Sometimes, there’s not always a right and wrong.
Sometimes, it’s all wrong.
This is one of those cases.
The whole kit and caboodle is wrong. The players were wrong. Ohio State was wrong. The NCAA is wrong. The end result? Definitely wrong.
It’s bound to happen. When athletes worth lots of money are being compensated less than market value, there’s so many ways for things like this to happen, and there's only so much the NCAA can do about it.
This isn’t like just about every other vocation in the world, where a young, talented prodigy can make money in his or her chosen field as long as someone is willing to pay them.
Instead, talented football and basketball players are forced to attend college before going pro. It’s fun – after all, there’s a reason college football is one of the most popular sports in the country and keeps people riveted to television sets for four months out of the year – and it makes money and it’s certainly not the worst deal for the players, but it’s also antiquated and prone to abuses and breakdowns in the most obvious of ways.
Trying to profit off of one’s status as a marketable athlete is a temptation that’s hard to shake off from the moment recruiters show up at the front porch. It continues for years, and it has to be even worse when players can stand in a 100,000-seat stadium full of people wearing their own jerseys but can’t legally see a dime in their bank accounts.
The education provided is a reward for sure, but imagine being 20 years old, taking in a stadium full of people who paid $70 a pop to see you and then being told you can’t accept so much as a free burger and fries. Players are offered a lot more than burgers and fries along the way, and for many who grew up in poor conditions, it’s hard to say no every time.
It’s a messed up system with plenty of ways for people to scam it to their advantage, and everyone knows it. I would go as far as to say that 95 percent of the time it goes undetected, making it a pretty good racket until – or, more accurately, unless – you get caught.
There doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to the 5 percent that comes out; perhaps it’s just the cost of doing business. But when it does hit the public radar, you can't excuse the wrongdoing because the rules are in place.
That is why Terrelle Pryor, Dan Herron, DeVier Posey, Solomon Thomas and Mike Adams must be held responsible for their actions of selling gear and accepting illegal benefits. Jordan Whiting must also face the music for the latter action as well.
It’s their duty to stay out of trouble, and the easiest way to avoid an investigation is to do nothing to get into one. Even if they feel the system they’ve been forced to enter feels unfair, there are still rules that must be followed. A bad decision in a bad system is still a bad decision.
Athletic director Gene Smith tried to throw them a bone today by putting some blame on Ohio State’s compliance department for not explicitly addressing the rule about selling merchandise and awards, but compliance’s motto of the past few years – “Ask before you act” – was clearly not followed here. That puts the players in the wrong.
Compliance will also have egg on its face, for better or for worse. Perhaps the hardest job in college athletics is trying to enforce a thick set of rules that may or may not be consistent and that no one at your school wants to listen to anyway. But if what Smith said is true and compliance did not stress the rule to players, it must bear some of the responsibility.
Finally, I don't know where to begin with the NCAA. The body has a tough job when it comes to dealing with the cheating inherent in the system, but I have little sympathy after it has neglected addressing many its fundamental flaws for decades.
The result is a messy set of rules in which logic and precedent seemingly have no place. Ohio State fans will be outraged that Auburn’s Cam Newton avoided suspension for what appears to be a far worse – and more obviously illegal – crime perpetrated by a close family member. They will have reason, as that ruling was mind-boggling at the time and looks even worse now.
Sadly, it only helps the belief held by many that the NCAA is OK with looking the other way until it doesn't. On the surface it appears the body didn’t have the heart or the gumption to take on the Newton situation, but it must think it looks tough now.
While I can certainly understand the intent behind the NCAA rule banning the selling of “awards, gifts and university apparel,” I can’t consider it a hugely serious breach of etiquette considering the players were selling their own property earned through hard work and effort.
To me, the punishment of 30 percent of a season just doesn’t fit the crime. I thought it was wrong when it was applied to Georgia’s A.J. Green in the last offseason and is just as wrong now.
Of course, there’s nothing that can be done about it. Pryor’s legacy at Ohio State – which was hanging in the balance to begin with – will be tarnished forever. One has to wonder if the whole recruiting mess for the one-time No. 1 player in the country was worth it after all. The other players will be pariahs or martyrs, depending on how you want to look at it.
But no matter how I slice it, there are no winners here. The players lose, Ohio State loses and the NCAA will be viewed with a jaundiced eye by fans and commentators.
It’s all wrong.