The Patron Saints Of Hubris

By Johnny Ginter on June 2, 2011 at 1:00 pm
Saint Brutus the Intractable

In the coming days and weeks the names of Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor are going to become slowly intertwined forever. The sins of one are going to be linked the the downfall of the other, but the truth of the matter is that both men are guilty of the kind of hubris that comes with not recognizing the new reality of college football: there's no such thing as "handling it internally" anymore. Sooner or later, the piper, in the form of the media, or fans, or the long arm of the NCAA will come calling. And he will be paid.

As far as Pryor is concerned, his motivations seem to be nothing more than what you might expect; a combination of a desire for what he felt was owed, a willingness to go out and get those things, and a generous helping of ego appear to have led Pryor to break a number of NCAA rules and, if NBC4 is correct, actual laws as well. Maybe in time the full story will tell us otherwise, but for now the Terrelle Pryor story is unfortunate, highly annoying, and predictable in hindsight.

Jim Tressel's role in this kind of hubris is much more interesting to me, because his obfuscation and reluctance to make his players' indiscretions subject to widespread scrutiny and punishment seems to be part of a pattern on his part to try and solve problems in house. Born from a genuine desire to teach his players a lesson in the manner he felt was best and coupled with a desire to maintain the integrity of his program, Tressel was naive enough to believe that the same methods he used to run his program in 1993 were just as adequate in 2010.

His intentions weren't entirely pure, but I truly think that Tressel felt that his methods were for the overall benefit of his players, by protecting them from punishment from a faceless and uncaring entity and by allowing him to teach them the kind of lesson he felt was appropriate.

The problem is this: none of that matters, because there is no "in house" anymore. Eventually something will come out.

Since both Jim Tressel and I have our Master's in Education, let me put it this way: when you're a teacher in a classroom, oftentimes you'll have a student who does something that might warrant sending him to the office to get yelled at by the principal. Except you know that sending the kid off every time he screws up doesn't do a thing for him in the long run; the principal doesn't know anything about him, and the student respects you a hell of a lot more than some faceless administrative entity. So you punish the kid on your own terms. Make him clean up the classroom, give him extra homework, talk to his parents, whatever. And you do this because you know that while technically that kind of punishment wasn't "correct," you made the right call, for a number of reasons.

Unfortunately for Jim Tressel, as much as he'd like to be one (and believe me, I understand the desire), he's not a classroom teacher. He was the coach of an incredibly popular and visible college football program in the year 2011, and the current climate dictates that every kid be sent to the principal.

Tressel's occasionally rocky relationship with the media is no secret. The constant push and pull between the press and Tressel was in part a result of his desire to only reveal as much as absolutely necessary, even when there was nothing to hide. The problem with this is that people talk, now more than ever. Twitter and Facebook and the internet in general has changed the way people disseminate information and rumors; a single picture of Terrelle Pryor standing in front of a nice car might never have surfaced 15 years ago. Combine that kind of flow of chatter with a press corps who already find it difficult to obtain information and you've got a perfect storm for an environment where each violation by a player, be it perceived or real, has a cumulative effect on how people view the program.

I don't know that Jim Tressel ever understood this, that the ability to control information and the direction of his program was no longer fully in his hands. Now, in a time where the NCAA seems to be going after teams like a blind man with a shotgun, there really isn't a whole lot that coaches can do to make sure that their team avoids looking down the barrel of a gun when their turn finally comes up. Except, of course, to be as honest and open and compliant as they can be.

The truth is that neither Terrelle Pryor or Jim Tressel are the Patron Saints of Hubris. I'm not going to become apoplectic about Tressel wanting to do right by his players, even if it was in a naive and outdated fashion. I'm also not going to act shocked by Terrelle Pryor and his other teammates' apparent attempt to milk the college football experience for as much as he thought he could. What both men have done was wrong, but in hindsight not surprising.

Ultimately, it's us. We're the Patron Saints of Hubris, because as fans we have been equivocating and making excuses for players and coaches who are less than compliant with NCAA rules. Are many of those rules completely asinine and need to be changed? Without a doubt. But a case for that change needs to be made, and every violation of NCAA rules strengthens the resolve of those who enforce them.

"Everyone is doing it" is not an argument, even if it's true. I find it extremely ironic that Pryor has been made fun of and vilified for this comment:

"Everyone does -- kills people, murders people, steals from you, steals from me."

When many Ohio State fans have made the same leap of logic in an attempt to explain transgressions by players and coaches. Just because what happened at Ohio State pales in comparison to agents infesting USC or Cam Newton's dad shopping him around the SEC does not make it any less of a big deal or the media any less justified in wanting to uncover as much as they can.

The culture of winks, wry smiles, and shrugs when it comes to talking about what kind of rules violations that players are involved in and the people who help facilitate them has to end. If we want the offseasons to stop being an 8 month game of Russian roulette, we have to demand better. Rules violations by players and coaches are never going to go away, but as fans we have the ability to make sure that we won't tolerate anything less than openness and honesty when it comes to our team.

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