In Case Of Emergency, Use Sweater Vest

March 8

The Sweater Vest survives again. The Sweater Vest is flame-retardant and like teflon. The Sweater Vest covers a multitude of sins because it wins.

By now you’ve all heard the story about Jim Tressel, the Ohio State football coach who tried to tuck an inconvenient little problem under the vest. When it was revealed he sat on some crucial information regarding five important players ( including Terrelle Pryor, “Boom” Herron and Devier Posey ), he went before the cameras, dressed in black.

The players who received improper benefits were suspended five games by the NCAA to start the 2011 season, but of course, not the Sugar Bowl. The coach who sat on the story was suspended by the school for two games — against Akron and Toledo to start the 2011. How will the Buckeyes beat the Zips without him ?

Tressel, who makes 3.5 million a year, was fined $250,000. A couple of commercials for Ed’s Brakes in Columbus and an envelope from a booster will probably take care of most of that. Of course, the NCAA could and should come down with harsher penalties, but don’t think he’ll miss a bowl game.

Here’s the crazy part: players can’t accept a toothpick from a coach, but they take possession of Big 10 rings and 24 karat “gold pants” key rings when they beat Michigan ( which they’ve done repeatedly ). They’re not supposed to sell or barter them, but they did — and in fact the ones who exchanged those items for tattoos got ripped off.

In any event, it’s a rules violation. The players knew it, the coach knew it. Tressel didn’t report it right away, although his contract expressly tells him to do just that.

In the press conference Tuesday, Tressel alternately said he was concerned about the “welfare” of his athletes ( because he’d had some go to jail and turn to drugs, or both ), and said he “didn’t know who to talk to” about the issue. Which was it ?

Not sure who to notify ? Ummm, how about talking to the Athletic Director ? That’s a start. Or even Brutus Buckeye.

I’m sure Tressel would have been just as concerned about the “welfare” of the third-string tackle. By the way, is Tressel saying that if he reported these guys, they’re going to go to the Dark Side right away ? Either he doesn’t trust them, or he’s not recruiting the right characters.

Tressel said he would “learn” and “grow” from this little problem. Just as he “learned” and “grew” from the Ray Isaac problem at Youngstown State, or the Maurice Clarett and Troy Smith problems at THE Ohio State. Or more than 300 other “problems,” both big and small, that have occurred during his tenure.

Stories circulated Tuesday that Tressel would be fired, but Athletic Director Gene Smith said the case didn’t “warrant” that kind of action, and that you had to consider Tressel’s “body of work.” Translation: if he was a .500 coach or worse, he’d be gone.

Tressel wins, and he’s apparently fooled some people over the years into thinking he’s somehow above the fray and is more principled than your average big-time college coach. Fact is, it’s very hard to be a big-time college coach and be clean; the system just doesn’t allow it.

As violations go, these were about a 3.7 on the Richter Scale, noticeable but not on the scale of USC or other notorious programs. However, it shows us that Ohio State, just like other schools, plays the risk-and-reward game that is college football.

It’s a game where schools get away with what they can, and try to get ahead of the story when they’re busted. Then, at worst, if violations are serious, go through the boom-and-bust cycle — climb atop the heap and make millions, get caught and suffer the penalty of probation, then rebuild again.

Ohio State is not the only, or the worst offender in a dirty sport. Their coach simply insulted our intelligence by portraying himself as a white knight ( even writing books about winning in the game of life ), and then failing to own up to his transgressions at a news conference.

As we learned at the SFGate web site today, even Stanford apparently favored student-athletes with favorable courses unbeknowst to the general population ( that list of courses has been dropped now that it has become public knowledge ). Easy classes are made available to student-athletes across the country, but again, it went against the Stanford image.

What’s the answer to all this ? Pay the athletes to play for your school, and just admit it’s a minor-league system for the NFL ? Will that stop the cheating ? No. If there’s a pay scale in place, what’s to stop a booster from going over the top of that scale and offering some “lagniappe” to a sought-after recruit ?

In addition, as an advocate of a college football playoff system, I’m aware that it could bring even more money into college sports. That would benefit all programs, but bigger bucks means bigger temptations.

Unless we all decide to stop watching the games on television, we’ll continue to feed the Beast. We love the atmosphere and excitement of college football, and it fills our Saturdays in the fall. Star athletes bring publicity and dollars to our alma mater, so they will get favorable treatment. ‘Twas ever thus.

I would at least feel better if schools and coaches would stop the clap-trap about the “college experience” and the “student-athlete.”

Granted, some athletes do take school seriously and some schools have standards. We just had a discussion last week about Brandon Davies and the BYU “honor code,” and Washington basketball coach Lorenzo Romar suspended guard Venoy Overton from the Pac-10 tournament for some off-court shenanigans, a move that could hurt the Huskies’ NCAA chances. Those, sadly, are exceptions to the rule.

The NCAA needs to stop its’ selective prosecution ( the rationale behind avoiding a Sugar Bowl suspension for the Ohio State Five was laughable ), but that won’t happen because they’re beholden to the big schools. Schools will police themselves only when it’s unavoidable, kids will be kids, and fans will be fans.

Anyone who thinks big-time college sports has been dirty just recently is delusional. As early as the 1920’s, there were articles raising concern about under-the-table dealings in college sports. My mom said that at UCLA in the 1940’s, they would mock USC’s fight song with the words, “our quarterback won’t play, he didn’t get his weekly pay.”

Nowadays, it’s cheating on steroids. It won’t stop, but that doesn’t mean you stop looking for answers and punishing schools where you can. It would take a strong college president who can withstand the pressure from alumni and boosters to demand a clean program, even if it costs a school some wins. Good luck with that.

At the very least, this is what I want: just stop the hypocrisy. Stop insulting our intelligence and selling us an image that doesn’t come out in the wash.

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