Dismantling the Master's House

By Ramzy Nasrallah on August 3, 2012 at 1:00p

In the spirit of the Summer Olympics: It's bewildering to think that Tatgate wouldn't have even medaled in the recent collegiate scandals competition.

The figurative gold medal hangs in a space where Joe Paterno's bronze bust pointed its finger skyward until very recently. The highest perch on this medal stand belongs to the Nittany Lions.

It's the least controversial aspect of that entire tragedy: Penn State's scandal is without peer.

Silver and bronze are not quite as defined, but one thing is certain: Ohio State didn't do nearly enough to merit consideration.

Miami, the crafty veteran in this competition, was thought to be the clear favorite before the details of Jerry Sandusky and the systemic enablement and decade-plus sheltering of his crimes emerged.

The U was Yahoo! Sports investigator savant Charles Robinson's promised "10 out of 10" on the scandal scale, and it did not disappoint - until the world record-shattering context arrived in State College.

So Miami quietly slipped into the background; assisted by a combination of Penn State, ESPN's consistent apprehension toward acknowledging non-ESPN investigations and the return of live football just days after the story broke a year ago.

Its day of reckoning arrives soon, but it seems as though Miami's ceiling in this unfortunate competition is bronze.

Oregon's scandal, which also slipped into the shadows, is still in contention for recognition. The school admitted to Failure to Monitor months ago, but it's hard to know where the Nike-funded accoutrements begin and the recruiting violations end in Eugene. Apparently that case is still being investigated, but it's got a shot at medaling.

Central Florida was the dark horse. Its Notice of Allegations was one of the most impressive collections of violations in NCAA history.

UCF's athletic director basically oversaw illegal recruitment practices and improper benefits for athletes in both football and basketball. Think Tatgate in two sports, but with much more money, players and recruits and Gene Smith actively running the whole thing.

It would have been the odds-on favorite had anyone ever given a passing thought to UCF. But its punishment practically mirrored Ohio State's (basketball got an identical minor slap too) when UCF very easily could have faced sanctions closer to what Penn State is now swallowing.

Yet last year at this time we were still being subjected to the Endless Summer of Tressel, Dennis Talbott and Terrelle Pryor, not because of the depth of scandal (obligatory fixed raffles LOL) but for the same reason that Tim Tebow and the New York Jets are clumsily occupying the space where at least 30 other NFL teams' preseasons could also be: Interest.

Tatgate wasn't all hype: Covering up any violation no matter how small or stupid that directly resulted in six players staying eligible when they shouldn't have been is an Olympic-qualifying feat. Tatgate is the swimmer in the eighth lane: It's yet to breach the television screen when the winner is already tapping the pool's edge.

The next ivory tower to collapse in college athletics?

ESPN funded an entire OTL investigation piece on Talbott. He was never questioned by the NCAA. He doesn't appear in Ohio State's final infractions report.

Now ESPN is coming back to Columbus, but to do a decidedly different program clearly demonstrating that its only bias is toward the accumulation of large audiences and high ratings.

That leaves the University of North Carolina in Penn State's shadow on the medal stand.

The Tarheel football program already received penalties similar to Ohio State's, and both its football coach and athletic director were shown the door.

But as with Penn State's troubles, UNC's have the potential to inflict damage outside of the athletic department. Fifty-four essentially fake courses with very little or no teaching at all mostly filled by athletes can impact far more than what the NCAA is able to impose.

Also raising eyebrows in Chapel Hill: It wasn't just football players. Basketball players were enrolled in these charades too. North Carolina basketball players. And yet this two-sport scandal is getting about the same miniscule attention as the UCF one. 

Had the ACC not basically sold itself to ESPN recently, this would be the part where it gets interesting - but don't wait for the Worldwide Leader in Selective Reporting to do anything that could lend unnecessary damage to one of its most prized television properties until it's absolutely forced to. 

UNC is home to the biggest scandal in college athletics that nobody seems to be talking about at all (which is what happens whenever ESPN bites its own tongue). This was where the investigation into the football program began two years ago, and it has only grown exponentially ever since.

Not a single name that's been ensnared by its reach has been spared, which is why its slow creep into basketball is ominous. Oh hi there, Roy Williams.

UNC's new athletic director concedes this is a full-blown academic fraud case, and to make matters worse the university seems to have taken an obstructionist role in the investigation.

Eligibility cocktails are definitely commonplace in collegiate athletics, but it's generally understood that those less rigorous courses are still real courses - with actual teachers and a curriculum for study. And this is Chapel Hill, not one of those diploma mills in Alabama.

The Afro-American Studies department being the center of the sham courses electrifies a third rail in this story: Black athletes being tucked into that academic track where they're denied any kind of meaningful instruction or enrichment in exchange for eligibility in what appears to be a corrupt and routine organizational process.

I don't believe the American media is equipped to tackle that angle, and even if it is, it has no idea how to process it for its audience which has long grown accustomed to being talked down to in between servings of soft, milquetoast news bytes.

The media's hand was recently forced to shine a light on the gruesome subject of child rape. It had to talk about a beloved dead man who would be facing criminal charges if he were still living.

The angle of race in the UNC scandal likely won't be crossed, but the investigation will eventually conclude and it looks increasingly bleak for one of America's most highly-regarded universities. That just happened in Pennsylvania. Schools like these don't go down in a vacuum - their troubles have ripples.

The media was just forced to tear apart the facade of Penn State's institutional integrity, which it had literally spent decades lauding. It was an unpleasant exercise all-around. Chewing up a sweater-vested coach who was notoriously obtuse with journalists is far more palatable. Alas, the bar has been raised too high.

In any other year the Tarheels could take the gold. But this year barely anyone is paying attention to their medal-worthy performance.


Comments Show All Comments

Rooster Buckburn's picture

Excellent article - "ESPN journalism" is an oxymoron.

MaliBuckeye's picture

Great article, Ramzy- I agree that this is a HUGE scandal, since it gets at the very heart of the "Student Athlete" ideal.  If the University's very mission is compromised, what is left then?
Another frustration is that this lends credence to those who hold that "African American Studies" programs (and the like) are illegitimate across the board, while not acknowledging the national work of faculty and scholars in this field.
Thanks for shining some light on this.

"Sarcastically, I'm in charge."


Bucknut-in-the-South's picture

Mali once again hits the nail on the head regarding the stereotypical denigration of minority studies programs, whose scholars nationwide have shed light and brought attention to many historical issues and figures that would otherwise have languished in obscurity.  If I may take it a step further, it is also subtle - or not so subtle - bait for those who continue to believe that the only way a minority student can compete in the classroom is with some form of outside "help."  And that belief is not limited to skinheads and backwoods southern crackers either - it is far too common among the white-wine-and-bmw set who would be appalled to be labelled racist in any context.  The great strides made by the Ohio State athletes in academic pursuits, particularly those of the largely African-American football and basketball teams is proof enough for me that effort, intelligence, and success are no longer the sole property of one race, if they ever were.  Thanks for another in a long string of great articles, Ramzy, and thank you Mali for your typically insightful comment.

Adambob's picture

Does anyone know how many programs are on probation right now?

Maestro's picture

Will continue to say what I have always said about the UNC deal.  Academic fraud should be the most highly punished infraction out there (short of a PSU type of catastrophe).

vacuuming sucks

Baroclinicity's picture

Absolutely.  After all, school is the defining characteristic of the entity that is collegiate sports.
edit:  2 in a row, Maestro...

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Arizona_Buckeye's picture

I am STILL blown away at the amount of coverage OSU got during Tat-gate and the total lack of coverage about Oregon and the U.

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

Irricoir's picture

Truth! I wondered if it was just me and my bias that felt victimized. Glad I am not the only one to feel that way. I was afraid if I vocalized it that the ESPN defenders on this site would beat me up and steal my lunch money.

I don't always take names when I kick ass but when I do, they most often belong to a Wolverine.

Poison nuts's picture

Even if I were a ESPN defender - I've been to your forum - I believe I'd let you keep your lunch money...

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

OSUBias's picture

HA! So true!

7 yards and a cloud of dust is a beautiful thing

Irricoir's picture

/thumbsup brother!!

I don't always take names when I kick ass but when I do, they most often belong to a Wolverine.

hodge's picture

Media framing at its absolute finest.  Joe Paterno and Jim Tressel were coaches who stressed "doing it the right way".  Said scandals produced evidence proving the contrary, and it makes for easy news fodder, which the public will happily consume.  Hence why Penn State eclipsed sports media: the crimes were so heinous it transcended a sports scandal and became a full-blown tradgedy, with a fallen hero at the event's epicenter.
That aforementioned frame is much easier to understand than the Willie Lyles violations at Oregon, or rogue boosters.  In fact, I would wager a week's pay that maybe 2 in 10 people actually know that OSU's bowl ban came from DiGeronimo, and was not--in any way, shape, or form--related to the "Tatgate" violations and subsequent coverup.  Miami kind of falls into that same realm, albeit way more severe: booster violations--even ones as outlandish as Schapiro's at "The U"--aren't sexy; fallen heroes are.  
If UNC basketball gets dragged in, we'll see a lot more coverage. They're way too big not to get noticed in that arena.

Buckeye_Mafia's picture

And UCF. AND UNC. Just like the article states, its selective journalism based on interest and investment. tOSU was an easy target for ESpiN to report on. They already had their sights in us because of us saying no to their TV deal prior to the B1G network launch AND everyone hated us because of our big game blowouts.

"At critical moments throughout the season, we learned about the character of this football team.  This was a team of true character, of true resilience." -- President Barack Obama

MJT's picture

Not defending ESPiN's disparity of coverage, but Tatgate got so huge because it was about Tressell and a national champion caliber football team; UNC and Oregon just aren't in the same league of newsworthiness.  Plus, like it or not, there are lot more Ohio State haters eager to gobble up this kind of news than there are UNC and Oregon haters.  And I think people pretty much expect Miami to have violations, so its not as newsworthy.

"Paralyze resistance with persistence."  -Woody Hayes

BuckeyeNation's picture

I've said it ALL along MJT... it's great to be relevant!

sir rickithda3rd's picture

100% agree with maestro... guys do you think the ncaa comes down harder on schools that are suppose to have good academics? its almost like they expect it from some schools so they dont care as much doesnt it?

mark may wins douchebag of the year... again

timdogdad's picture

of course the wwl wil do whatever it takes to get interesting stories and ratings and stay away from stuff that will damage them like unc and the acc.  they may not have any ethics and integrity but hey ya know,  they are running a business...   capesh? 

cplunk's picture

Ramzy, you've got to stop writing these articles thta make the mainstream sports writers on the web look like crap. 
Seriously, your articles are always a great read, always thought provoking whether I agree or not. 
In this case I totally agree- nobody will touch the racial question with a ten foot pole, and I doubt we'll see ESPN say much about UNC until their hand is forced. Its also interesting to me that we get a list of schools undergoing scandals and none of them are in the SEC. The SEC has been dominating football for awhile now, and there is simply no way that they are doing it while everyone else is gaining competitive advantages the SEC doesn't have...

Maestro's picture

Remember this guy

vacuuming sucks

Baroclinicity's picture

T Town Men's Wear.  Still have no idea how this didn't gain any traction.

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Maestro's picture

No kidding.  Actually we all probably have an idea.

vacuuming sucks

Irricoir's picture

They rent Yukon's out with rims?

I don't always take names when I kick ass but when I do, they most often belong to a Wolverine.

AltaBuck's picture

Don't forget the Gamecocks and their "Welcome to the Hotel Carolina" violations. Over $50k in improper benefits and you don't hear jack about it.  Still cannot believe they did not receive a bowl ban based on how the NCAA is setting precedent. BTW - South Carolina is ranked 9th in the Coaches poll.

I am Groot - Groot

Irricoir's picture

What course did the white student athletes at UNC take, that were fraudulent, in order to help them pass and stay elligible? Do you know if any of them took the African American Studies course? It is kind of interesting to me. Fraud is worng, period. I'd like to know where I can get a detailed list of these classes. Thanks for your time.

I don't always take names when I kick ass but when I do, they most often belong to a Wolverine.

pompano buckeye's picture

I was sort of thinking the same thing.  Was there possibly some sort of reverse discrimination going on in that they were offering black athletes courses that could help them to remain eligible, while equivalent courses were not offered to their lighter skinned, academically challenged, contemporaries? 
That being said, call me naive, but I choose to believe that these classes were created with the goal of helping some young people to attain a degree, and not just to keep them on the football field.  It may not been a well thought out plan, but one that was justified in their minds. I can say this because I also do not believe that Jim Tressel planned to intentionally cover up what he knew in order to win games.  His intentions were more honorable...but wrong.

“...indomitable in victory, insufferable in defeat.” Woody Hayes

Poison nuts's picture

I take issue with this article. I'm a true Buckeye dammit & I say our scandal would have at least taken the silver! Because we're winners! OSU #1 - or at least #2...wait - I mean - never mind...

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

OSUBias's picture

This is a really well written statement on the state of sports coverage in today's world. As soon as "journalism" became about website traffic and TV viewership instead of about reporting things that were newsworthy, the quality of reporting/journalism took a steep nose dive. Now they create fake news instead of reporting real news (BREAKING NEWS!!!!! PEYTON MANNING RENTS SUV AT DENVER AIRPORT!!!!!!!!) There is no objective reporting. This is a backhanded compliment, but these days I get more reliable reporting from a homer blog than I can from the national media. How bass ackwards is that?!?!?
Journalism classes should be moved under the Business School in college. That's all it is these days. 11W staff excluded, you guys rock.

7 yards and a cloud of dust is a beautiful thing

yrro's picture

Same as it ever was...
Journalism has always been business. The biggest difference is that previously you didn't have the journalists and the production company in the same building. ESPN's conflict of interest on these stories boggles the mind.

Buckeyes_Terrapins's picture

Yet last year at this time we were still being subjected to the Endless Summer of Tressel, Dennis Talbott and Terrelle Pryor, not because of the depth of scandal (obligatory fixed raffles LOL) but for the same reason that Tim Tebow and the New York Jets are clumsily occupying the space where at least 30 other NFL teams' preseasons could also be: Interest.

But it's not the interest of viewers or readers, it's a phony and arbitrary interest.  It's the same thing in sports "reporting" as with the rest of the media industry.  Someone within the industry chooses an agenda, and then suddenly its 'everyone is talking about the latest scandal.'  No, it's not "everyone."  The very same people who are talking about it are the ones who are saying that everyone is talking about it.  You don't get to initiate and promote a buzz, focus only on that buzz you created, and then call it "reporting."

BacknBlack's picture

Great piece Ramzy, thanks man!

DJayTalbott's picture

Great story- I have always thought that tabloid journalism was for celebrities and Hollywood. There are still stories that contain reckless allegations and half truths out there with no concrete proof of anything  My question: With all of the countless pictures and Facebook posts (REAL EVIDENCE) -How is it that T-town men's warehouse in Alabama did not get as much as a blog post on ESPN.  I have never said I was perfect, but they took that story too far and made it personal.  It's great to read unbiased journalism with no agenda and desire to destroy lives to drive advertising dollars   Kudos to the professionals at Eleven Warriors and Go Bucks!!! 

cinserious's picture

It just goes to show ya how influential AND selective the media can be, yet the nation is forced to swallow the pill.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.