The Evolution: A College Football Media Progress Report

By Ramzy Nasrallah on September 18, 2013 at 11:20a

This is what mandatory remorse looks like. It hasn't happened in college football for awhile.

That's DeVier Posey, Mike Adams, Boom Herron and Terrelle Pryor when they were marched out in December of 2010 to apologize for trading their possessions for discounted tattoos and petty cash, which of course was a tacit capitalization on their likenesses and an overt violation of amateurism.

Once their caper was discovered, they were universally lampooned for breaking NCAA rules. Ohio State, the Sugar Bowl and the NCAA also took their lumps for agreeing to communicate the five-game sentences of the guilty to the following season. Jim Tressel's prior knowledge of their actions was not yet publicly known.

An apology for their actions was demanded, and Ohio State delivered.

Last week Yahoo! Sports published a paper trail linking Alabama tackle DJ Fluker to almost $34,000 in expenditures to agents and financial advisers while he was still in college. Total value of improper benefits for the players involved in Tatgate was less than half of what Fluker alone received.

Surely he was the only one at Alabama. Agents and financial advisors were otherwise shunned by the rest of the Crimson Tide.

Yahoo published the report along with an accompanying story that ridiculed not Fluker for brazenly violating amateurism, but amateurism itself. The headline in USA Today the following day was "DJ Fluker should have been paid by Alabama."

The Tatgate guys? Back in 2010 most sportswriters didn't challenge the NCAA rules they had broken. They were way to busy arguing if the forced apology was genuine enough while calling them knuckleheads for selling...their stuff.

USA Today argued Alabama should have paid Fluker from the outset, since Alabama football makes a lot of money and Fluker was a key part of the success. Alabama athletics generated almost $125MM for the university last year. It's a valid argument.

But Ohio State athletics earned that much back in 2010 when Tatgate occurred (and $142MM more last year). College football generates billions. This is not new information. Why the sudden change in "scandal" coverage?

You might call it a double standard, flip-flopping or bias. We're going to call it an evolution, since fake outrage over fake outrage would be, eh, ironic.

What we found when looking at the Greggugugugug Doyels of the world was that there have been two evolutions, in parallel: One in how we view NCAA violations and another in how closely we scrutinize scandal coverage and information.

We seem to have finally found religion regarding the former: In December 2010 when Pryor and his buddies were nabbed, every coffee house and frozen yogurt shop in Columbus sold (his) Ohio State #2 jersey, but people were too busy expressing shock that he willingly gave up trophies and rings which were clearly only chotchkies to him.

Recently Sports Illustrated ran a story on the NCAA's hypocrisy in profiting off of Johnny Manziel's #2 jersey. Just swap out the names and that story could have been written years ago. But it wasn't.

Here's a look at who else has evolved since Tatgate went down. Not included: Sports Illustrated master investigator Thayer Evans, who wrote how then-college junior Pryor was only motivated by "sex, money and power." Geez, imagine if all men were like that!


We took a look back at the media nightmare that began with Tatgate's revelation in December that eventually accelerated with Ohio State investigators discovering Tressel knew about it. We found that one person fed the beast more than any other single entity.

From start to finish, Brooks Melchior whipped the public into a frenzy with hearsay and rumors he was hearing. Melchior's site (deliberately not linked here) has been inactive for quite some time, as he has apparently decided to get out of the fake news-breaking business. 

The sample tweet above in emblematic of his contribution to Ohio State scandal coverage. That's the nutshell, if nutshells contained only poop.

EVOLUTION: For all we know, Melchior is at the bottom of the Indian Ocean with bin Laden. Brooks hasn't been heard of for quite some time, but you're about to see just how effective he was in shaping the narrative for Tatgate.


Wetzel wrote Yahoo's accompanying piece to its Fluker (SEC, really) investigation saying that nothing punitive would come from it. He is about as credible of a scribe in covering college sports as there is today.

Best-selling author Dan Wetzel.

He has not deviated from his position that the NCAA is a corrupt organization and that the myth of amateurism is exactly that. But in the wake of Tatgate, Wetzel was one of many who were swept up by Melchior's reporting.

Melchior ran a story detailing how Pryor was paid tens of thousands in cash from a credentialed - yet broke (?) - photographer named Dennis Talbott. That was reliable enough information for Wetzel, who put his stamp of credibility on it by concluding that Ohio State's scandal was worse than Southern California's:

The website SportsByBrooks reported that the NCAA enforcement staff has discovered “dozens of payments Pryor received in past years from a Columbus sports memorabilia dealer. … the NCAA violations were discovered when the name of the local memorabilia dealer, Dennis Talbott, was seen on checks Pryor was depositing in his personal bank account.”

NCAA enforcement staff had found no such thing. But pretend Wetzel doesn't know yet that Melchior's story is a fabrication - and remember that Tressel covering up violations he already believes (and published a book about) are arcane is being shaped into one of the most hideous scandals in the history of amateur athletics.

Wetzel tried to talk himself out of writing the column, in his column:

If there are deposited checks from a memorabilia dealer in Pryor’s account, then the school should have found them in December. There is simply no excuse for not uncovering them.

Correct. There is no excuse for not uncovering them, because schools have visibility to their players' bank account activity. Wetzel is an expert in this area, so clearly he was swept up by the energy behind Tatgate coverage because the checks could not have gone unnoticed.

NCAA investigators made no mention of those checks or Talbott in their final judgment. All of the stories about them, like Wetzel's, sourced Melchior - and then came to conclusions based on his information.

As for Wetzel, he was changed by the importance of obtaining actual evidence before passing judgment based on rumors. On Fluker and Alabama:


The NCAA won't be able to get enough people to talk. They won't be able to access the paper trail. It's possible they won't even muster much of an effort.

Wetzel owned up while Melchior disappeared. You might say they both evolved.

Regardless, Wetzel has been on point about the NCAA, amateurism and the bowl system since jump street. Nobody is perfect.


We're OSU homers, but we've always understood that the violations Ohio State's players committed were absolutely petty while the real crime was Tressel's subsequent cover-up. That's not difficult to understand.

Once the story accelerated, ESPN gave the Tressel angle the full coverage it deserved. Then suddenly, Tressel was gone.

But the show had to go on, so seizing upon Melchior's information ESPN sent its Outside the Lines crew to Columbus to tail Talbott around town - to Kroger, to his office, even to his daughter's soccer practice.

Talbott, walking. (Photo credit: ESPN OTL crew tailing him)

ESPN ran a story all about him. Then they ran a story about the story. Then they ran a story about the story about the story.

ESPN media echo chamber: Engaged. Talbott's name appeared on television along ESPN's crawl for days and was batted around all of the radio affiliates. His friends and family called him about it (even I called him about it). 

Once his name failed to appear in the NCAA's final judgment, ESPN called him to apologize, albeit privately. Talbott is still forced to explain what happened whenever it comes up, and all of the stories about him are still on the Internet.

Well, almost all of the stories - ESPN did take one of them down: It's the one where they followed Talbott around town with a camera while he ran errands. That regrettable content is now unavailable. A screenshot from that tape is above.

EVOLUTION: ESPN is aggressively chasing discrepancies in Sports Illustrated's widely-panned shame piece on Oklahoma State. Evidence is important, and while amateurism is an outdated concept in modern college football, being amateurish is still regarded as an awkward rite of passage for teenagers. (We also get that ESPN may be more interested in page views and/or shaming a competitor, but the intent is unimportant).

The media giant has also broached the amateurism question head-on. Good for you, Bristol. For once. #EMBRACEDEBATE


We checked in with the Alabama media and we weren't disappointed at all.

Kevin Scarbinsky on Tatgate in December 2010 (pre-Tressel knowledge):

If any compliance office in America should've been educating its football players about the evils of extra benefits, it was Ohio State's...If true, this case goes beyond an eligibility issue and becomes a question of institutional culpability.

Delany should worry about that message, but he may have other things on his mind. His flagship football program is headed for that Sugar Bowl meeting next Tuesday with Arkansas. Given Ohio State's 0-9 bowl record against the SEC, it's likely that the Buckeyes are about to get tattooed for free.

Harsh. Scarbinsky on Fluker last week:

It’s a long way from a well-documented piece of investigative journalism to an NCAA investigation, hearing and ruling, let alone a BCS decision to strip a school of a crystal football.

Reminder: Alabama football was nailed for major NCAA violations in 1995, 2002 and 2009 and currently has its repeat-offender window wide open.

"If any compliance office in America should've been educating its football players about the evils of extra benefits, it was Ohio State's" coming from an Alabama writer is on par with Gordon Gee's "I just hope (Tressel) doesn't fire me" for comedic value. Somehow this flew under the radar.

We just wish America could appreciate it as much as we did. Roll Tide.



In lieu of telling you how plastic, conflated and consistently lame Forde is, let's just take a look at "before" and "evolution."

On Ohio State players selling their belongings for cash:

But a full scholarship and all the perks that come with being a football star at Ohio State are no small advantages on a college campus. I'm fairly certain there are others in Columbus making do with far less.

The bottom line is this: These players slapped Ohio State tradition in the face, for a profit.

For a profit. How dare they sell stuff that belongs to them. Forde wholly subscribed to the flat-earth sanctity of NCAA rules for amateurism in college football, in 2010.

Now 2013, here's Forde on the evidence that Fluker was tied to tens of thousands in improper benefits :

The increasing amount of public fatigue with college athletic scandals indicates that most fans don't care nearly as much what happens off the field as what happens on Saturdays. Their level of concern with what goes on behind the scenes only spikes when there is the specter of significant penalties.

EVOLUTION: Forde has shifted his outrage from the player(s) to you people who just don't care enough anymore. One of the chief shit-stirrers of college football scandals is citing "scandal fatigue" as the culprit.

This is where you should begin to hear Inception sounds.


Speaking of shit-stirrers and purveyors of fake outrage, let's look back fondly upon Dennis Dodd's measured response to the damning Tressel component of Tatgate.

Here he was at Luke Fickell's introductory press conference showing concern for the young interim head coach's safety and well-being:

Remember, Tressel is basically Jerry Sandusky - but instead of serially raping little boys, he was lying to the NCAA about what his players had done with their jerseys and stuff.

Enforcement, Engagement, whatever. Same thing.

Tressel's final regular Ohio State paycheck was 1.5% of his voided 2011 base salary and .003% of what he had been guaranteed to make through his contract. It was the worst golden parachute ever.

Throughout his tireless reporting Dodd never questioned or challenged the NCAA rules that Tressel failed to report. He was singularly-focused on culling as much fake outrage as possible.

Until last week:

I've got scandal fatigue.

Not you, Dennis. NAWT YOU.

"Hey, look, Bama got pulled over." We know the "what." Players sometimes get paid under the table, cheat on tests and have sex with coeds.

Not even sure what this means. Probably has something to do with golden parachutes.

EVOLUTION: Tatgate obviously aged Dodd considerably. He can't even fake the fake outrage anymore, and that's a positive indicator for anyone tired of this stupid genre.


Before the Fake Buckeye was "run out of town" he said the following about Ohio State on a live ESPN broadcast:

"I think Mark May said it best when he talked about the culture of corruption at Ohio State."

[the sound of roaring laughter coming from the southeast]

He also said Pryor's dismissal from Ohio State football was "addition by subtraction" - knowing that Joe Bauserman would step in for him without any sort of drop-off in quarterback play - and that the Buckeyes needed to stop recruiting players like Pryor.

Pryor bad. Manziel good. OSU bad. Bama fast.

Before he was a selfish cancer and a scapegoat, Pryor was Ohio State's best player and the MVP of a Rose Bowl win over Oregon and a Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas. Herbstreit predicted the Buckeyes to lose the latter game, then moved them down three spots for winning in his final AP ballot.

So it would appear that Pryor was pretty good - perhaps worth recruiting, even - especially if we're no longer outraged by immensely popular college football players getting a minuscule sliver of the action.

Herbie has also said and done a bunch of other dumb things that aren't relevant to his evolution but we don't want to skip the opportunity to remind you that his mouth has more sides than a dodecagon. Look it up.

EVOLUTION: Watching Herbstreit gush over Manziel on ESPN Gameday this season makes you wonder if maybe difference-makers like the Pryors of the world - in the current climate - are now worth the trouble.

We don't expect to see any more forced apologies from players caught modestly capitalizing on their collegiate celebrity. We also aren't waiting for any sportswriters to admit to having gone completely overboard with fake outrage over what Ohio State's players did in 2010.

What we do hope to see is a continued evolution toward embracing the reality that college football in the era of multi-billion dollar contracts can't be governed by the principles of amateurism from 1950, and that when players are nabbed breaking those arcane rules, they're less violations of amateurism than they are the inevitable leaks of a corrupt and wholly inequitable enterprise.

The alternative is to take the side occupied by self-celebrating curmudgeons like Forde. It's your call.

Jason Priestas contributed to this report.


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