Life has thrown me a softball. As an ethics commentator, the Jim Tressels of the world are red meat. He has made an almost unimaginable series of ethical blunders in the whole Ohio State fiasco, leading to his resignation as the Buckeyes’ head football coach. And the “leadership” and “oversight” of those at the university could only be characterized as indefensible. Some of the statements that have been made seem like the definition of “lack of institutional control.”
But who wants to cast the first stone? One of the major reasons for the moral agnosticism that characterizes big-time collegiate sports is that every coach, every athletic director, and every president knows that they are one e-mail away from a disaster that draws the NCAA to campus. I am very grateful not to read about these things regularly around here, but I am not naïve. I know from speaking to student-athletes that there is a compliance environment that sometimes seems overbearing to them. But it is there for a reason. And who is to say it will be effective tomorrow? We have failed here before.
No one in intercollegiate sports wants to cut off the lifeline, which is access to student-athletes when they are in high school. And that environment is arguably getting worse, not better. A recent ESPN report on the 7-on-7 summer football leagues that have proliferated in recent years makes it clear that they are the avenue to being recruited by the top football schools. They are run by folks that are, for the most part, not high school coaches. They are the equivalent of the AAU leagues that have taken over the placement of high school basketball players. And the “coaches” often end up being channels that college football coaches must use to have a chance to sign a particular player. That can lead to booster involvement, side benefits for student-athletes, and hiring go-betweens into coaching and other roles at universities.
In other words, it’s a market. You can use pejorative terms like “meat market” if you like, but it’s a market. Milton Friedman, one of the great defenders of markets, still insisted that participants in markets had to “play by the rules.” But you can make a lot of money if you don’t, and you can even feel good about yourself if you play before they even make the rules, as folks running the 7-on-7 leagues are doing right now. Talking “duties” and “responsibility” in this environment is laughed at by the markets’ participants.
But when you fail to self-regulate, you always get regulation, and the NCAA is cracking down in unprecedented ways. USC will not just lose post-season eligibility for two years for its recruiting of Reggie Bush, but it will sacrifice ten football scholarships for each of the next three years, taking them from 25 to 15. Good luck to head coach Lane Kiffin staying on the straight and narrow during those years. It could happen, because he has a straight arrow athletic director in Pat Haden, and because USC could realistically receive the death penalty for another serious infraction. But when you can only take 15, you had better take the right 15, and that will introduce dangerous temptations.
It is clear that the NCAA no longer believes that big-time programs will hold to a duty to protect the university’s reputation, so they are changing the consequences. I would not be surprised to see them come down very hard on Ohio State, which has protected its coach much as Tennessee did basketball coach Bruce Pearl after he knowingly broke rules.
Many people have suggested paying athletes in order to solve the problem. But this will simply change the price of the market; it will not eliminate it. And the same types of differential incentives will be offered to get the next Reggie Bush to enroll, over and above what the athletes are paid. This is assuming Title IX issues could be worked out about which athletes are paid, and how much.
As cheaters in business have found, modern technology, including e-mail and texting, has made it much easier to build a case against you when you are lying and covering up. In the absence of any sense of duty in intercollegiate athletics, the NCAA will just ratchet up the consequences to go along with the increased probability of being caught. And self-interested young people who have been on the take often like to tell their story after they are no longer relevant, as Ohio State is currently finding out, which will help the enforcers. But in intercollegiate athletics, as in the business world which is usually the focus of my attention, the incentives to win and the money tied to winning are so strong that the NCAA has no choice but to step up the penalties significantly.
As I said, life threw me a softball this week. But in a world that is sadly unable to self-correct, and in which no one is listening, I can’t bring myself to lecture folks one more time. I think I will just turn around and walk back to the dugout.
I remember this incident happening last year and noted that it will not be the last of its kind in college sports. I follow A&M recruiting, and the common perception is that every college violates NCAA recruiting rules. It’s just not their time to get caught. Again, just like business fraud, it boils down to greed. It’s no question that the football and basketball programs bring huge sums of money to the universities. This is the underlying and obvious cause of it all.
Businesses have target profits, coaches and athletic programs have target wins. The more you win, the more notoriety, and the more opportunities for better exposure exist in the sports world. The sad part is that Jim Tressel will land a job elsewhere. His wins outweigh the possibility of future scandals, and this applies to other coaches (see John Calipari, Bruce Pearl).
Its a tough world that we live in sometimes. Whether it is huge issues we see on the news or small issues in a friend of ours, it is tough to watch the same mistake happen over and over again and not get discouraged and want to quit. I believe we just have to make the decision on whether or not we truly care about the situation. In the college atheletics atmosphere, I honestly believe there will never be a middle ground where recruiters are happy with the rules in place and stop breakin gthe ones that limit them. If you allow more, they will push it further. It you put more restraints, they will find new ways around them. It has less to do with the rules in general and more to do with tthe fact that the NCAA cannot individually change each recruiter and coach into a good person that doesn’t break rules.
But when it comes to watching a friend make the same mistake over and over, hings change. If you truly love the person, it doesn’t matte rhow many times you watch them make the same mistake, you are there for them and love them all the same, but definitely easier said than done.
The collegiate environment reminds me of the insider trading market. “Everyone is doing it” appears to be the mantra. The climate we are in now is approaching the level seen in the 80’s which culminated with SMU’s “death penalty.” However, now the stakes are raised even higher with the sheer amount of money that college football now produces. In some ways college football is set to surpass the NFL as the number one sport in the US.
I believe the NCAA is afraid to give any program another “death penalty” after seeing the absolute carnage it unleashed on one of its traditional powers. Now the bigger the power the more untouchable they seem. It is a sad state of affairs that has 17-22 year olds at its center. Billions are made off of their play, yet they recieve no monetary compensation. Conversely, they get a free education and stature that most students dream about. Playing four or five years and getting an 80,000-100,000 education sounds pretty good to me.
I don’t follow sports much, so I didn’t catch this when it happened. I have to agree with Richard and say that, while obviously this incident has not been the last of its kind, we can always expect more. It’s kind of an easy call to make. You can make restrictions on behavior, but never on will. We will never break the will of greed.
But that’s why we need watchdogs, and that’s why I think the correct course of action was taken. 25 scholarship to 15 seems a little harsh, but it’s the only way you can be taken seriously in the world of athletics. It’s true that it may spur more unethical behavior, but they are being watched now.
Hopefully the costs incurred will be enough of a deterrent to prevent this in the future, at least at USC. I fear unethical programs may need to be handled on a case-by-case basis, though.
College coaches cheat because they can. If they win, it doesn’t matter if they cheated, even if they get caught. Cheating is very frowned upon in individual sports. The rampant cheating in professional cycling has nearly killed the sport. However, cheating is much more acceptable in team sports. Steroid use in baseball was not vilified in baseball until players started lying about it. Cheating at the collegiate coaching level has been common practice for a long time. Perhaps this is because the incentives are so strong for coaches to cheat. Recently Bill Byrne resigned as our athletic director. The blogosphere has already begun to call for Jackie Sherrill to take over the position. Sherill is one of the most successful football coaches in A&M history. He also resigned in 1988 after A&M was penalized for a lack of institutional control. Given the choice between an ethical program and a successful program, the fan will take a successful program every time. Just ask any USC Trojan fan.
Regardless of the amount of regulation and rules implemented by the NCAA, things like this will continue to happen. Much like the environment in Enron, sports is a cut-throat business in which winning often overshadows the rules. With the pressures to be successful every season, coaches and athletic directors often take short cuts if they feel it will produce a better team. Sometimes these behaviors are discovered and someone is slapped on the wrist, however often times they are not discovered. From talking to some friends who were recruited to various universities for sports, even in their cases, multiple recruiting guidelines were violated. We as a university have been lucky thus fat to not be burdened by any violations, but our move to the SEC and the recent Heisman is going to put more pressures on our sporting programs to be successful.
It is my ultimate belief that they only way to prevent these violations from occurring is to ensure your coach and other people in charge are ethical, and maybe even value that more than winning.
Recruiting is a tough thing to do properly regardless of industry. There is so much temptation to get the right talent. Every company or organization wants to show it is the best fit for a recruit, and it supposed to do that within the rules. However, I truly believe that almost all, if not all organizations, bend the rules at least. It is easier to distinguish itself by bribing the recruit it wants or the person who has the most influence on the recruit. I don’t know how to counter this. The penalties and further regulation do not seem to work to me. If someone wants to do something unethical, he or she can always find a way. The only way it would seem to really encourage the programs to act ethically is to minimize the desire to obtain profit from the programs. As we all know too well though, this is not going to happen.
This is a great post about the rampant “cheating” that occurs in college football. I put quoatations around cheating because (I know its cynical of me) I believe every major college football program breaks the rules in place one way or another. The real question is the degree to which it is broken, and honestly how “big” the player involved in the “cheating” is. Look at Ohio St., Terelle Pryor (arguably the biggest name at Ohio St. since Eddie George) was the main focus of the scandal, even though several other players had admitted to the same offenses. Look at USC, Reggie Bush, arguably the biggest name in college football over the last decade, I believe that Reggie Bush was only one of the multiple paid athletes on the USC roster, but he was the only targeted player. This practice of “cheating” is as old as college football itself. We could go back to the 70’s and 80’s where every team in the Southwest Conference (except Rice, I Believe) was guilty of “major violations” with the leader being SMU, centered around Eric Dickerson and Craig James (best RB duo in the country). While I believe the rules in place would be effective in preventing what happens every day in college football, the NCAA has proven time and again that they do not enforce them, until the media decides it is a big enough story to break it to the public. This type of environment allows (maybe even encourages) coaches and players to bend and break the rules, knowing the chances of being caught are low.