The State of Sportsmanship and Ethics

By Joe Beale on May 5, 2011 at 1:00p
26 Comments
"So let it be written, so let it be done."Thou Shalt Not...

It's the off-season and as thoughts turn to playing golf and gardening all over Columbus, we continue to be hit with news about college football's shady side. Since the BSU faithful have probably had a few good laughs at OSU's expense over the past few weeks, it's somewhat satisfying to see them accused of "lack of institutional control" by the NCAA. Still, looking over the allegations, it causes my objective side to ask "is this really all that bad?" 

Boise State president Bob Kustra called the violations a "misunderstanding", and while a certain amount of skepticism must accompany that comment, I have a bit of sympathy. After all, my favorite football program is currently being put through the NCAA grinder and the full consequences won't be revealed for some time. I'm not quite ready to go Bosworth about the whole thing, but I have to admit that the byzantine NCAA rulebook sometimes leaves me baffled.

It is not difficult to understand some of these investigations. For example, the Colorado stripper scandal back in 2004 was a no-brainer. It does not take a legal expert or a compliance officer to know that a college cannot hire strippers to help with football recruiting. And receiving benefits from a potential agent seems like an obvious no-no. But it's not always that easy.

Going over all of this in my mind, I thought that I would try to see the logic in all of these rules and apply some kind of moral standard to it. Why is it bad to give room and board to a recruit on a visit? Why is it bad to sell memorabilia or trade it for services? What about other things that are not violations but smack of cheating or "gaming the system"? Is obeying the letter of the law while doing everything to win good enough, or should there be some higher goal that a program should shoot for?

Let's start with the idea of paying players, and giving benefits in general. Over the years, many pundits have tried to make the case for paying college football players, some more cogent than others. The moral argument here is that the players put out a tremendous amount of effort and everyone seems to make money on that effort except them. It almost sounds like a form of slavery. On the other hand, a pay-for-play scheme would surely favor the bigger schools (like OSU) over the smaller ones and this would conflict with the idea that the playing field should be level. Currently, the sportsmanship ideal is still winning out over the moral argument. It may not always be that way, but I think the college game is ultimately better for it.

Speaking of sportsmanship, there is one area where this ideal seems to be losing out, and that is in the area of rankings and the decision of who goes to bowl games, especially the BCS Championship game. I have felt strongly about this for the past few years, especially in 2008 when Oklahoma finished the regular season ranked #1 mostly because everyone was so impressed with how many points they scored. The fact that Bob Stoops relentlessly ran up the score on nearly every opponent that season was sometimes mentioned but usually dismissed as just petty jealousy. This was even more grating when Ohio State was accused of running it up against Northwestern because the 'Cats couldn't stop a late-game running play when OSU was trying to kill the clock. Obviously, there is no rule against scoring a lot of points, and the NCAA has no authority over slack-jawed poll voters who drool when they see a 62-21 win over Missouri in a conference championship game. It is just as obvious that this example of bad sportsmanship gives the less charitable programs an advantage over the more classy ones.

Another advantage would be extra practice time, and some schools have been caught trying to squeeze a little more from their players than the NCAA rulebook allows. This is also on the list of accusations against Boise State. The moral argument is that the NCAA has to draw the line somewhere, because these guys are supposed to be students. Besides, even the NFL has rules regarding team practice time over the summer. Making sure that every team does it the same way makes the game fair for everyone, and so sportsmanship is also on the side of these rules. 

The issue gets a little dicey when we begin to talk about benefits that do not come directly from the university. The OSU "Tat-gate" scandal has been compared to the A.J. Green agent scandal, but I'm not sure the comparison is valid. In the case of Green, the university was not penalized as far as I know (please correct me if I missed this) other than not having his services on the field for 4 games. This makes sense, because getting money from a potential agent means that the player is no longer an amateur and thus is ineligible to play the college game. Now try the same logic in the case of the Tat-5. It doesn't work because their benefits did not come from an agent, not even a potential one. They did violate rules, and I have no problem with whatever penalty the NCAA levies, but I wonder if there is any moral basis for the rule in the first place.  I don't think there is, and I also don't think it conflicts with the ideal of good sportsmanship.

I understand that a rule is a rule, and it applies to everyone. But why does the rule exist in the first place? The argument that I've heard is that a football player at a place like OSU has an opportunity to accumulate these trinkets solely because of his association with the university's athletic program, and this is a benefit that not all students have.  To that I say "so what?" Does college football really benefit from preventing these types of transactions? I suppose it's possible that if it is allowed to continue, some schools will start issuing trophies and plaques for every good play, every practice session, every look of enthusiasm a player shows, etc. and that this will constitute extra benefits. That argument makes some sense to me because it goes back to the issue of paying players. Still, that scenario seems unlikely to me and it sounds like just another overreach by the NCAA.

All this leads to one final question that has been on my mind: is college football more "shady" today than it was 20-30 years ago?  Or are we just finding out more because of the internet and sites like Facebook and Twitter? Does the ideal of sportsmanship even exist in college football anymore? I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on this. I'd also like to know if you think I'm being too casual about some of this stuff.

 

26 Comments

Comments

Maestro's picture

The problem comes when some alum pays a player $20,000 for a pair of gold pants.  The NCAA just doesn't have the type of enforcement potential to monitor all of these "transactions" so they have to outlaw them altogether.

vacuuming sucks

Joe Beale's picture

Enforcement is a problem either way; I don't see what difference it makes whether you allow the sale of trinkets or not.  If the NCAA thinks that this is an area of abuse, they should limit the number of trinkets that schools can give out and tell the conferences and bowls to stop giving out rings and trophies.  Maybe the Rose Bowl MVP award is a contribution of $5000 to a local charity in the name of Terrelle Pryor.  Something like that would cut down on the abuse if it really exists. 

btalbert25's picture

I can't, for the life of me understand why a player can't sell their own stuff for a benefit but it's perfectly ok for these bowl games to hand them bags full of stuff.  Don't some of those bags include large giftcards to certain businesses.  How is a kid getting a 500 dollar gift card to best buy any different than a kid getting 500 bucks?  Also, was Pryor's bowl award that he sold, given by the university or by the bowl?  

Maestro's picture

Excellent point folks.

vacuuming sucks

craigfling's picture

Good post. Interestingly I got an email today from OSU - The Ohio State Official Online Auction, where I can bid on "Exclusive Items" such as an autographed game-worn jersy of Cam Heyward, an autographed Lauderdale practice jersey, and a Fiesta Bowl warmup suit. Seems someone is making some money selling trinkets.

Another Jason's picture

Boise's LOIC is really just for the tennis player who wasn't actually a student, right?  It's hard to come up with an argument that Compliance was doing their job when you have someone not even enrolled at your school competing on one of your teams.

builderofcoalitions's picture

I think that's right. What's interesting is that Boise State's football program is being thrown into this due to some secondary violations, the kind OSU reports ad nauseam. I suspect that if BSU wasn't a major program, this would barely be a blip on the radar.

Because we couldn't go for three.

builderofcoalitions's picture

I don't live in Ohio anymore. We moved to Columbia, MO like six years ago. The Mizzou fans here are pretty smug that their program hasn't been caught for any NCAA violations (yet), but even most of them see nothing wrong with kids selling things that belong to them to whomever they want. This is a rule that probably needs to be changed. That said, a rule's a rule. Had Tressel never lied, those players would have sat out four or so games and we all would have moved on by now.

Personally, I'm looking forward to Yahoo's next big story so that this Tat5 deal will go away.

Because we couldn't go for three.

Maestro's picture

Do you really anticipate that there is one around the corner?

vacuuming sucks

The_Lurker's picture

I forget if it was Wetzel or Robinson, but one of them stated that there was a "9 out of 10" on the horizon - he said Tressel's was about a 6, if I recall correctly. Might be the Oregon/LSU thing when it's all said and done, I don't know.

GoBucks713's picture

And they need to put that out on the quick because I'm tired of anything that goes wrong with OSU it's on eSECpn's website withing miliseconds, yet Boise is having issues and you have to dig to find anything. Not that I want another program to go down, I just want to see something else on the main page than bad press for my Buckeyes.

-The Aristocrats!

btalbert25's picture

The football side of things for Boise really isn't a big deal though.  I really don't think ESPN has it out for Ohio State like many do.  I don't know.  Maybe I'm way off base.  I think the Ohio State coverage would've been much worse had it not come in the middle of an NFL lock out and in the thick of draft coverage.  Not to mention baseball starting up, March Madness, and talk of a possible NBA lockout next year.  This news/info could've come out at a slow sports time and we would've NEVER heard the end of it.

btalbert25's picture

I honestly think any program that paid Will Lyles a huge some of money after a particular recruit signed at their school, is probably going to get hit hard.  I think Oregon and LSU are connected.  I think Tennessee, Oklahoma State, and Auburn have been connected to the guy.  I think by the end of it all there could be several prominent names that will be finding trouble this summer.  Which will be welcome.  I'd much rather have our controversy dealt with by the time summer/fall camp hits then have a big scandal hit while you are trying to prepare for the upcoming season. 

Maestro's picture

I don't remember hearing/reading that.  Any idea of where that could be found?  I really think it has to be Auburn or Mississippi State.

vacuuming sucks

btalbert25's picture

Here's one about Oregon.  Just talking about 25,000 getting payed to Lyles after a recruit signed with Oregon.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/football/ncaa/03/04/oregon.payment...

Maestro's picture

Right.  Thanks.  That could be a big deal for sure.  I just didn't remember Robinson or Wetzel saying the 9 out of 10 thing.  I don't know that the Oregon or LSU dealings with Lyles would be considered 9 out of 10.  To me 9 out of 10 sounds more like serious pay for play stuff, ala the Newton's.......or perhaps that just what I hope it is.

vacuuming sucks

The_Lurker's picture

All schools seem to pay scouting services, but it seems like there is far more going on with this Lyles guy. If it's deemed that schools are paying thousands of dollars for a person or entity to funnel recruits their way, that has the potential to go nuclear, particularly if any of that money is trickling down to the recruit or his family. I think we're just scratching the surface of this story right now, but how much can be proven is anyone's guess. Oregon's accounting in regards to Lyles certainly raises some red flags.

btalbert25's picture

I know Oklahoma State has signed a few guys he's "mentored".  There was a coach from Texas A&M who claimed that he was trying to get 80k from A&M to get Patrick Peterson's services, then he ended up at LSU.   There's just a lot of smoke surrounding this guy.  Not sure how much of it is true or how much of it is meaningful, I just have a feeling a few schools are going to get drilled for being connected to this guy and players connected to him.

 

btalbert25's picture

Didn't Mizzou have some pretty nasty basketball problems a few years back though?  What was the coach Quinn Snyder?  I thought they hit a real rough patch out there basketball wise.

doodah_man's picture

Perhaps we need to look somewhere else, other than sports, for a source of moral or ethical guidance. I know we all like to wax poetic about what a great man Woody was or how Jim Tressel is such a great leader and mentor. If you look to a football player to develop your position on the death of Osama Bin Laden, don't be surprised at the result. As things stand now, I even have a problem with the Catholic Church providing guidance on morality.

Sports is just that, sports. Someone has a physical skill set and the mental prowess to make it all happen. The fact that you can run a quick 40, consistently shoot a 3 point basket, or hit more than 300 (or for that matter, the people who coach them) doesn't give you any special handle on the ways of the world or spiritual guidance. Athletes and coaches are just people, with opinions, with short comings, who occasionally fall short. I absolutely love it when ESPN keys in on a player who is accused of a crime, although the percentage of players committing crimes is within the population demographics (see the FBI stats).

Does money corrupt? You bet. The more money you throw at college sports, the more shady it gets. When you have the BCS, ESPN, sports agents, universities, driving a multimillion dollar train, don't be surprised at the result. Money is what drives it. 

Jim "DooDah" Day
It is hard to play dirty against a man who picks you up.

phxbuck's picture

Awesome post Doodah.  I completely agree with you and I still am irritated to this day that people act with such disbelief when a person in sports disregards the rules or breaks the law.  It's like being disapointed in the accounting profession because 5% of accountants act unethically or break the rules.  It's all relative and it is dumb to hold sports figures to different standards. 

doodah_man's picture

You can take my post, substitute Hollywood celebrety, same effect. I could give a rats what their opinion is.

Jim "DooDah" Day
It is hard to play dirty against a man who picks you up.

NW Buckeye's picture

Joe,

Your final question seems to be going unanswered in the comments.  As someone who has been watching college football for a long time I may be able to provide some feedback.

I really think college football is about as shady as it has always been.  I was involved with OSU football in the 70's.  Woody was a real stickler about NCAA rules as he had been slapped on the wrist for a $50 exchange in the 50's.  So he took particular care to try to stop anything  "shady".  So much so that I can remember some of our All-Americans returning from the banquet circuit complaining that the OSU players were really getting the short end of the stick when compared to the other schools out there.  Lots of stories about cars, $$$$ hand shakes, free meals, etc.  And, I knew the players well enough to know that they were being honest with me.  A lot went on back then.  Several OSU players would stoop to selling whatever they could get their hands on - practice jerseys, shoes, footballs, chin straps, etc.  Although I never heard of anyone selling the gold pants charm. 

Most of the sensational stories came from schools out of the south, the Old Big 8, and the Pac 10.  You can even find some references to preferential treatment for entire teams - Bear Bryant had his players living in exclusive "football players only" dorms (many other schools did this including USC, Oklahoma - thank you Bud Wilkinson, UCLA, just to name a few).  Players received special treatment, special food.  Meanwhile our team was relegated to mixing in with the general student population, living in the same dorms and eating the same cafeteria food as the rest of the students.  And, over signing outside the Big 10 was rampant in those days.  Bear Bryant did his share.  Johnny Majors at Pitt brought in over 70 players with Tony Dorsett's class.  Only about 20 were left at the end of their first football season.  It was not uncommon for schools to have 120+ players on scholarship.  The Big 10 meanwhile was under very strict scholarship league standards.  We had to live with 85 players max on scholarship, although there were a considerable amount of walkons.  For the most part the NCAA looked the other way when a big name program was creating an "unfair" sportsmanship advantage.  Eventually the NCAA had to take action and enforce their existing rules and make new rules to make the game more "fair" sportsmanship wise.

As for discovery of the "shady" deals I think we are going to discover an increase of the number of instances simply because everyone with access to a computer can out anyone these days.  Not that there are more things going on, just more will come to light.  Athletes have been getting comp tickets for games since we started building stadiums.  None of them are supposed to sell those tickets.  Yet, many do - particularly at the bigger (more popular) schools where good tickets fetch a premium.  That practice has been going on forever, and I doubt that it has changed.  The difference today is that some of those tickets can fetch considerable cash as compared to between $20 to $40 some 30 years ago.  The same can be said of the memorabilia - a game jersey was worth peanuts many years ago, but now you can sell them for over $1000.  So the magnitude of the reported problems may be considered larger right now.

For what it is worth, we do need regulations in place concerning the selling of this stuff.  And, there is a lot more stuff to go around these days (maybe you would say that this makes the environment today shadier than it used to be).  Players going to even mid major bowls get gift packages (video game set ups, iPods, etc) valued in excess of $500.  Win or lose, and you get other memorabilia as well, including commemorative watches and rings.  Everyone is in shock that the "Tat5" sold items.  Well, that is just the tip of the iceberg.  Players from every major school have sold these kinds of item.  Some of them are even crass enough to sell those items on eBay or craigslist.  Just because everyone is doing it does not make it right.  And, yes, this can create an "unfair" advantage for the more popular schools as their memorabilia is worth more than the lesser schools. 

As for unfair coaching practices, there probably is more opportunity to conduct illegal activities now, but there is an equally high opportunity to get caught.  The internet has changed that.  But, coaches are probably just as shady now as they were in the past (I think Lane Kiffin is living proof of this). 

I'm probably rambling at this point, so I will leave it at that.  Should be interesting to see if any other old Bucks see it the same way as I do.

 

BuckeyeChief's picture

Great post, I really enjoyed reading it.

 

"Damn I miss El Guapo"

Pam's picture

Old Buck here.  When I was growing up in Cols. our next door neighbor was the city desk editor of the now defunct Citizen's Journal (came in the AM, Dispatch in the PM).  I remember him telling my dad that if a football player got into trouble, the cops called Woody and he would pick them up (and give 'em what fer' I would imagine) He said it was also well known that sports reporters didn't write about the incidents sort of like the press did in the '60's when JFK was bringing women that were not his wife up the back stairs of the WH.  It just wasn't done.  This was possible in an era of no cell phones with camera's, email, twitter, the internet, texting and a 24/7 news cycle. 

Joe Beale's picture

NW Buckeye,

Thanks for sharing your stories and thoughts.