Tuesday, May 31, 2011

on Tressel and the rule of law

Anyone who works in the news business long enough has been cursed at.

Sometimes it's for a missed paper, or because someone's kid's name was misspelled in the Saturday sports section. Most often, though, a good cursing inevitably is borne out of a story about someone getting arrested, or cited, or sometimes (in the case of teachers) laid off from a public job. Sometimes it's the person who actually got arrested/cited/laid off, sometimes it's their friend or relative. But every complaint is essentially the same.
"You're making us look bad! You're making it seem like I/he/she is a bad person!"
The proper answer: The media doesn't make value judgments about what kind of person is the subject of a story. A reporter's job is to report. The facts of the story should speak for themselves.

A similar attitude inevitably emerges when NCAA violations come to light. You heard it when Alabama was sanctioned; you heard it when USC got slapped last year; you heard it last fall, when Auburn fell under national scrutiny for its recruitment of Cam Newton. And you'll hear it now that Jim Tressel has been forced out at Ohio State.
The inevitable counter-cry will be something like this: Jim Tressel isn't the problem; it's the NCAA that's the problem.

Jason Whitlock jumped on this early:
Jim Tressel is not special. He’s not particularly sinister or fraudulent. He’s an executive in a major industry who is taking the fall so the lie can continue long enough for the major players to come up with a new batch of lies.

Tommy Craggs — one of the better writers for Deadspin — also joined the chorus:
Hypocrisy is the grease that keeps the system running. Everyone knows that, even Michigan fans. Pat "enduring and justifiable taint" Forde knows that. It's how gifted young men like Rose get a cut of the vast sums of money they help generate. It's the little con that grows out of the big con — the laughable pretense that college football isn't a business.

Both Craggs and Whitlock are arguing the same line of reasoning that runs counter to this story: the NCAA rules are antiquated and need to be overhauled; everybody's cheating the system; the media doesn't talk enough about the problems in the system, and are part of the problem.

All of these are a) salient points I definitely agree with (at least in part) and b) completely off the point when it comes to the Tressel story. To wit:
• The facts that the rules are bad and the system needs overhauling don't really matter here, do they? Those are the rules. You're supposed to follow the rules. Maybe you think the NFL's helmet-to-helmet legislation to prevent head injuries is unnecessary; maybe you think the NBA's "defensive 3 seconds" rule is dumb and harms the quality of play. Fine. But those are the rules. If you think the rules should be changed, I'm all for it. But as long as the rules are in place, it's the job of the participants to follow them.
Jim Tressel isn't a novice when it comes to college football. He's been coaching in some capacity since the mid-1970s. He's been the head coach at Ohio State since 2001. The man knows the way things work. He knew the rules and he violated them.
• More importantly, this incessant bleating about the hypocrisies of the NCAA obfuscate the point of it: Tressel wasn't forced to resign because of the NCAA violations themselves; he was forced out because he lied to the authorities. Period. The violations themselves — a few illicit benefits, maybe some money changing hands — were violations, sure, but nothing on an SMU level or anything. Tressel could have withstood a few arrows caused by improper benefits, had he been honest about them. He was not, and that's why he is unemployed today.
I wrote about this once before, so you'll have to forgive me for standing on a soapbox again, but ... I mean, shouldn't coaches be held to a higher level of accountability here? Coaches aren't kids. A coach, first and foremost, is a teacher: His job is to win games, sure, but he should also be concerned about those intangible things teachers should strive for: Turning boys into men, teaching life lessons, that kind of thing. What kid (or better yet, what parent of a kid) would be interested in hearing a word from Jim Tressel after finding out he couldn't be honest with his bosses?

Look, I'm not here to condemn Jim Tressel as a person. By all accounts he's a nice guy who ran a classy program in Columbus. I'm not here to make pronouncements about him personally by any means.
But he willingly broke the rules and then he lied about them. Nice guy or not, hypocritical system or no, those are fireable offenses. And that's why he had to go.

1 comment:

Amanda said...

nice guy? classy program? Did you read the SI article? The dude is a fraud, unless you think that reporter is.