Saturday, July 9, 2011

Self-imposed sanctions? Nice try, guys

Ohio State University's recently announced self-sanctions are so brazenly empty, weightless and devoid of actual, you know, punishment, that it's almost endearing.

You can imagine athletic director Gene Smith and university president Gordon Gee approaching the NCAA with identical sheepish grins and promising that along with vacating all of last year's wins, as well as the Big Ten title and Sugar Bowl victory, they won't have ice cream after dinner or play Xbox for a week.

Gee and Smith promise to be good with the bad man gone.
There's no more meaningless penalty in college athletics than the vacating of wins. Unless the NCAA conjures a way to erase players' memories (I'm sure they're working on it), then retroactive losses - along with a reported two years of Ohio State-imposed probation - have all the substance of soggy cotton candy.

The key here is "institutional responsibility," a dangerously innocuous bit of bureaucracy-speak that the school is trying to work in its favor. In OSU's reckoning, the blame for the cover-up of players receiving tattoos and selling memorabilia went out the door with head coach Jim Tressel, as he was the only one aware of the violations.

"While an institution always is responsible for the actions of its current and former employees, in this case, institutional responsibility is minimal because, but for the knowledge of a former employee [Tressel], the institution had no knowledge that a possible violation had occurred," the school said in its response to the NCAA.

Ohio State officials can point to Tressel stepping down, whether on his own or at the behest of the university, as well as the departure of quarterback Terrelle Pryor and the suspension of the remaining players involved in the scandal, and claim they have been punished enough, and won't somebody please think of the children?

But do we really believe it's going to go down like that come August 12 when the university is scheduled to appear before the NCAA in Indianapolis? Is there any way a not-exactly competently run athletic association is going to believe that school leadership was sealed off from the decisions of one of the most powerful coaches leading one of the most highly regarded football programs in country? That's doubtful.

A bowl ban and a loss of scholarships are the likely results of this entirely avoidable mess. As an OSU alum and Buckeyes' football fan I'm all for a wrist-slap, and I'd be a hypocrite to say otherwise. However, as unfair as it may be for innocent players to get punished for the sins of their forbearers, OSU and its fans are probably going to be traveling a rougher road over the next few years than they'd hoped.