Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A quarter million dollar slap on the wrist

  In January, I wrote about the 5 Ohio State University players who were caught exchanging their signed memorabilia for tattoos. They were suspended by the NCAA for the first 5 games for next year but not the upcoming Sugar Bowl, which was part of the NCAA’s 500 million dollar bowl game package with ESPN. The NCAA’s given reason for not suspending them for the bowl game was that the players were not informed their actions were violations by the college. I thought that the NCAA had 25 million other reasons not to suspend the players, 1 reason for each dollar the Sugar Bowl’s TV revenue was bringing to the NCAA coffers.

  Last week, Ohio State University coach Jim Tressel admitted he had been informed about the player’s trades of memorabilia for tattoos last April and now says he didn’t tell anyone at the university. When the players suspensions were announced, Tressel said no one had even heard of these allegations until early December. Tressel says that since the he was asked to keep the information confidential and that the owner of the tattoo parlor was the subject of an ongoing federal investigation, he felt he was protecting the players by not telling anyone.

  The explanation sounds nice, but I think it is all nonsense. The coach knew the players were violating a NCAA rule and choose to do nothing. He could have found any number of ways to say he found out about the signed memorabilia hanging in the tattoo shop without compromising his informant or the federal investigation. There’s no record of any communication with the federal authorities asking for advice or being told to not put the tattoo shop in the headlines. This is all part of his imagination. The only thing that made him come forward was that the investigative journalists at Yahoo Sports informed him of their findings and he needed to put some sort of positive spin on the matter.

  Tressel knew that 5 of his players were doing something against NCAA rules and chose to ignore it. He could have suspended the players without even saying why (the famous ‘violation of team conduct’), but he chose to play and win with them. I don’t believe that he didn’t tell anyone at Ohio State University. I think by taking all the heat, he is giving his employer plausible deniability.

  Each of the 5 players found in violation were suspended for 5 games. This is about one tenth of their college football eligibility. I would think the penalty for knowing about these violations and doing nothing would be at least 5 games. Some people I’ve worked for would fire an employee who knew a group they were supervising were violating rules but did nothing. Jim Tressel was suspended by the University for 2 games and fined 250,000 dollars. $250,000 is a lot of money, but keep in mind that last year Tressel was paid 3.89 million dollars, so $250,000 is less than a month’s pay for him. The next time he takes Ohio State to the Rose Bowl or wins a national championship, he’ll get more than a $250,000 bonus. So here is a coach that loses 3 weeks pay and misses 2 games (against the 2 weakest teams on the schedule, by the way) for breaking the rules, and he’ll still pocket 3.64 million dollars while the players who are helping him make all this money can’t even trade a game jersey or other mementos for a free or discounted tattoo without having to miss 5 games.

  I think if Bernie Madoff could have a do-over, he’d try to run a big-time college athletic program. Ohio State’s athletic budget is 110 million dollars. They make more than that from donations, the football team, and the men’s basketball team. All the other sports lose money. No wonder they can pay a coach $4 million dollars a year. As long as the football team wins, the money will keep pouring in. And they don’t even have to pay the players. Who needs a Ponzi scheme?

  When asked if he considered firing Tressel, Ohio State University president E. Gordon Gee said, “No. Are you kidding? I'm just hoping the coach doesn't dismiss me”. The NCAA may also hand down a penalty, but they will likely congratulate the coach and university for admitting their violations and cooperating with their investigation while administering a slap on the wrist. Tressel does have other punishment coming from the university. He received a reprimand and has to attend a compliance seminar. There is no word if the seminar is being held in Hawaii.