NCAA Bungles Ohio State Ruling Along With Entirety of 2010's Rulings
In past years, I've analogized the NCAA's enforcement arm to a traffic cop. I hate, hate, hate traffic cops. So do you. Why? Because they sit on the side of the road and watch everyone speed by. Occasionally they pull out into traffic, pull over a speeder and write him or her a ticket. While the traffic cop is writing you the ticket, everyone continues to speed past you as you sit on the side of the road. Nothing changes. Any attempt to regulate traffic speeds is impossible. It's a stupid, ineffective and inconsistent, just like the NCAA.
In the wake of NCAA's ruling on Ohio State's five football players, including Terrelle Pryor, who all acknowledged selling jerseys, rings or gold pants, I believe I've been too generous to the NCAA. This has been the year when the NCAA has stopped being a traffic cop and turned into an arbitrary and capricious dictator. Think an insane Saddam Hussein at the height of his powers in Iraq. The NCAA is a totalitarian dictator, the rules are what the NCAA says the rules are. Even if, you know, honest logic dies in the process.
Put simply, the decision to allow Ohio State's five "suspended" players to remain eligible for the Sugar Bowl is indefensible. Completely and utterly indefensible. I'll write more about this shortly, but how can you have a suspension that doesn't take effect immediately? How can you be eligible at the same time that you're ineligible? How can a window of eligibility exist if you are presently ineligible? What's more, and there will be more on this shortly, how come Ohio State's 2009 and 2010 seasons aren't invalidated for ineligible players competing?
The NCAA's Ohio State ruling is, I believe, the tipping point. We've reached a position in college athletics where there is no logic and no intelligent person can discern any element of legitimacy behind the NCAA's decrees.
Here are seven things every college sports fan should consider in the wake of the Ohio State ruling:
1. We know what the NCAA does now.
This gets overlooked, but it's incredibly important. Before the Internet, NCAA rulings weren't really dissected by the common fan. Sure, if your local program got slammed, you'd get good coverage in your newspaper and maybe on local news. But that was it. If a school from outside your region got slammed, you'd get a few boilerplate sentences from an AP article in the local paper but you wouldn't really be able to dive into the particulars of the ruling.
You weren't able to easily compare the facts and systematically discredit the rulings given based upon those facts. But now the moment the Ohio State ruling came down any fan with a brain had a working knowledge of past rulings this season and in recent years past. Twitter exploded with indignation.
I can't tell you what the NCAA did in 1985 with any certainty. But I can tell you what the NCAA did in 2010 with great certainty. And if the NCAA rulings in 2010 don't square with earlier rulings in the same year 2010? Well, we got issues. And unlike in past years, we can tear apart the NCAA for those issues.
There aren't just a few people in the United States who can discuss the merits, or lack thereof, of NCAA punishment. Now with the explosion of information and the nationalization of college football fandom, we all know when we see an illogical ruling.
And we'll call the NCAA on it. Being able to recall past precedents is not the NCAA's friend, it's the enemy.
2. The NCAA isn't a court system.
In the wake of the Ohio State ruling, some attempted to defend the NCAA by pointing out the discrepancies in sentencing that can arise in criminal trials. How can we expect, some asked, for the NCAA to be consistent in its rulings when our own court system is inconsistent?
Because unlike a judge in a criminal proceeding who must determine what criminal laws the legislature has passed, assess whether they apply and incorporate those findings in conjunction with the factual decisions rendered by a jury, the NCAA is the arbiter of its own rules. The NCAA is the jury, the judge and hears all appeals.
Our court system can deliver lots of contradictory rulings precisely because it isn't a totalitarian system. There are multiple working parts that help us to arrive at justice. That may not be pretty and it may, at times, be contradictory, but it's democratic.
But the NCAA? The NCAA creates and enforces its own rules. So when the NCAA still can't create and enforce consistent rules, there are only two excuses: a. incompetence b. being "captured" by the entities it regulates. I think the NCAA is guilty of a combination of both a. and b.
3. Why would a school ever conduct an in-season investigation and hold a player out of competition?
Let's compare the Ohio State five with Georgia's A.J. Green.
In both cases, a player sold a jersey. (I'm not going to spend this column writing about why suspending someone for selling their own jersey while the schools do it thousands of times a year is the height of hypocrisy. But if you want to see that column all you need to do is click here).
In the case of A.J. Green, Georgia ruled him ineligible and held him out of the first four games of the 2010 season while it waited for the NCAA to rule. Georgia went 1-3 in those games. If Green plays, you can make a very real argument that Georgia would have beaten South Carolina and either Arkansas or Mississippi State. If Georgia beats South Carolina and either Arkansas or Mississippi State then it wins the SEC East and travels to Atlanta as a 8-4 football team. Instead, Georgia held out Green because it didn't want to play an ineligible player and risk having its wins later vacated.
As a result, the Bulldogs stumbled, beginning 1-3 and finishing 6-6. Georgia's own vigilance in conducting this investigation, therefore, led to the team's failure in 2010. Compare that to Ohio State's response. The Buckeyes, conveniently, play the entire 2010 season before uncovering, gee whiz, five of their star players have done the same thing as Green -- sold jerseys and more.
Only the Buckeyes finish 11-1, advance to a BCS game, and are permitted to play in a bowl game. But for a collapse in Wisconsin, the team would have been in the middle of the national title race. The Buckeyes' entire 2010 season will count. The "penalty?" Several players may be "suspended" in the 2011 season. Only, you guessed it, many of those players will be in the NFL by then.
So let me ask you this question: Why would you ever conduct an internal investigation of a player during the actual season and hold him out of games? If Georgia had let Green play all season, it would have won the SEC East and competed against Auburn for the 2010 SEC title. What's more, the Bulldogs' "penalty" would have been enforced after Green was already in the NFL.
Meaning, you guessed it, there actually wouldn't be a penalty at all.
So how can you rectify these two NCAA rulings? Especially when you consider that the actions of Ohio State's five players were much more significant than the actions of Georgia's one player. Put simply, there is no way to justify these two positions. One leads to an entirely valid 2010 season and the other doesn't. Why would any team follow Georgia's lead in future years? Why would any team voluntarily hold out a star player under the Ohio State precedent?
4. Why isn't Ohio State's entire 2009 and 2010 season vacated?
This is the second part of the NCAA ruling, the one no one has questioned. If playing with ineligible players leads to vacated wins, why isn't Ohio State being forced to vacate its past two football seasons when ineligible players, by its own admission, took the field?
The NCAA says the players didn't gain a competitive advantage. Okay, gotcha. But did Alabama gain a competitive advantage when its players resold textbooks? Did that make them better at tackling or catching? Of course not. But it was an improper benefit.
So why did Alabama vacate 21 wins in 2005, '06 and '07 and Ohio State vacates none?
How can you reconcile this?
It's not just Alabama, by the way. An awful lot of schools, including, oh by the way, USC, have been forced to vacate wins for playing ineligible athletes. Why isn't Ohio State being forced to do the same?
5. Why did Florida State withhold 25 players from the 2007 Music City Bowl as part of a four-game suspensions that carried into the 2008 season while Ohio State's five can play in their bowl game?
I've yet to see a single case where the NCAA has allowed players to compete in a bowl game despite being suspended. This is the part of the NCAA's ruling that stinks to high heaven. If the NCAA had suspended Ohio State's players for five games and included the Sugar Bowl, then the vacating of wins would still be an issue, but the actual suspensions would make some sense.
Suspending players but only after the bowl game? It's so profoundly ludicrous it makes me wonder whether Ohio State and the NCAA had entered into a hush-hush agreement about this penalty that was designed to be announced after the bowl game. Only, you guessed it, the media got wind of the violations and the announcement had to come earlier.
Otherwise, there is just no way to even explain how this happened.
If Terrelle Pryor is eligible to play in the 2010 Sugar Bowl, why wasn't Reggie Bush eligible to play in the national title game against Oklahoma? Why can't USC go back and say it suspended Bush for the entirety of the 2006 season? You know, the one when Bush was already playing in the NFL.
6. How can the NCAA permit the use of, "I didn't know," as a defense?
The entire purpose of the NCAA rulebook is invalidated when all you have to say is that you didn't know what was going on.
Ignorance of the law is no defense in any criminal matter. It shouldn't be in the NCAA either.
I've already told you why the Cam Newton ruling is a joke, but this ruling might be even more of a joke. (And I didn't even think that was possible.) The NCAA cited a lesser punishment because Ohio State had done a poor job instructing its athletes on the rules.
That lessens the punishment? Shouldn't this admission do the exact opposite, increase the punishment? Ohio State said we were so incompetent at doing our job that our punishment should be lessened. Ohio State, the same athletic department that brings in more than $100 million a year, can't pay someone $10k to adequately instruct its athletes?
7. What has the NCAA taught us in 2010?
a. While playing the same sport, you can be a pro athlete at one SEC school, Mississippi State, but an amateur at another SEC school, Auburn.
b. If your family solicits hundreds of thousands of dollars to play college football, that's fine so long as you claim you didn't know and the NCAA can't prove that you were, in fact, paid.
c. If you sell your jerseys but the school doesn't become aware of this fact until after the 2010 season is complete, then you can play in the bowl game and be suspended once you've already reached the NFL.
d. If you do anything wrong, your punishment will be lessened so long as you claim you didn't know about it.
e. Citing any precedent in any NCAA case is worthless because there is no logic to any of our rulings.
It's time that every college sports fan realized that the people in charge of implementing the NCAA's own rulebook aren't smart enough to do it and that when they do implement it, they've been captured by the very industry they're in charge of regulating.
The NCAA is so mad at Ohio State that Sam Houston State better watch the hell out.
Follow Clay Travis on Twitter here. With All That and a Bag of Mail back on a weekly basis, you can e-mail him questions at Clay.Travis@gmail.com.