Friday, December 31, 2010

Everybody's sorry when they get caught

The five Buckeye juniors - DeVier Posey, Mike Adams, Dan Herron, Terrelle Pryor and Solomon Thomas – sat in a row at the long table as flashbulbs popped and harried beat reporters hammered away on their laptops. Tuesday’s press conference, where the five players offered apologies for violating NCAA rules, had an odd, almost pre-trial vibe, as if these student-athletes were about to stand in front of a jury of their peers.

Of course, these young men are not criminals, but what should not be lost in all the hand-wringing about NCAA incompetence and BCS greed is that they’re not exactly victims, either. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith can dissemble all he wants about the quintet selling Buckeyes’ memorabilia to help their families, or portray the players as naive little lambs who knew not what they did. My response to these statements is as follows.

How many loaves of bread did those discounted tattoos buy, I wonder? Come on, now. It’s much easier apologizing than to do the right thing in the first place, and I have zero sympathy for guys who flush away an incredible opportunity for cash and some bargain-priced ink. No crimes were committed, but these guys did break NCAA rules, and as NCAA student-athletes, they are, fairly or not, held to a higher standard than the “ordinary” students at Ohio State University.

The NCAA prohibitions for “student-athletes selling items received for participation in intercollegiate athletics” seem to read the same across the board:

“A student-athlete shall not sell any (game) item or exchange or assign such an item for another item of value, even if the student-athlete's name or picture does not appear on the item received for intercollegiate athletics participation.”

Kind of stodgy and lawyerly in the wording, but I’d say that’s pretty clear. Did Pryor and friends sleep through that day’s compliance meeting? Could someone have at least given them the gist of it?

Smith’s implausible excuses for the players not knowing the rules because the school “failed to make the rules clear” was even called out by Coach Tressel, who found it hard to believe that the five were blissfully unaware of the coin their names held among sleazy tattoo artists and dorky memorabilia hounds alike.

Not to go all grumpy old man here, but what happened to personal responsibility, dagnabbit? It’s not even about loyalty or tradition, as those concepts have faded into oblivion thanks to the “get me mine” attitude of the modern athlete – a behavior typified by our old buddy Señor South Beach, whom Pryor himself holds in high esteem.

But I’ll be damned if the players didn’t have an inkling that selling their trinkets could come back and bite them and by extension the team. Discussions about archaic NCAA rules, stipends and the huge money major football programs make off of these young athletes is certainly a valid conversation. However, those topics should not be used as a smokescreen to obscure the selfish, foolish actions of nearly grown men who should have known better.