Dan Wetzel’s Yahoo! column yesterday made two very important points in regard to Ohio State’s handling of the current problems within the football program: Athletic Director Gene Smith has obviously not been entirely forthright, at least publicly, during this process, and Ohio State needs to address these problems with a much greater sense of transparency in order to right the ship.
Smith made this statement last December 23 when Ohio State first publicly addressed “Tat-gate” with a news conference:
“There are no other NCAA violations around this case,” Smith declared. “We’re very fortunate we do not have a systemic problem in our program. This is isolated to these young men, isolated to this particular incident. There are no other violations that exist.”
With what we know now, Smith’s words here are demonstrably false. It’s important to note that these are his public words. We don’t know if Smith has been more open with NCAA investigators. If the precedent of how they dealt with the “Tat-5” is any indicator, however, I’m guessing not. Which brings us to Wetzel’s second point.
Ohio State fans and alumni need to be hoping for clarity here, not obfuscation. Yes, if all the dirty laundry gets aired, there stands a chance that OSU will be hit with stiffer NCAA penalties. If it doesn’t come out, however, there’s a better chance the types of behavior we’ve seen thus far will continue, further damaging the image of integrity Ohio State has worked hard to establish. Better to clean house now than continue to live in filth.
The issue to this point has been framed as one with head coach Jim Tressel. We would be led to believe that Tressel acted alone in this scenario, keeping his superiors in the athletic department in the dark. First, this is obviously not the case. Contrary to Gene Smith’s contention that this was an “isolated incident” involving only the five players seeking tattoos in exchange for memorabilia, we now know that the situation extended beyond them. It may not have been “everybody” as Ray Small claimed yesterday, but it was most definitely “systemic” which contradicts Smith. This means either Tressel was able to cover up on a scale that would make Gordon Liddy blush, or Smith wasn’t being entirely truthful.
As I see it, the problem isn’t with Tressel. He’s paid to win football games and develop players, both on and off the field. While he’s lost a few games and a few players like Maurice Clarett haven’t turned out to be solid citizens, the overwhelming evidence says that Tressel is a success. He has won at an unprecedented pace at OSU and has turned out both quality football players and young men. Furthermore, nothing that has come to light suggests Tressel has done so unscrupulously, either through illegal recruiting practices (see Calhoun, Jim) or through suborning illegal benefits (see Switzer, Barry). Though the media wants to focus on the head coach, it’s simply not his job to police the program 24/7. As former Alabama coach Gene Stallings (another man of great integrity caught up in scandal because of player misconduct) said, “”At some point, the N.C.A.A. has to decide whether they want me to be a football coach or a detective. I asked the player if an agent was involved and he said no. I don’t know how much further I’m supposed to pursue it. At some point, I have to trust my player.” Trusting his players is part of a coach’s job description.
Then whose job is it to maintain compliance within a high-profile athletic program? That would be the athletic director. The AD’s office is where the buck ultimately stops with regard to compliance. It’s obvious Tressel wasn’t covering up an “isolated” incident involving only five players here. If Mark Titus could see what was going on, it’s hard to believe Gene Smith couldn’t. Even so, it’s HIS JOB to know what’s going on within the program. It’s Smith that is charged with managing the access outsiders have to players and the program. If anyone has to be the “detective,” it’s the athletic director, Smith. With what we know thus far, it’s hard to see where Gene Smith hasn’t either been grossly negligent or actively complicit in wrongdoing that has brought dishonor to the football program and to the university.
If this is the case, that’s not good news in the short run for Ohio State. That brings into play the dreaded “lack of institutional control” with the NCAA, meaning stiffer penalties that could affect the future rather than retroactive penalties that only result in vacated wins or titles. Taking down banners and altering record books are embarrassing, but ultimately have no lasting effect on the program. Loss of scholarships or post season bans, like those facing USC, can hurt a program going forward.
In any event, Ohio State fans and alumni must not turn a blind eye to what is happening as the administration most certainly has. It may hurt in the short-term, but as Chris Spielman said so eloquently, “No one person is bigger than the university.” If Buckeye faithful are to be honest, they must hope for the truth to emerge, no matter what the cost.