work. The problem typically involves risk-taking, short-term vs. long-term thinking, ethics and the environment to name just a few of the common ones.
Shareholder wealth maximization is expected to occur under the umbrella of social responsibility. The two do not have to be mutually exclusive, nor should they be for any corporation - whether it sells bird seed, back rubs or is the Worldwide Leader in Sports.
Congratulations, your 30-second MBA is over.
Late last month Kelly McBride of The Poynter Institute, which has been masquerading as ESPN's independent ombudsman as of late recapped ESPN's scorching conflict of interest in college football realignment. She closed her rambling piece (if even I think you're rambling...dude) with the following laugher:
As long as ESPN maintains its journalistic standards and increases reporting resources devoted to college sports -- even as its business interests in colleges grows -- the network should assuage most of its understandably skeptical critics.
It's an absolutely breathtaking statement coming from a think-tank that is allegedly, you know, actually watching the network it is supposed to be independently reviewing and critiquing.
There isn't too much mystery about what comprises ESPN's journalistic standards: It's an entertainment company that contains an inappropriately-named news division which operates solely on the premise of delivering the content that will generate the highest traffic.
The higher the traffic, the more lucrative the contracts, the advertising and the corporate partnerships are. And they have been lucrative: ESPN is now worth about $25 billion.
This is why the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox were routinely discussed on ESPN throughout the Major League Baseball playoffs despite the Yankees' early elimination and Boston's failure to even reach the postseason. That was ESPN's overt attempt to keep its biggest baseball markets engaged even though its teams were already on vacation.
From a college football standpoint, ESPN eschewed journalistic standards the very second it began selectively investing in some of the entities that it participate in its content.
The University of Texas has a 20-year deal with ESPN worth $300 million, which means the network now has a vested interest in Texas being both interesting and relevant. Let's say that a Tatgate-like scandal occurs in Austin: What is the likelihood that ESPN will inundate UT with Public Records Requests, constant coverage and sensationalism, and ultimately - a lawsuit to seek more information?
Doing so could violate the most important tenet of maximizing shareholder wealth. A weakened Texas athletic department siphons value from ESPN's business investment. Its news organization does not operate autonomously, regardless of whether there is a direct business benefit to doing so.
Consider its Tatgate coverage: Ohio State is second to Texas in football revenues, which means that it garners a lot of attention. ESPN's coverage of Ohio State's troubles went so far beyond story coverage that it actually ventured into the full manufacturing of additional content to fulfill its Tatgate narrative.
In July, Ohio State and the NCAA released the transcript of the investigators' interview with Jim Tressel. The university's hearing with the NCAA Committee on Infractions was August 12.
Examining other recent COI hearings - Boise State, Tennessee, UConn - each school received its verdict in 12 weeks following their hearings.
So that's why it was interesting that exactly 12 weeks after Ohio State's COI hearing, ESPN suddenly began promoting a pre-packaged exclusive Jim Tressel NCAA interview audio (audio of a transcript that had been publicly available for over three months) to create a bigger splash for what should have been the COI's judgment for the Buckeye football program.
It wasn't bias against Ohio State. It was bias for ESPN shareholders, who benefit from getting the most traffic out of what would have been regularly reported news to a news organization committed to credibility.
Unfortunately for ESPN, Terrelle Pryor's disclosure of Bobby DiGeronimo's cash-filled envelopes screwed up the timing and delayed the decision. Normally COI findings comprise a fairly procedural news story.
Oregon head coach Chip Kelly and UConn basketball coach Jim Calhoun were both recently interviewed by NCAA investigators regarding violations at their schools that involved both of them. Both men also happen to star in current ESPN commercials.
Try and imagine "exclusive" audio tapes of those interviews making it to ESPN along with unscientific analysis of either man's voice inflection, which is what ESPN had accompanying Tressel's rehashed nine-month old interview.
There is zero conflict of interest for ESPN's business to cover Ohio State the way that it has. For Texas, however, there would be. Not only can't ESPN be reasonably expected to objectively cover Texas sports, it isn't even allowed to: It's actually written into the Longhorn Network contract.
ESPN has firm control of the sports media in America, and now - contractually - Texas controls ESPN's content through its own network. This essentially means that Texas controls the news about Texas, and objectivity has been eliminated.
So McBride's assertion that ESPN 1) even has journalistic standards and 2) is maintaining them in a way that might appease its critics is complete nonsense. It's predicated on the idea that the public at large is completely uninformed or willfully ignorant to how ESPN operates as a journalistic entity.
Not only that, but the network is now deliberately making sure that its news operations are kept private. ESPN is no longer allowing its reporters to write books that include information they're privy to through ESPN.
With ESPN's pitiful track record of journalistic integrity and its contractual control over the vast majority of college football's programming content, what could possibly go wrong if the network is, in fact, pulling the realignment strings behind the scenes?
The trickle-down implications are enormous. With ESPN playing God with college football, the institutions now answer to a corporation. Universities will make strategic decisions based on the encouragement from a media conglomerate.
It's already happening: Boston College's athletic director accidentally disclosed that ESPN advised the ACC on which schools to invite for membership. When millions of eyebrows immediately shot skyward, he lied and said he misspoke (how do you "accidentally" say that?)
It makes perfect business sense for ESPN to shape the college football landscape: By optimizing matchups and minimizing the potential for unfavorable bowl pairings to artificially manufacture the most interesting games possible, ratings, ticket sales and ad revenue stand to benefit.
This is the maximization of shareholder wealth without the dreaded Agency Problem, with the managers and the shareholders are in cahoots with each other. Quick addendum to your 30-second MBA: ESPN has constructed a classic monopoly over a multi-billion dollar industry.
It's in the math: There are 35 bowl games this season. ESPN owns almost 20% of all bowl games (not owns the broadcasting rights; actually owns) while having the broadcasting rights to 33 of them.
So the BCS coffers are now solidly in second place: Nobody is more invested in the bowl system than ESPN.
This means ESPN owns 95% of a college football postseason that is predetermined by matchups, not by a tournament, not by randomization and often times, not by merit but by potential television and stadium audience (cough cough cough Notre Dame cough).
The involvement and investment are so deep that when ESPN is covering college football, ESPN is often actually covering...itself. It's inability to recuse James from the Texas Tech story was a low point in major sports journalism history.
But as you already probably realize, ESPN doesn't need monopoly to integrate itself into a story; it has been full-on meta for years. This is the humorous side of that journalistic integrity that McBride referred to.
Consider its coverage of Tim Tebow, who has been thrust - by ESPN, almost exclusively - into conversations on all of its platforms: Each of its television networks, radio programs, Internet content and social networking sites frequently have Tebow on the marquee.
Tebow is mentioned in stories and in discussions that do not involve quarterbacks, the Denver Broncos, or sometimes - not even football. "Tebow" has even been its own category on ESPN's bottom-line screen crawl numerous times, along with topics like "World Series," "NFL" and "NBA labor dispute."
The punchline arrived a couple of days ago when Sportscenter asked the following question of its audience, with a straight face: Is Tim Tebow overhyped?
Basically it comes down to this: ESPN already owns the rights to the most lucrative cash engine for major universities and expects the public to believe that it will idly stand on the sidelines while the landscape of college football is reshaped by conference alignments that affect multiple billions of dollars in that engine.
For a company whose VP and director of news, Vince Doria, openly admits that ESPN is the largest conflict of interest known to man, that amounts to a wink, a nod and a promise that it cannot possibly keep without betraying its shareholders.
The maximization of wealth is ESPN's first priority, which it will fail to accomplish by standing on the sideline in the conference realignment frenzy that it is helping accelerate.
The social responsibility aspect and conflict of interest is being self-policed, and very poorly. The Poynter Institute making a mockery of its role as ombudsman serves as further evidence that ESPN is now far beyond just being a broadcasting partner in college football in scope. It is college football.
You'll know that its mission is complete when college football's already disingenuous postseason becomes an even bigger charade as ESPN overtly chooses the optimal television matchups for BCS games. And it will happen with everyone watching.
Woody Hayes used to stomp around Ohio Stadium like he owned the place, and it sure seemed like he did. He was Caesar and Ohio State football was his empire, or so I thought.
One of his assistants once asked whether he intended to retire, and Hayes made it clear who was in charge:
"Hell, no," he said. "I'll die on the 50-yard line at Ohio Stadium in front of 87,000."
A few years later, after Hayes had been fired for punching a Clemson player in the Gator Bowl and one-time Hayes assistant Earle Bruce was walking where Hayes had been, reality greeted me in living color: No one was bigger than the program. Not even Woody Hayes.
This same reality has muscled its way into our consciousness in recent weeks. Jim Tressel was the first OSU coach since Hayes to have that iconic, bigger-than-the-program aura. He won championships, beat Michigan, cared deeply about his players and ran a clean program.
He was treated like a rock star when he made public appearances - who wants to be Caesar when you can be Elvis Presley? - and he was so beloved that, like with Woody, it was difficult to imagine anyone taking possession of the old football cathedral on the Olentangy without his permission.
But as the bad news about the OSU football program dribbled out, Tressel's invincibility faded and the inevitability of his departure increased.
OSU officials left no doubt about their affection for their football coach - embarrassingly so, actually - at the March news conference where Tressel's suspension was announced.
He had kept quiet about his knowledge of NCAA violations when the initial story broke in December that some players received tattoo discounts and sold memorabilia. When in March it was revealed that Tressel had been told about the possible infractions the preceding April and didn't report it, it was treated almost cavalierly by school administrators as well as by many fans.
They were willing to accept that he broke the rules and lied about it, and they stood firmly behind him as the first few waves of criticism crashed upon their shores. It became a problem only when the waves wouldn't go away. As it expanded into car deals, loaner cars and other questionable practices that reflected on the culture of the program, the nature of the public discussion began to change.
Many still love Tressel and point out all of the good he has done. But even some of his most devoted loyalists had started to wonder how much more bad news the program could afford to take.
Yesterday we got the answer: No more.
The accumulation of bad news wore down OSU administrators, and there had to be a gnawing concern that it wasn't going to stop until the guy in charge of this mess was gone.
Could the school afford to destroy a multimillion dollar business - and that's what OSU football is - out of loyalty to any coach, no matter how administrators might respect and admire him? Would the ongoing NCAA investigation result in a lighter sentence if Tressel were removed? Could he continue to be effective as a recruiter and a coach given the damage already done to his once-pristine image?
The program's reputation has taken an enormous hit, especially outside the state's borders. Recruiting has been going poorly, and having the head coach miss the first five games of the upcoming season and then return to a media frenzy ensured a continual rehashing of the program's problems deep into October.
Tressel had to go. There's no denying it, really. In hindsight, it probably should have happened weeks ago.
There's still a lot to admire about Tressel , both as a man and as a football coach, but Ohio State has been down this road before. Nobody is bigger than the program, and it had reached a point where his positives couldn't possibly overcome the damage he was doing to it.
It's sad to see a good man's life cast in such cold, stark terms, but, well, business is business.
Welcome to Cargate! It's a clever little sequel to Tatgate, except that not all of the stars from the original blockbuster returned for part two. So basically it's Speed 2: Cruise Control. Draw your own box office parallel.
We've heard the stories for awhile about how Ohio State football players - most notably Terrelle Pryor - had acquired vehicles from the same salesman, a guy named Aaron Kniffin. That story, which grew wings once Tatgate broke in December quickly dissolved once OSU Compliance ruled in January following an internal investigation that nothing improper had occurred.
Fast-forward four months to Saturday when the Columbus Dispatch published its own investigation of the transactions between Kniffin and dozens of Ohio State athletes and their relatives along with the news that OSU Compliance was going to re-examine the already-vetted car deals. So this is actually a sequel to the original, short-lived Cargate. A sequel no one really wanted. Just like Speed 2.
Mere hours after the Dispatch story broke, ESPN also made it a front page story. For those of you playing the ESPN Selectively Newsworthiness Home Game, Cargate II was acknowledged exactly two years, eight months, 11 days and several hours faster than the Reggie Bush investigation was. And it seemed even faster than that because in the Big Ten everything moves too fast for us hurrrrrrrrrr...
Critical analysis of the latest chapter in Ohio State's ongoing offseason shitshow was swift: From Georgia to Michigan the pre-investigation verdict was GUILTY GUILTY GUILTY. Outside of Ohio, Americans were united and celebrating the latest Ohio State report as if the Navy had figured out a way to bring Osama back to life so that they could kill him again, repeatedly. Haters hate. That's why they're called that.
For those of us who are fans of the home team, just reading the headline, "Ohio State to investigate players' car deals" was like taking 100 laxatives. However, there were several important details within the article, like:
NCAA rules don't prohibit athletes from shopping at the same stores, eating at the same restaurants or buying cars at the same dealerships. The rules prohibit athletes and their relatives from receiving discounts that are not offered to the general public.
Compliance was not as concerned if the player sucked at negotiating, nor if the player cut a sweet deal, but if he got a deal that no one else could have gotten. Coercing Kniffin to "go and talk to his manager to see what he can do" is not an NCAA violation. Any one of us in the general public who push hard enough can get this treatment. [Side note/consumer tip: This meeting is a charade designed to make you feel special and get your business. Congratulations, you've just unlocked the Everyone Gets It discount.]
Since Cargate is not a new story, the Dispatch report was full of numerous re-hashed items that - nonetheless - raise ze eyebrows off of ze face, like Pryor's repeated use of loaner cars that OSU Compliance claims to have cleared. This is the same unit that actively looked through Tressel's emails after Tatgate was "closed," discovered his coverup, and reported it. The people for whom that is not good enough are the same people who could never be satisfied with any level of self-policing at Ohio State.
Based on the fact that this is all being re-examined, it appears that there are some questions as to if OSU Compliance checked each vehicle, or if it merely "checked" each vehicle. If it's found that upon further review that the first checks missed items big and obvious, then Ohio State and especially its compliance department deserve to be filleted. That would be unpleasant, so hopefully the second investigation will match the first.
The Dispatch learned that as many as 50 Ohio State-ish people just happened to do business with Kniffin over the past six years, and that each of those transactions should result in a phone call to OSU Compliance to discuss the terms before they're finalized. Additionally, all of the cars were used, American and sold for an average of less than $12,000 which puts this sample size solidly in the realm of "typical college student vehicle." None of those details were suspicious. If anything, they were comforting. College students are supposed to drive modest second-hand cars.
All told, there were only two WTF moments in the entire report. This was the first one:
Officials at two national car-valuation companies...were asked by The Dispatch to estimate the value of the cars at the time of purchase. The values they estimated were higher than the price paid in nearly half of the transactions.
...which means that the majority Ohio State players and affiliates paid more for their used cars than they were worth. On a macro level this says there is nothing to see here. Some buyers haggle until they get a deal that's still within the dealer's acceptable margin while others quit negotiating too soon and end up overpaying. Wow, Ohio State athletes and their families are getting treated just like everyone else. That's what OSU Compliance had already determined.
It is revealing that the Dispatch worded this vitally important information in this manner; it's sort of like saying that Tim Tebow failed to win the Heisman Trophy in 75% of his eligible seasons. Well yeah, that's true. The Dispatch could have also easily said, "records show that most of the buyers paid more than the car was worth" instead, but this passage was framed to make the case for guilt instead of innocence. When it rains, etc. So why is this a story at all?
Here's the second - and signature - WTF moment:
Public records show that in 2009, a 2-year-old Chrysler 300 with less than 20,000 miles was titled to then-sophomore linebacker Thaddeus Gibson. Documents show the purchase price as $0.
Oh. That's why.
You want a red flag; you've got your red flag: Gibson responded to the report by telling the Dispatch that he paid for and is still paying for the car, while the Kniffin told WTVN that the paperwork showed a price of $0 because it was a refinancing situation. These claims should be very easy to prove or disprove. The timing of those payments would be important as well (like, if Gibson began paying for the car right around 11am EDT last Saturday morning). So that zero should summarily be explained, but even when it is there is no way a car dealership just gave away a car.
Dealers may use creative financing to help execute sales, but they don't just unload free vehicles. Only Oprah does that, and when she does, she does so at full book value which means all of the winners get a nice tax bill. Also note that "future NFL earnings" is a non-starter and impermissible collateral for a car purchase as far as the NCAA is concerned, since the rules prohibit athletes and their relatives from receiving discounts that are not offered to the general public. The general public cannot bank future NFL earnings, therefore neither can college athletes.
Two former NCAA enforcement officers anonymously told the Dispatch that there was cause for concern. There are exactly two causes for concern in the article as far as I'm concerned: One, obviously Gibson's $0 car. Two, the fact that four of the Tatgate players also bought cars: That they were willing to part with trinkets at the tattoo parlor is precedent enough to be suspicious at the dealership or anywhere else. It's circumstantial at best, but unfortunately Ohio State has earned the burden of circumstantial evidence being fishy enough to stink.
There's another explanation that the Dispatch ignored, and it was one that was summarily dismissed by the initial blogger outrage once the news broke on Saturday: That Kniffin managed referrals very well. I can speak to this out of personal sales experience, having sold annuities, insurance and other investments for eight glorious, 100% commission months after college. My first couple of clients were Chicago area doctors.
Why did I deliberately pursue doctors? Because they tend to have a lot of money and suck at doing productive things with it (note to any doctors reading this - please don't be offended; I'm talking about other doctors, not you).
By the time I decided a life of kitchen table sales negotiations wasn't for me and I turned in my clip-on tie, over 90% of my clientele had M.D. printed somewhere on their business cards and lived in either Illinois, Indiana or Wisconsin. That's because doctors know other doctors, and salesmen work almost exclusively on referrals.
Yes, it would be much easier to just sit at a phone and take orders, but salespeople aren't required for products that generate sales like that, so you're forced to ask your customers for referrals. Kniffin, as well as every other competent used car salesperson in the country, does this as a standard practice.
Similarly, football players know other football players. And they in turn know their own parents. This is the essence of sales. You wrinkle your nose but it's entirely plausible and the burden of proof that this wasn't the case would require prima facie evidence to the contrary. The Dispatch investigation uncovered nothing of the sort.
It's equally important to understand the principles of auto sales in particular: Kniffin was a salesman representing a dealership. Car salesmen do not have the authority to dictate price. Sure, they can try to sell a beater to some rich idiot for five times the book value, but no dealership is going to allow the local football team and their friends to routinely buy their cars at a loss; that's terrible for business.
Gibson - or any other NFL athlete for that matter - would never become a golden goose that referred future fellow millionaires in Kniffin's direction to buy used cars. At best, he'd refer more teammates to Kniffin, but this was a customer pipeline that Kniffin already had prior to Gibson's "purchase." In all of those respects, there is just no way that Gibson drove out of the dealership without paying for anything.
Outside of Gibson's paperwork, there isn't any evidence from what's been reported thus far that should have previously turned any heads in Doug Archie's office. In the eyes of the NCAA, the most nefarious thing a car dealership has done recently was to employ Oklahoma's starting quarterback and pay him even though he didn't do any work. Jobs are monitored as closely as ever. You actually have to show up to get paid. If anything comes from Cargate, it should be from Pryor's documented jones for loaner vehicles. That is the only thing from the Dispatch reporting that has the potential to stink, and it's old news.
Fortunately, Cargate does not include new or luxury vehicles. When Steve Bellisari was pulled over for drunk driving in 2001 there were three words that leapt off of the police report: Used. Pontiac. Sunfire. In strife, those three words brought relief. (Note to any used Pontiac Sunfire owners reading this - please don't be offended. Your car may be a discontinued piece of shit, but that's no reflection on you personally. You're awesome, if only for not getting a DUI and missing the Michigan game).
It's not just Ohio State that checks every athlete's vehicle transactions to make sure they pass the sniff test: Michigan compliance began doing the same thing after Robert Traylor flipped an SUV and nearly killed Mateen Cleaves during a recruiting visit. After the accident, compliance officials thought it was odd that Traylor would be driving such a nice car so they looked into the paperwork and discovered it was registered to one of Traylor's relatives.
It turned out the SUV had been acquired through the late Ed Martin, who was the primary bankroller implicated in the scandal that effectively destroyed Michigan basketball for over a decade. That accident in that vehicle started Michigan's unraveling. You look out for cars and cash. Burritos and discounted tats are a little harder to find, especially if your coach is covering it up.
Just as car dealers gain nothing by giving away margins and product, compliance officials have absolutely nothing to gain by looking in the other direction. Actually, they have everything to lose. There is an element of self-preservation that comes with any job, especially that of a compliance department official. Universities don't keep ineffective compliance officials on their payrolls, and OSU Compliance has a very long track record of not ignoring anything.
OSU practically overreports violations, including infractions as silly as hockey players sneaking into a Nickelback concert (side note: Ugh) and a woman's soccer player greeting boosters at a university dinner program (side note: "Greeting" is code for "saying hello"). They investigate and report their asses off. There is no lacking of institutional control as far as OSU Compliance's track record is concerned.
As far as the list of real and perceived Buckeye infractions is concerned, the Dispatch, as it has been for decades, has been all over the situation. From revealing Andy Katzenmoyer's class schedule during the summer of 1998 to the list of self-reported secondary violations, the local media flagship has demonstrably been the opposite of investigative journalism is towns like Baton Rouge or Tuscaloosa. And they're to be applauded for that. You shouldn't be comfortable with the idea of the media colluding with any large entity, even if you wear its jersey and love it so much.
The damage from Cargate as of now isn't like Tatgate where the leader of the program has been proven to be a serial liar. This amounts to more PR shame for Ohio State as a dirty, cheating program. The Buckeyes are getting slaughtered in the court of public opinion. This is Katzenmoyer's AIDS Awareness, Ballroom Dancing & Golf - "the eligibility curriculum" all over again, but as a strike to the athletic department's image instead of to Ohio State's academic reputation. The latter of which, by the way, still suffers from that episode.
Obviously I'm in the camp of Buckeye fans who will not lose sleep over Cargate, not because there's no more sleep to lose as a result of Tatgate, but because I just don't see any NCAA violations coming out of the information that's not only already been released, but examined by OSU Compliance.
However, as long as people like Brooks Melchoir, everyone's favorite axe-grinding Bruce Hooley apologist is still actively repackaging old Tatgate information as breaking news instead relying on his conventional pageviews ploy of posting tits and ass (click with caution: link contains both tits and ass) then we can be assured that there is still a significant amount of blood in the water.
That being said, the story is not going to go away. It's compelling, deals with a very popular antagonist in Ohio State and it sells well. It will not burn out, rather it will stay in circulation until it is exhausted and fades away, must like Clarett eventually did. My prediction for Cargate is that while it has arrived with a lot of hype, unlike Tatgate it should amount to little more than a blip in the historical record. Not unlike Speed 2.
Concrete Blonde: He's a Buckeye, and he's fake - but he's not a fake Buckeye
Don't let the pretty picture fool you: This isn't really a column about Kirk Herbstreit.
This is a column about you, the easily-persuaded plebes who continue to fuel the false narrative that Ohio State fans are ruthlessly terrorizing Herbstreit for simply speaking truth to power. This is about setting the record straight.
It's too easy to paint the Ohio State fan base as a cauldron of unsophisticated zealots who take to the streets with torches to go after anyone who dares to sully Buckeye football with unpopular remarks. Falling for the fiction that Herbstreit has fallen out of favor with Buckeye fans only for traitorously speaking ill of Ohio State is absolutely lazy.
Herbstreit has been castigated wholesale by his own because he repeatedly speaks out of both sides of his mouth. Each and every time he is called out for that hypocrisy he has trashed the Ohio State fan base with the same strawman defense that you keep swilling down without any critical thought whatsoever.
He went to Ohio State, therefore he must obviously love Ohio State; he's just saying what you don't want to hear. Actually, what he's saying about Buckeye football is what a lot of us are saying these days. But that's only part of the story.
Your observations of Herbstreit are understandably and significantly limited in comparison to ours. That's not necessarily your fault, but you should be better informed before you jump on the false narrative train. We're here to help: Let's turn back the clock a bit...
Back in 2007 when Rich Rodriguez left West Virginia to go to Michigan there was much speculation that Terrelle Pryor may commit to the Wolverines after favoring Ohio State for much of the recruiting process.
Herbstreit took to the ESPN airwaves in interview after interview during the bowl season and cited Pryor as the "x-factor for Rodriguez's first recruiting class" and proclaimed him to be the perfect quarterback to run the new offense in Ann Arbor.
He also called Pryor the most important in-state recruit for Joe Paterno in years. He said that Oregon was a strong possibility to land him as well, with the Ducks and Wolverines having the schematic advantage to best suit Pryor's skills, Pennsylvania having the home field advantage and Ohio State contending simply by having recruiting him consistently and the longest. Herbstreit singlehandedly brought the name Terrelle Pryor out of recruiting circles and into nationally-televised prominence.
All of what he said was absolutely true, by the way. Pryor would have been perfect for Michigan, or Oregon. While there were a lot of Buckeye fans who wished Herbie would have just STFU about this reality and stopped selling the Wolverines and Ducks to young Pryor through his television set, what he was saying was undeniable. You do not remember any Ohio-born uprising against Herbstreit then for aiding in Pryor widening his recruitment because there was no such uprising. We're not irrational, we're just biased. Just like you.
Fast-forward to last week, when Herbstreit said matter-of-factly that Ohio State should quit recruiting players like Maurice Clarett and Terrelle Pryor, as if he had never spread the gospel of Pryor as a program savior just three years earlier.
As a fan base, we were understandably frustrated, not just because it was classic Monday morning quarterbacking, not just because every other school in the country also recruited both players, not just because the idea of not recruiting players of Clarett and Pryor's abilities would be bad recruiting, but because we remember. As an outsider, you only saw the backlash and quickly defaulted to an extremely lazy Haters Gonna Hate explanation.
Speaking of Clarett, whenever Herbstreit's strawman is called to the stand - the how dare you make me explain my loyalty to Ohio State canard - this candid photograph from the 2003 BCS title game is presented as Exhibit A by the defense. Not even ten minutes after that picture of Michael Doss' interception return was taken, it was Clarett who was plowing into the end zone for the score.
Do you think Herbstreit cheered? Or was he hesitant since Clarett shouldn't have ever been recruited? Because doing so would constitute that "truth to power" you thought he was speaking last week.
Let this be known: Second only to writing about Tressel's giant throne of lies, I absolutely hate writing about Herbstreit. Both of these topics suck, but the Herbstreit one is just so stupid. I had to write about him back in January after he unapologetically dropped Ohio State three slots for winning the Sugar Bowl and figured I had checked off that topic box forever. But then he moved to Tennessee and cited "the relentless 5-10% of the fan base" as the reason for his departure and that couldn't be ignored either.
Then last week he gave us his brilliant Pryor/Clarett hindsight and shuttered his Twitter account while playing the martyr card once more. And you ate it up, again. You have to stop doing that. Yes, he's pretty. Yes, he's on your television. Yes, he's also a narcissist who shines a heroic light on Ohio State's real and perceived warts because he thinks it makes him a more credible national analyst. Every time you gobble this up, you're feeding his narcissim. That in turn tweaks my OCD and then I have to write about this shit all over again. Please stop it.
As much as I hate writing about Herbstreit, I'm not a blind Buckeye homer or fan apologist either. Herbstreit is quite accurate about the radical, relentless fringe of the Buckeye Nation. I've been writing about the Buckeyes since the Cooper era and our fringe is not at all shy about telling you exactly what they think of your lousy, dumbassed opinion. There definitely are people who cannot differentiate between being critical and disparaging.
From nasty emails to 140-character Twitter bombs in my direction to one special guy who in 2005 identified me on campus following a game and told me how much he hated something I wrote after the Iowa game from two years earlier I can speak from experience: Herbie isn't making that up. These people do exist.
Being criticized is no fun for anybody, whether it's empty trash talk, unwarranted jabs or legitimate, pharmaceutical-grade medicine you have to take. But Herbstreit has three choices for dealing with that kind of criticism: He could try and learn from it, he could ignore it or he could handle it with the gravitas of a scorned pre-teen and stomp away in a huff. Guess which two options he doesn't consider. Guess which one option you continually applaud him for taking.
He's obviously incapable of ignoring his critics and clearly he's not learning from them because he thinks they're all personally attacking his loyalty to Ohio State. I don't think he's disloyal to Ohio State. (I do think that Pryor's "Fake Buckeye" tweet made for a fun meme though.)
Herbstreit has used the Haters defense twice now in the past couple of months. That's shallow on a level recently seen from now-former USC Athletic Director Mike Garrett after the Trojans got hammered by the NCAA following the culmination of the investigation that Herbstreit's network deliberately did not cover for three years.
Garrett said (of the NCAA findings) "there was nothing but a lot of envy, and they wish they all were Trojans." He was universally derided for being a moron. Conversely, whenever Herbstreit takes valid criticisms of his statements and actions around Ohio State, he defends his loyalty instead of deciphering what is riling them up and Buckeye fans are then universally derided for having thin skin. You've got it backwards. The one with thin skin is the one with the frosted tips.
Speaking of USC, you may remember that Herbstreit was very outspoken to the point of almost being harsh about how Pete Carroll failed to police his players and should have avoided recruiting players like Reggie Bush, whose actions led to that expensive and embarrassing scandal, a vacated BCS title and a forfeited Heisman trophy. Just kidding. Herbstreit never said anything that stupid. No, he saved that tortured logic for Ohio State. Apparently it's not as easy for him to be so honest about other programs.
His AP rankings after the Sugar Bowl and petulant verbal sparring with Pryor aside, Buckeye fans probably wouldn't have any issue with Herbstreit if he had ever also said, I don't know, that he would never send his son to play in a struggling Tommy Tuberville offense. Or if he said Urban Meyer shouldn't recruit players like [insert any two of 25 arrested here]. Those are the kind of damning statements he has reserved only for his beloved alma mater. Sure he's critical of other teams; he once said that Colorado was a lousy program just to get under Colorado alumnus Chris Fowler's skin on the Gameday set. He really put himself out there that time.
Herbstreit could also use his conspicuous position to speak out about Oversigning, but instead he breathlessly fawns over SEC roster depth as if it miraculously happens on account of geography. He has the platform to bring attention to whatever he wants. His causes célèbres generally do not dwell on the negative. Except for one.
In recent years, we'd probably be a little less salty if he had previously contributed any opinion of substance about the USC case instead of adulating over how good Bush looked in a uniform. Or if he ever stopped slobbering over Carroll's program long enough to be even mildly critical of what turned out to be major violations. That's context. That's what rubs Buckeye fans the wrong way about him. Not just what he says, but but he continually fails to say.
Herbstreit also lacks the emotional intelligence that one would expect of a millionaire in his forties who works on national television, and this is either lost on you or you aren't paying attention. Again, your observations of Herbstreit are understandably and significantly limited in comparison to ours.
Shortly before he deleted his Twitter account he was getting in petty fights with anonymous followers (he even called one Buckeye fan a jackass) and had a timeline filled with what could best be described as poorly-written huffing and puffing. Try and remember that this is a grown man with four children. He then blamed his Twitter demise on, yes, us. And you believed it. Again.
Herbstreit is just fine with an audience, if you're the type who enjoys empty cliches about making plays in space and puffery without much substance. He's downright lousy in an unscripted forum and he knows it. That's why he's quit Twitter; not because of Buckeye fans. He is best with a stage where no one can talk back.
Whenever news of how poorly he is received by Ohio State fans reaches him, he instinctively points at his diploma, points at his father and calls it ridiculous. Ohio State fans then point at Newton and LaMichael James and wonder why Herbstreit's spotlight consists only of fawning over them and adjusting his pants instead of being equally outspoken about their character issues.
All we're looking for is the same, hard-hitting criticism leveled by Herbie in anyone else's direction. He may feel that he would look like an Ohio State homer if he did that, but you know what? Everyone knows he went to Ohio State. It's not like he hasn't repeatedly put that out there. Treat everyone the same. It shouldn't be that hard.
That's how you build a reputation for being openly scarlet and gray, yet objective. He could ask Chris Spielman how he does it so well. Or Cris Carter. Or Robert Smith. They all share the same employer, yet only one is singled out for being unfairly critical. Hell, Smith quit the Ohio State football program and has recently been critical of Tressel while casting doubts on his future at Ohio State. Strangely, he doesn't seem to be forced into continuing to remind us that he's from Ohio and once set the freshman rushing record.
No, Herbstreit doesn't continually bag on Ohio State because he hates Ohio State. He loves Ohio State. In all likelihood he's overly "honest" about Ohio State solely to make himself appear to be an unbiased analyst, as he bites his tongue about other teams for fear of becoming unpopular with those fans too. Some analysts embrace their roles as trolls (cough MARK MAY cough) but Herbstreit is clearly not one of them. He trolls for but one team: The one he knows best.
It's a relatively common human condition to want and need to be loved, so Herbstreit's behavior isn't exactly uncommon; just odd for someone of his age and stature. It is a little sad though, that he continues to resort to doing this on national television where too many people can repeatedly observe it. However, it's not nearly as sad as the fact that some people (cough YOU cough) have absolutely gobbled it up.
Fused together by wins and pride, separating Jim Tressel from Ohio State would be no easy task
Jim Tressel is not bigger than the program.
But in his 10 years as Ohio State's head football coach, Tressel has become so interwoven with the program that separating him from the university, if it comes to that, requires surgery. The situation is too tangled for a clean break, and the calls for his removal in light of his NCAA violations, while understandable, don't give enough credit to the relationship that existed before.
It has been a week since Ohio State released the Notice of Allegations from the NCAA that officially detailed Tressel's violations and said he failed to behave with honesty and integrity. More than one analyst, including former OSU players, expressed the idea that anyone else would have been fired already, that Tressel was still in his job only because he was Tressel.
Of course, that's true. Debate whether that should be the case, but as former NCAA Committee on Infractions chair Gene Marsh previously told The Plain Dealer, if your past can't help you in situations like this, "then what is the use of living life right?"
For 10 years, Tressel and Ohio State weren't just right, they felt they were perfect for each other.
"He really has managed to synergize the long, proud history of Ohio State, and mainly doing it right, with the Tressel lifestyle and the Tressel value system," Ohio State professor and faculty rep Dr. John Bruno told me before the 2010 season.
The story I wrote on Tressel then, detailing the way so many people in and out of the athletic department viewed him as a symbol of what was right not only with the athletic department but the school as a whole, may seem quaint now. But the point was the perception. It was very real then, and to some extent, remains true now.
"Of all the coaches I've worked with, he is not only the best coach, he is also the best person, and that is saying a lot," OSU president Dr. Gordon Gee said then.
"He beats Michigan and he helps the university win in a broader way," Leslie H. Wexner, chair of The Ohio State University Board of Trustees, said in that story.
While they spoke those words, Tressel was in the midst of covering up his knowledge about potential memorabilia sales by his players that violated NCAA rules. In doing so, and not informing his bosses, Tressel was committing serious NCAA violations every day while others sang his praises.
So as Tressel and Ohio State face a scheduled Aug. 12 hearing before the infractions committee, many on the outside support the idea that he won't get that far. Statistics are out there tell you the vast majority of coaches that face a charge of unethical conduct from the NCAA, under bylaw 10.1, lose their jobs, either through firing or resignation.
What about this stat? There have been 21 coaches that have won at least 200 games in college football, with at least 50 coming at the major college level. Five -- Tressel, Joe Paterno, Mack Brown, Frank Beamer and Nevada's Chris Ault -- are active. Among the other 16, you know how many were fired after their 200th win?
One. Woody Hayes.
Sure, Florida State's Bobby Bowden was forced to the sidelines maybe before he was ready, but that was at age 80. Lou Holtz left both Notre Dame and South Carolina. But for a football coach of this caliber to have his career ended out of the blue, before his time, by his own mistakes?
Only Ohio State fans understand that. Because it's not supposed to happen.
Nebraska's Tom Osborne and Georgia's Vince Dooley left coaching to ponder politics. BYU's LaVell Edwards had the stadium named for him. Michigan's Bo Schembechler, Alabama's Bear Bryant, Iowa's Hayden Fry and West Virginia's Don Nehlen left their jobs revered.
Not like this.
So if at some point this is the end for Tressel, of course it's difficult. The decision, though, won't be made by the unbiased. Those outside opinions matter, but primarily only as they influence those who love Ohio State.
Almost across the board for the last decade, to love Ohio State, to love Ohio State football, was to love Jim Tressel. What was good for Ohio State was good for Jim Tressel, and vice versa.
Now their fortunes may be in conflict. Those who love Ohio State -- administrators and board of trustees members and, very importantly, donors and other fans -- must decide if what's best for Ohio State still includes Tressel.
They may decide that Tressel and Ohio State still belong together, no matter how the NCAA rules. One major donor I spoke to since Tressel's violations were revealed hadn't backed off support of the coach at all and believed he would and should weather this storm.
Or the NCAA may force Ohio State's hand with its proposed penalties. Or Tressel may decide it's time to go. Or maybe more and more Buckeyes with influence will decide that Tressel's behavior, and the damage he caused Ohio State's reputation, requires a change.
A Cleveland.com poll last week asking whether Tressel should resign was split, with 43 percent of nearly 5,000 respondents saying no, 40 percent answering yes and 17 percent suggesting he wait until the NCAA hearing.
So whatever happens, let's admit it's complicated. For Ohio State fans, whatever they think, it's potentially painful. They all love the program. But now what they should think about their coach isn't so obvious.
Woody and The Vest -- Two coaches united by success and scandal
Scandal brought down the greatest coach in Ohio State history, Woody Hayes, but there were signs all along that it was coming.
Scandal may well bring down the Buckeyes' second-greatest coach, Jim Tressel, more than a generation after Hayes punched Clermson's Charlie Bauman in the Gator Bowl. Few saw it coming.
For years, Hayes had been breaking sideline markers, ripping apart his baseball cap (he would snip the threads beforehand), and proving a scourge to cameramen and pen-and-notebook wielders everywhere. Once, when team managers secretly sewed his cap with 20-pound-test fishing line, Hayes, unable to rip it apart, flung the offending headgear to the ground at practice and stomped it to death.
His players, to a man, stood by him even after the scandal because he touched many lives.
The scandal that may bring Tressel down, the cover-up of the memorabilia sale improprieties, was as deliberate as Hayes' punch was impulsive.
Tressel's players, to a man, stand by him, too. He also touched many lives.
Hayes was a big man, a former offensive tackle at a small school, Denison. He wore his emotions on his short sleeves, which he donned on all but the coldest days. He served as a lieutenant commander in the Navy in World War II, and socialized with Army and Marine brass on goodwill trips to Vietnam during the war.
Tressel is 5-9, slight, self-contained, a former quarterback at a small school, Baldwin-Wallace. He did not serve in the armed forces, but admires them deeply. He has visited the troops in Afghanistan. He wore a camouflage cap and pants, along with desert boots at the spring game in a salute to the troops. He scheduled Navy for the opener in 2009 and stood in a line afterward with his players, shaking each Midshipman's hand and thanking him for his sacrifice.
Hayes' teams won on preparation, execution and power, hallmarks of a good offensive lineman. When the game got close, Hayes got even more conservative. Fundamentals became predictability, execution became stagnation.
Tressel's nickname, deriving from his sideline attire, is "The Vest." It implies a close to the vest, conservative style. But surprise and innovation, flexibility and adaptability are far bigger parts of Tressel's coaching profile than they were of Hayes. Tressel loves the chess match aspects of play-calling, once rejecting suggestions that he hire an offensive coordinator by saying, "What would I do during the game? Eat bon-bons?"
Tressel threw when he had the talent to do so and ran when he didn't. Hayes said three things can happen when you pass, and two of them are bad.
There were two sides to Hayes, "good" Woody and "bad" Woody, and each was adored and loathed to equal degrees, if not in equal numbers in Ohio.
"Good" Woody was an educator who held mandatory Sunday vocabulary-building classes for his players after home games. He was respected on campus as an educator, even by faculty members who thought the football program threatened to overshadow the university.
Former Plain Dealer golf writer George Sweda once asked Hayes to recommend his younger brother for admission to the Air Force Academy. Hayes spun in his chair, checked his Rolodex, called Creighton Abrams, the Army Chief of Staff at the time on his private line at the Pentagon, and barked, "I have a fine young boy from Ohio who wants to go to Air Force Academy. Write him a letter!"
Over the next four years, Hayes scrupulously checked on the academic progress of Jack Sweda, who got his degree and flew fighter jets for 20 years before retiring as a major.
The football team's academic performance improved dramatically under Tressel, in contrast to his predecessor, John Cooper.
"Bad" Woody had rehearsed before throwing his fateful punch. In 1968, after an SMU lineman I have known for over 50 years dived at Hayes' feet after chasing Rex Kern out of bounds. Hayes stepped on his hand -- deliberately, says the former player.
Ten years later, apologists dismissed Hayes' punch after Bauman's interception as the manifestation of a weak old man's rage. Hayes threw it, however, not at Bauman's armored chest or facemask, but at his throat. He meant to maim.
There was no public "bad" side to Tressel. But he, too, had rehearsed for his scandal. Uncensured and virtually unstained while his highest-profile players -- Maurice Clarett, Troy Smith and Terrelle Pryor -- were suspended for taking illegal benefits, Tressel could argue that he couldn't police players 24/7. The "Teflon coach," critics called him. Perhaps even Tressel began to think it was so.
What undid him was his use of email in the cover-up -- a very bad idea for a public official. When the emails were discovered in January, they were incriminating. The NCAA official Notice of Allegations casts him as the sole agent of the cover-up. Tressel has admitted lying to the NCAA and misleading his superiors while he knowingly played ineligible players.
Hayes was a polarizing figure. He traveled the state, making campaign appearances for conservative candidates.
Also conservative, Tressel avoids such divisive tactics. He is a unifying figure in Ohio and remains one of the most popular figures in the state, despite the scandal. He became known, despite never running for office, as the "Senator."
Hayes could not control himself. Tressel thought he could control everything.
Two great coaches, two scandals that originated in the core of each man's personality. One sad story has been told. In the other, a happy ending looks less likely every day.
If you took the time to read the NCAA's rejection of the final appeal from former USC running backs coach Todd McNair on Friday, your stomach likely settled somewhere under your bladder. The first attempt to appeal any part of the sanctions levied against USC last summer was met with a kind GTFO, locking in McNair's show-cause, and the language used in the NCAA's response (PDF) gives us a pretty good indicator of what we'll see later this fall when the NCAA makes a decision.
McNair, like Tressel, was found in violation of 10.1:
Further, the assistant football coach knew or should have known that studentathlete 1 and agency partners A and B were engaged in violations that negatively affected student-athlete 1's amateurism status. The assistant football coach provided false and misleading information to the enforcement staff concerning his knowledge of agency partner A's and B's activity and also violated NCAA legislation by signing a document certifying that he had no knowledge of NCAA violations.
Aside from the 10.1, both coaches were hit with additional infractions. Tressel was slapped with a 14.11.1 for permitting players to participate while ineligible, while McNair was served up several 12.X violations and one for a 30.3.5 for failure to report knowledge to the NCAA.
If you're a rational fan, there's no way you can parse that in any other way than "not good" when applying it to Tressel's situation. How "not good"? We'll have to find out, but let's hold off on any Jim Tressel as Todd McNair talk.
McNair was accused of being aware of the agency player-agent relationship between Reggie Bush and the partnership of Lloyd Lake and Michael Michaels. Specifically, the NCAA said McNair was involved in a phone call with Lake "during which agency partner A attempted to get the assistant football coach to convince studentathlete 1 either to adhere to the agency agreement or reimburse agency partners A and B for money provided to student-athlete 1 and his family." That's NCAA-speak for "get Reggie to start returning our calls or we want our money (and house) back."
Jim Tressel, for his part, tried to put an end to behavior that would jeopardize the eligibility of his players. He'll regret the cover-up for the rest of his life, but there's no evidence (amongst mountains of it) that suggests he encouraged or played an active role in ongoing violations beyond said cover-up.
In a perfect world, these cases are handled in a vacuum, but since this is real life we're dealing with, reputations come into play. Jim Tressel is loved by his players, his peers, and millions of Ohioans at home or abroad. Todd McNair was twice convicted on charges related to dogfighting.
Jim Tressel was accused of not reporting the sale of personal items by his players. Todd McNair was found to have been aware of a six-figure relationship between a player and an agency.
In LA, McNair had a head coach that booked town the first time the clouds darkened and an athletic director that turned a blind eye to what was happening in his own house before declaring the NCAA's initial report was "nothing but a lot of envy" and then for an encore, tossed gasoline napalm on the whole mess by hiring Lane Kiffin to replace Pete Carroll.
Ohio State self reported.
When it's all said and done, the dreaded show-cause could very well still end up in Tressel's lap. No matter how you try to spin that, it's not a good thing™. But unlike what McNair experienced at USC, Tressel has a competent athletic department that's in good standing with the NCAA backing him up. Barring a new revelation, there's no chance they bail on him this year.
The headline above the Dispatch.com story yesterday about the NCAA delivering its "notice of allegations" to Ohio State regarding rules violations by Jim Tressel and six of his football players was a clue I might soon be serving a therapist for many of my friends:
Ohio State football: NCAA penalties could be severe
Sure enough, when it became apparent the worst-case scenario could include stripping the Buckeyes of last season's victories and Big Ten title and preventing them from playing in a bowl game and league title game this season, the initial reaction I heard was outrage and/or depression.
So in the interest of preventing mass hysteria, it might be time for "Glass Half-Full" Hunter to offer the positive spin on what must seem like the end of life as we know it, at least to some of the program's most dedicated tailgaters.
Working forward from the past:
Even the all-powerful NCAA can't change what is done; what happened, happened, no matter what the suits in Indianapolis say. They can change the record books to reflect a row of "vacated" wins instead of the actual results on the field, but no one lives inside record books.
The players know what happened in those games and so do fans. Try as they might, NCAA officials can't erase their memories. The Buckeyes still beat Michigan 37-7. They still lost to Wisconsin 31-18. They went 12-1 on the field and everyone knows that. Whether they deserved to win those games doesn't matter after the fact. No amount of NCAA scrubbing can take the season away.
NCAA sanctions against the 1998-99 OSU men's basketball team wiped that record clean. Even though the school's media-relations officials are careful to pretend that season didn't happen, reporters have become adept at spotting and ignoring the erroneous info they put out. Hence, when the Buckeyes advanced to the Final Four in 2007 and news releases claimed OSU would make its first appearance since 1968, it became a joke among reporters.
That Final Four trip to Atlanta in 1999 never happened? Man, I could have sworn it did.
The memories are real, of course. The only thing the NCAA ruling did was force OSU to take down a banner commemorating the achievement. Michael Redd, Scoonie Penn and the other innocent parties on the team aren't going to give back the memories of the win over St. John's that got them there, no matter what some grim-faced NCAA investigator says.
And so it is this time. Michigan knows it lost to OSU last November for the seventh straight season, and Rich Rodriguez also knows it. The NCAA can take away the Buckeyes' victory; it won't give Rodriguez his job back.
The future is more problematic, and by fall, everything could change. But based on the possible sanctions as of today - the loss of league title game and/or bowl eligibility - there is no real cause for hysteria.
The Buckeyes must replace seven starters on defense. They face five games at the start of the season without their coach and five of their best players, already suspended because of these violations.
OSU still might win them all, but chances already were good that this wasn't going to be a banner season. The recipe seems better-suited to produce chaos than a team running the table.
So let's say these Buckeyes lose two games along the way; in the new two-division system, they probably wouldn't make it to the Big Ten title game anyway. And if they don't, that means that the most severe punishment OSU faces could be a postseason ban.
Trust old Mr. Positive on this one: The apocalypse is not upon us.
Hyperventilating over the possibility of missing an appearance in Outback or Gator bowls isn't the best use of anybody's time.
First Woman, an Ohio State graduate, elected President of the U.S.
The year is 2016 and the United States has just elected the first woman, an Ohio State graduate, as president of the United States, Susan Buckeye.
A few days after the election the president-elect calls her father and says, 'So, Dad, I assume you will be coming to my inauguration?'
'I don't think so. It's a 20 hour drive, your mother isn't as young as she used to be, and my arthritis is acting up again.'
'Don't worry about it Dad, I'll send Air Force One to pick you up and take you home. And a limousine will pick you up at your door.'
'I don't know. Everybody will be so fancy. What would your mother wear?'
Oh Dad, replies Susan, 'I'll make sure she has a wonderful gown custom-made by the best designer in New York .'
'Honey,' Dad complains, 'you know I can't eat those rich foods you and your friends like to eat.'
The President-to-be responds, 'Don't worry Dad. The entire affair is going to be handled by the best caterer in New York. I'll ensure your meals are salt free Dad, I really want you to come.'
So Dad reluctantly agrees and on January 20, 2017, Susan Buckeye is being sworn in as President of the United States, with her Mom and Dad in the front row for her big moment.
Dad notices the Senator sitting next to him and leans to and whispers with undeniable pride, 'You see that woman there with her hand on the Bible, becoming President of the United States?'
The Senator whispers back, 'Yes I do.'
Dad says proudly, 'Her brother played football at Ohio State.'
Ohio State Could Do Itself a Favor by Making Football a Topic Again
Spring is a time of rebirth. A time of rejuvenation and revitalization. A new chapter in the book of life.
And so is Spring football.
So many stories to tell, so much information to glean, so many subjects to broach.
Unless, of course, there's nobody to talk to.
In which case the only thing to talk about is the long, cold winter we've just been through.
That's basically where we are with Ohio State football right now. Spring practice started on March 31st, and so far the media has been able to attend 60 minutes of practice and talk to nobody but themselves about it.
Despite the prospects of a fertile spring football season, it feels a little bit like Punxsutawney Phootball saw his shadow, scurried back into his burrow, and now we've got six more weeks of icy gray Buckeye skies ahead of us.
Just as we saw clouds parting, we must now slink back to the boreal murk of the never-ending football winter.
Jim Tressel clearly has a right and a duty to run things however he sees fit. I have no real problem with it in general, though clearly it's frustrating for those of us who want to cover a little football.
This year is clearly different than any in the past. With a pending NCAA investigation into Jim Tressel and his football program, things have seemingly been put on lockdown because of the situation at hand.
Because it remains one of the only things to talk about, it's still the hottest topic around these parts.
But that could be remedied, or at least masked, if we were simply given something more to talk about.
This is one of the most intriguing springs of the Jim Tressel era, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the Jim Tressel error.
One of the most important quarterback battles in the nation is going on right now. We could write about it every day until a week after the Spring Game if the access was there.
What about Ohio State's loaded stable of running backs? People are only getting snippets based on our one hour of witnessing, and begging for more.
How do you replace Dane Sanzenbacher? And Devier Posey for five games! The world may never know.
The Buckeyes have to replace two entrenched interior offensive linemen. Want to know how they're doing? You're going to have to trust what we tell you in our sixty minutes of practice viewing. Though what more can you say than, "They looked good" or "They didn't look so good".
I would like to know how Ohio State plans on replacing Cameron Heyward's explosion and Dexter Larimore's leverage, but have only my best guesses to go on. (I can count my 3.0 quarters on one hand, by the way.)
Would you like to know how the new linebackers look? We can tell you what we've seen, but we can't tell you what the coaches have seen.
The two new cornerbacks? They look good so far, but I don't recall any cornerback coaches working the Ohio State beat.
My point is that there are endless topics to discuss in-depth, and it would do the Ohio State football program some good to have people talking about actual Ohio State football for a change.
Think of football as a laser pointer and the media as the distracted cat. Send us up a wall and laugh with glee. We're cool with it.
If the University is trying to avoid talking about the Tressel situation, then just tell us at the outset that there will be no questions answered regarding the ongoing NCAA investigation, and we'll gladly move on to the topic of football.
Sure, you'll have a couple of people who won't listen because they've got a job to do, but they'll eventually get the hint and remember that they've got content to produce, so they better start asking questions that will get answered.
We want to cover football.
That's not to say the off-the-field stuff would be ignored, but how many times can the same story be written without any new information?
Sadly for Ohio State, the answer is "plenty".
The pending NCAA investigation will always be the top story, but Ohio State is making it the only story, and it's counter-productive.
Don't you want to change the subject? Let us do it for you.
But instead of letting the media flood the market with stories of depth charts, position battles and feel-good schmaltz, Ohio State will get their information to the masses on their own--by releasing their own interviews with players.
The information in the video is good to know, except for the part where All-American center Mike Brewster is labeled an offensive tackle. But if that's worst inaccuracy of the (Ohio) State-run media, then I guess we can't complain.
Don't cry for us, however, as we'll finally get to talk to assorted players and coaches on Saturday, which is ten days into Spring practice.
But just think of all of the things we could have talked about in that time--and everything we talked about instead.
Ohio State missed an opportunity to make their football team the topic of conversation for a change, and in so doing, kept the one topic that they don't want to talk about at the forefront of everyone's mind.
That's not distraction, that's attraction.
But things will pick up this weekend. And it's good for us, it's good for you, and most of all it's good for Ohio State.
What if Jim Tressel and Ohio State aren’t sandbagging the College Football universe?
By now, unless you have boycotted the sports media types and moved to Siberia, you have heard that the Ohio State football program is dealing with a little bit of a situation. It has been almost a foregone conclusion that we are just scratching the surface of Tattoo-Gate, and the subsequent news about inappropriate E-mail confidentiality.
We have all been so quick to pounce on this news and immediately wait for the other cleat to drop (myself included) that we haven’t taken the time to consider the alternative:
What if this is all there is to this story? What if Gene Smith, Jim Tressel, and our favorite Orville Redenbacher look alike, Gordon Gee, are telling the truth about a lie of omission, and what we’ve heard so far is all there is to hear?
Before you cavalierly discard this thought, let’s first take a look at a couple of situations that already occurred the last few years at “The” Ohio State University.
In July of 2003, after an improbable 2002 season that culminated in a national championship, a teaching assistant at the university went on record with the New York Times. The assistant divulged information that accused Ohio State of academic fraud and preferential treatment for freshman star running back, Maurice Clarett.
To make matters worse, in November of 2004, Tom Friend wrote the much criticized piece for ESPN the magazine in which Maurice Clarett and other former Buckeyes banded together for a tell all article about loaner cars, cash payments, and academic fraud by the Ohio State coaches.
Ohio State was obviously in hot water with the media and the public, and everyone firmly believed that once the NCAA came to town and began digging around, a landslide of further abominations would be found.
The NCAA did arrive at Columbus, did perform a thorough investigation, and to everyone’s surprise, found nothing of substance.
Now, move forward a little in time to the story of Troy Smith. Ohio State took a chance on a little known athlete from the Cleveland area and brought him into the fold as their last commitment to the recruiting class of 2002.
In December of 2004, just as Smith was solidifying himself as the starting quarterback at Ohio State, the Cleveland Plain Dealer broke a story about him accepting a cash gift of $500 from a booster. It was later disclosed that the cash was allegedly used to pay for a cell phone bill that was racked up by Maurice Clarett (of all people) in the summer of 2003.
Ohio State self reported, and once again, the NCAA would be coming to town. Unlike the Clarett allegations, this time the NCAA did find something. However, it found exactly what the administration at Ohio State divulged. Nothing more-nothing less.
Flash back to today:
It is a fact that Tressel committed what is considered a major NCAA infraction by only forwarded an E-mail that would have outlined an NCAA violation by two of his starting players to a friend and mentor of Terrelle Pryor’s. He did not alert the appropriate OSU authorities who could take the necessary action, and thus omitted key information.
It is also true that this is a result of players exchanging memorabilia and awards that they owned to get a discount on tattoos, NCAA rules were broken, and suspensions will be served by players and their fearless, vested leader.
Is this where it ends?
Many of us have taken the news of the E-mail forwarding as further proof that there is a huge cover-up of larger proportions, when it is quite likely that OSU athletic director Gene Smith already knew of the transgression. One only need look at his quick re-direct of Tressel’s attempt to disclose this information during the initial press conference that Smith was already aware.
It’s indeed possible the only reason Gene cut in on Tressel’s comment was to allow the investigation to proceed as it should. Why air out the laundry when it will be cleaned and pressed by the NCAA?
Certainly, this story differs from the other two in that the head coach is involved and has admitted to a serious violation of NCAA rules. That cannot be taken lightly, and most assuredly will not be by an NCAA administration that already has egg on its face from the Cam Newton story, and its agreement to postpone the OSU players suspension until after the Sugar Bowl.
You can bet that the NCAA will continue to sift through everything and turn every stone imaginable to get to the bottom of whatever is going on and dish out punishment.
It is also now glaringly evident that the administration is sticking with the adamant support of Tressel. And they certainly know a lot more about what’s going on than any of us, and have allowed spring practice and other football operations to continue without pause, and with Senator Tressel presiding.
This leaves us with only two alternatives: Either the administration at OSU is attempting to cover up something huge many believe, or there is quite possibly nothing further to uncover. Though everyone waits for further incriminating details to emerge, history actually suggests we may want to pause and let this play out.
Source: College Football News, April 1, 2011
By Phil Harrison
Artlicle Link: What if OSU story is complete? Yuo can follow Phil Harrison on Twitter @peharrison
Tressel's character is on trial, and that hurts
Those who demand that Jim Tressel bleed outwardly for his indiscretions were denied their pound of flesh, but that does not mean he escaped yesterday's spring practice preview unscathed. The internal bleeding continues.
The pain for Ohio State's football coach was not in finding the right answers. Tress doesn't sweat the press. He remains a master of talking his way around delicate issues; his mostly benign opening remarks during the 50-minute news conference lasted 26 minutes. Combined with comments from newly appointed assistant head coach Luke Fickell, that left only 15 minutes for more than 40 media members to quiz their man.
The news conference itself was more board meeting - or bored meeting, given the introductory remarks about third-string linemen and potential long-snappers - than confessional news flash. No surprise there.
But Tressel was hurting, the anguish in his slimmed face brought on not by having to answer but by the questions themselves. It was not the tone of the queries, which was respectful. It was not the subject matter itself, which was fair. The embarrassment, and Tressel's ongoing punishment - besides his five-game suspension and $250,000 fine - is that the questions need to be asked at all.
Will your legacy be tarnished by your misconduct?
Have your leadership abilities been compromised?
How do you gain the trust of recruits after what you've done?
These are not direct questions about tattoos and forwarded emails, but questions directed at character, integrity and honor. And they cut to the quick.
Forget for a moment what the NCAA thinks about Tressel's handling of the investigation; those findings remain on the horizon. They could be heavy or light, but whatever they come to, the resulting humiliation will injure Tressel no worse than the self-knowledge that he has fallen short in the eyes of those who held him to the same high standard that he expects of himself.
Symbols of that standard hang on the walls in the main hallway of the OSU football complex. There, in Tressel Headquarters, are glass-encased triangular folded flags representing the men and women of the United States military.
"From the men, NCO's and officers of United States Army Ohio National Guard Bravo Company, 2nd 19th Special Forces Group."
"451 Civil Affairs Battalion" U.S. Army."
"United States Army Task Force Corsair."
The inscriptions act like mirrors that Tressel must pass each day. Does he like what he sees?
"The toughest regrets you have are when you disappoint," he said. "When you disappoint as a parent, that's tough. I suppose when you've had good fortune to have leadership roles, that's even harder."
Tressel so respects the military that the Buckeyes will wear camouflaged football helmets during spring practice. And yet he cannot wrap camo around his own situation. Nor should he be allowed to. This is his fate, brought on by his own doing, with the help of the six suspended players. So pity is not in order here. But will he gain from his pain? Will the NCAA order more penalties upon his five-game suspension? Or is a coach's tarnished reputation punishment enough? We will see.
But whatever the NCAA decides, the verdict is out of Tressel's control. In one sense, there is freedom for him in that truth, even if the lack of influence goes against his grain. He said that all he can do now is move forward, trusting that those looking to him for guidance will understand that imperfection is our only birthright.
"I'm not sure I've ever talked or guided our guys with the thought I've done things perfectly," he said, responding to how players might view him in light of his lack of forthrightness with his OSU bosses and the NCAA. "I've never looked at myself that way."
Except now the game has changed. Now others will not look at him that way, either. They don't need to hear the answers. The questions are enough.
NCAA president: Time to discuss players getting sliver of revenue pie
The NCAA's new president is adamant that, on his watch, there'll be no straying from college athletics' most time-honored tenet: "It's grossly unacceptable and inappropriate to pay players … converting them from students to employees," Mark Emmert says.
But as the NCAA basketball tournament's Final Four gathers here this week — capping a three-week showcase that generates more than $771 million a year in television rights alone — Emmert acknowledges it's time for a serious discussion about whether and how to spread a little more of the largesse to those doing the playing and sweating.
"The sooner, the better," Emmert says.
He's not thinking big. Maybe bump up the value of players' scholarships by a few thousand dollars to take care of travel, laundry and other typical college expenses that aren't covered now. And Emmert isn't promising anything, only that he'll bring it up at the NCAA's board meetings in April.
"I will make clear," he says, "that I want this to be a subject we explore."
In an era of spiraling rights fees, sold-out luxury suites, full-speed marketing and an ever-growing roster of multimillion-dollar coaches, there are calls — from inside college athletics and out — to find ways for athletes to share in the proceeds of their sports' popularity. Some proposals arguably would bend the NCAA's amateur ideal by, among other things, allowing them to cash in on endorsements or profit from the use of their likenesses in video games, perhaps directing the money to trust funds that couldn't be tapped until they were out of school.
If change doesn't come voluntarily, legal analysts say, the courts eventually may require it. The NCAA has long argued that its strict no-pay standard is necessary to preserve the line between college and professional sports. But have college sports become so commercial that they've already blurred the distinction?
"It puts intercollegiate athletics in a precarious position," former NCAA executive director Cedric Dempsey says, "when you see the money and the kind of salaries you see now and the only group in the system that hasn't received any additional funding is at the student-athlete level."
At North Carolina, Hall of Fame basketball coach Roy Williams questions why athletic scholarships can't measure up to top academic awards, such as UNC's Morehead-Cain scholarship, that take care of a recipient's travel, computers and other incidental extras. He lobbies in particular for players in the revenue-producing sports of football and men's basketball.
"Human nature," Williams says, "is those kids are saying, 'Look at all this money we're bringing in. And I have to beg, borrow and steal to get an extra meal?' "
The what-to-give-players debate has percolated from the time the NCAA was formed in 1906. The current guideline — scholarships covering room, board, books and tuition — was set in the 1950s, though today's athletes also can draw modest amounts from special assistance funds set up by the governing body.
Most everywhere else, the evolution of college athletics has been striking. The money, especially.
Football's Bowl Championship Series is coming off the first season of a $125 million-a-year TV deal. Dwarfing that, the NCAA put the basketball tournament out to bid and last June landed a 14-year, $10.8 billion contract with CBS and Turner Sports.
Throw in conferences' TV packages, including the Southeastern Conference's whopping 15-year, $2.5 billion arrangement with ESPN. Fans are spinning turnstiles in expanded stadiums and arenas, including the 77,000 or so expected for Saturday's and Monday's Final Four games in Houston's Reliant Stadium. Schools' marketing and multimedia rights go for tens of millions of dollars to IMG and other companies.
Annual athletics revenue reaches into nine figures at a growing number of schools, topped by Texas and fellow football powers Alabama and Ohio State. Sizable amounts are trickling down to coaches. Rick Pitino, whose basketball team flamed out in the first round of the NCAA tournament, is being paid $7.5 million at Louisville this year, including a $3.6 million bonus simply for staying put for three seasons. At least five others in Division I basketball, including Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and Kansas' Bill Self, are guaranteed more than $3 million.
'A certain level of resentment'
This is a time of year that underscores the players' essential role in all that capitalism.
Two Sunday nights ago, standout sophomore Derrick Williams hit a dramatic, stumbling drive to the basket in the closing seconds of Arizona's NCAA tournament game against Texas, tying the score. With the crowd roaring in Tulsa's BOK Center, he stepped to the foul line and added the free throw that beat the Longhorns and lifted the Wildcats into the Sweet 16.
Such moments are the lifeblood of the tournament, and they carry well-defined financial stakes. Williams' decisive foul shot was worth more than $1.4 million for Arizona and its Pacific 10 Conference co-members — the amount they'll pocket for each game the Wildcats play in the tournament during the next six years under the NCAA's revenue-sharing plan. With another win over defending champion Duke five nights later, Arizona earned another $1 million-plus.
"It may create a certain level of resentment in athletes," says Pittsburgh basketball player Gilbert Brown, a senior and the third-leading scorer on a team that won the Big East Conference's regular-season championship. "You put yourself on the line for the success of the program, and it really is sometimes only benefiting one side instead of the person that's going out there."
Says Duke senior All-American Nolan Smith: "It's definitely a conversation in the locker room. … We feel like we've paid our dues. We bring a lot into the university, and we might want to see a little more."
The NCAA's Emmert argues that the payoff is not as one-sided as some portray. Athletic scholarships cover a median $27,923 in costs each year at the 120 schools in the top football-playing Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). Beyond that, players get equipment and apparel, complimentary game admissions for family and friends, tutoring and other academic support, among other things.
In trying to assess the full value of a Division I men's basketball scholarship, USA TODAY also folded in benefits such as coaching, media exposure and impact on future earnings. Its calculation: a worth of at least $120,000 a year.
Even so, on average, a grant-in-aid's face value falls nearly $3,000 beneath the full cost of attending college, counting a trip home or two, laundry money and other incidentals. And Emmert says the new basketball and BCS contracts offer a chance to examine what else athletes can be offered.
"There are those who see student-athletes as incredibly privileged in that they have access to all that support. And then there are those who see them as exploited," he says. "The truth is obviously somewhere in between. It really depends on which end of the telescope you're looking through."
'We've got to do something'
Emmert's predecessor at the NCAA, the late Myles Brand, also floated the notion of full-coverage scholarships when he took office in 2003, and member schools quickly talked him down. Their issue: The spigot of TV and other revenue is open only for football and basketball, and often must subsidize at least a dozen more men's and women's sports.
Because of that, money actually is tight in most athletics programs. In fiscal 2009, only 14 of the 120 FBS schools were operating their overall programs in the black.
Giving 85 scholarship football players an extra $3,000 would cost $255,000 annually. Spreading it across all athletes in all sports — Stanford counts 475 scholarship athletes, Ohio State has 448 in 30-plus sports — could take $1 million or more a year and lead some cash-strapped schools to pare teams.
Though it almost certainly would draw resistance from women's sports advocates and others, there is some sentiment to narrow any additional aid to football and men's basketball, the sports in which the competitive and financial stakes, pressures and rewards are highest.
"The hardest thing for our association to do is treat those kids differently," Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith says. "But you know what? Their lives are different. They're different than the field hockey athlete. They're different than the swimmer. They're under different pressures."
He acknowledges concerns about Title IX, the federal law that mandates equal opportunities for women, but says, "It needs to be explored. … We've got to do something."
It's a matter of fairness, he says.
Dempsey, who was athletics director at Arizona before running the NCAA from 1993-2002, agrees. "The rationale is, 'We don't have the money,' " he says. "Well, that's not the problem. It's how we spend the money."
The NCAA's powerful first CEO, Walter Byers, was more deeply critical in a book he wrote eight years into his retirement in 1995 that he titled Unsportsmanlike Conduct. (Intensely private, he declined an interview request last month.) It repudiated much of what Byers was instrumental in building during his 36 years with the association, railing at what he saw as the exploitation of college athletes and maintaining that "the major hope for reform lies outside the collegiate structure."
Wrote Byers, "What the colleges will not do voluntarily should be done for them."
Indeed, the U.S. Justice Department is now poking into one area, examining the NCAA's stipulation that scholarships be awarded year-to-year rather than guaranteed over an athlete's career. It's also looking into the limit of five years that an athlete can receive scholarship money.
But a more likely agent of change appears to be the courts.
The NCAA already has settled a class-action lawsuit that targeted its rule limiting scholarship coverage to room, board, books and tuition. Among other things, it agreed to widen athletes' access to special assistance funds available from the association on a case-by-case basis. The money can be used for such things as computers and other educational necessities, medical expenses and emergency travel.
The NCAA has earmarked nearly $60 million in such funds this year, carved out of an overall $757 million budget. Another $22.5 million is set aside for academic enhancement, buttressing schools' academic support programs.
Eyes currently are on an array of lawsuits filed and moving jointly through federal court in California. One, fronted by former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon, challenges the use of athletes' images and likenesses in commercials, video games and elsewhere once they've left college. Another, in which former Arizona State and Nebraska football player Sam Keller is the principal plaintiff, specifically targets video games that carry unidentified but easily recognizable images of players. Both claim the players should be sharing in revenue generated by such products.
"Those cases are not directly about current players being paid by the NCAA," says Vermont Law School professor Michael McCann, who specializes in sports and antitrust law. "But clearly, they're about that topic in an indirect way."
Jon King, lead attorney for the players in the O'Bannon suit, says the case could "drill into the value of a scholarship vs. the revenue generated" and "whether there is a disparity, at least today, that didn't exist 30 years ago."
Since 1984, the NCAA has drawn legal strength from a notation by U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens in a landmark case involving football television rights. Control was stripped from the NCAA, but the court said in its decision that the association was entitled to other restrictive power to maintain the college game's difference from pro sports.
Stevens wrote that "in order to preserve the character and quality of the 'product,' athletes must not be paid, must be required to attend class, and the like."
But what does "character" mean in today's environment?
If a player and some savvy lawyer were to challenge the NCAA on, say, the limits on compensation, "I can see some liberal judge, a federal judge someplace, ruling in favor (of the athlete) … someone who is a pure academic and would feel intercollegiate athletics is a tail that's wagging the dog," says Dick Schultz, who succeeded Byers as NCAA executive director and ran the association from 1988-93. "I think every year that goes by, it becomes less of a long shot."
He adds, "If I were at the NCAA, I would be preparing for it, hoping it would never happen. But I would have a plan to deal with it."
For some, simply lifting scholarship values to meet all the costs of college attendance isn't enough. Ohio State's Smith also wants to beef up the NCAA's athlete assistance fund and expand its uses — raising the cap for clothing, allowing players to tap it for gas money or to furnish an apartment or simply go out.
Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA football linebacker who now advocates athletes' rights as head of the California-based National College Players Association, wants to allow players to cash in on their commercial value. Let them do endorsements, he says.
"It doesn't cost the NCAA or the schools one dime," he says. "And it doesn't jeopardize amateurism. It's not pay-for-play."
But would even that be enough?
"One estimate is that a top-flight (Division I) basketball player, somebody like (North Carolina freshman) Harrison Barnes or (Duke freshman) Kyrie Irving, is probably worth about $300,000," says Paul Haagen, a law professor at Duke and co-director of the university's Center for Sports Law and Policy. He's talking about market value if they were to get paid.
"I don't know what it would be for football players," Haagen says. "But if you're talking that kind of money, I don't see any way to solve the problem. It's not going to go away if you're just giving them a sweater or an extra plane trip or spending money.
"Unless you're paying something like a market rate, all of the pressures are still there."
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel should not be defined solely by his wrongdoings
The whole sad, shabby memorabilia-for-sale scandal at Ohio State gets worse in terms of perception for Jim Tressel.
The reality is more measured, as far as Tressel's wrongdoing goes. Still, it is not enough to mitigate the damage to his image as the "Senator," a man strict in his rectitude. It is not enough to clean the stain from his legacy as the Vest, a self-contained, disciplined coach who casts the biggest shadow in Columbus since Woody Hayes.
The coach who wrote a book called "The Winner's Manual: For the Game of Life," is dependent on his public record of football success now to justify to critics why Ohio State supports him. His private life, those critics think, is filled with manipulation, secrecy and behavior contrary to the principles he espouses.
The arguments in support of Tressel are, truthfully, legalistic and contorted. The concept of doing the right thing at the right time was not a big consideration at any time in the memorabilia sale scandal.
Ohio State officials were aware that Tressel forwarded emails tipping him off to the activities of the Flea Market Five. There was no other shoe to drop, cleated or otherwise, in the recent disclosure of the involvement of Jeannette, Pa., businessman Ted Sarniak, a friend and mentor of quarterback Terrelle Pryor. So Ohio State once again stands by Tressel, which is what happens at a big power with a coach who is a big winner.
The forwarded emails make the magic cloak of confidentiality with which Tressel hoped to shroud his actions seem as illusory as the emperor's new clothes. But that does not mean the "body of work" argument, used to justify retaining the coach by loose-lipped Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee, is a fiction either.
In his own mind, Tressel was trying to help Pryor through a third party whom the player trusted. I think Tressel believes he was doing good. I am not sure how solid a defense good intentions are when truthfulness would have better served everyone except Tressel and his won-lost record.
But there have been plenty of opportunities for avenging angels to wield their swords in the media. It is still hard for me, Tressel's present infamy aside, to see him solely in the harsh light of the scandal.
He has contributed memorabilia, quietly, with no thought of publicity or favor, to fundraisers, to the military personnel he deeply admires, to the bereft and to the ailing. "The Buckeyes are cheering for you!" he writes on Ohio State baseball caps and souvenir footballs given to hospital shut-ins. The well wishes seem like a small thing. But ask anyone who was touched by such human outreach how big the thoughtfulness bulks in their minds. Ask them which team they might be cheering for now. Ask them if they think Tressel is a rogue coach who hides behind a phony image.
Many critics think of the scandal cover-up as a device of expediency, something that worked for a time, that let Ohio State win 11 games in 2010 and share another Big Ten championship. But, just once, Tressel let down his guard and I saw, at least in retrospect, what a burden it was to him.
Last summer, in an interview before the start of Browns training camp, the Ohio State coach effusively praised former Texas quarterback and Browns draftee Colt McCoy. Tressel outlined why McCoy, whom the Buckeyes played twice, splitting the pair of games, had a chance to be a good NFL quarterback. Tressel told anecdotes about the Buckeyes' Fiesta Bowl loss to McCoy's Texas team in the last seconds, explaining what that meant about McCoy's demeanor and character.
At the end of the interview, I asked about the upcoming Ohio State season. Tressel said things looked good on the field of play. "But I worry about this team away from it," he said.
I know now that the cover-up had begun months before. Tressel had been aware of the tattoo parlor scandal since last April. It was on his mind, like a painful splinter that got under his skin. But he never considered using tweezers to remove it.