Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cam Newton, Terrelle Pryor, or Logan Ehlers: Guess Who Gets The Biggest Punishment?

In the warped world that is the NCAA, it seems to be Nebraska pitcher Logan Ehlers who is the biggest offender of the three, if you compare punishments. Cam Newton, as we all know, was exonerated by the NCAA because apparently his father asked schools for cash without Cam's knowledge. Or so he claimed. Terrelle Pryor and several teammates sold memorabilia to the owner of a tattoo parlor, and was suspended five games NEXT SEASON, deferring the suspension so Pryor and company could play in the Sugar Bowl.  Ehlers was suspended 35 games by the NCAA because his adviser contacted the Toronto Blue Jays while Ehlers debated whether to turn pro or enroll at Nebraska.  Pryor's suspension is 42% of his season; Ehler's suspension is 60%.

So let's compare these situations again.  Newton's father asked for $180,000 under the table.  Pryor pocketed $2500 for selling his ring.  Ehlers pocketed nothing; in fact, he turned down money to choose to play college baseball.  But Ehlers is the one with the biggest punishment?

The NCAA's position is that they don't want agents involved with players while they are amateur athletes. Understandable. And when an adviser starts getting involved in the process, they start becoming agent-like. Fair enough. But in this situation, there's no evidence that the adviser influenced the negotiations, and in the end, Ehlers didn't sign. Seems like a technicality compared to the other situations, so why does Ehlers get the biggest punishment?

Good question. It seems that now, the NCAA is afraid to take on the biggest cash cow of college athletics: football.  In the case of Newton and Pryor, both players were on the track for big paydays in BCS bowls last fall. In both cases, the NCAA found a way to keep those players in the big money games. Ehlers plays college baseball - a non-revenue sport.  Suspending Newton and Pryor affects the value of it's biggest sport; it costs the game in the end. Ehlers suspension doesn't have anywhere near the cost. So it's easy to take the "high moral ground" and throw the book at Ehlers.

Want more proof of the NCAA's silliness? Yesterday, the NCAA suspended Baylor basketball player Perry Jones hours before the Big XII tournament because his mother accepted a $1000 loan from an AAU coach years ago. The money was paid back long before Jones signed with Baylor, but hey, Jones is ineligible.  Baylor loses to Oklahoma in the first round of the Big XII tournament, thus ending any bubble hopes, and relegating the Bears likely to the NIT.  Of course, Baylor's not likely to be a draw in the Big Dance, so there's no cost to taking the high moral ground.

Speaking of Pryor and Ohio State, this whole Jim Tressel situation just keeps looking worse and worse for Tressel and Ohio State. Tressel's excuse that he didn't know who to contact is absolutely ridiculous; he's the head football coach in one of the largest athletic departments in college sports. Each school has several staff members who's sole job is to handle any NCAA compliance issues. He knows this; this was no mistake.

Even more damning is that this situation wasn't uncovered in December when the Pryor situation was being investigated originally. A simple discovery process looking for the name of the tattoo parlor operator, or even the word "tattoo" for that matter, would have uncovered all of the e-mails that Yahoo! Sports exposed this week. So not only did Tressel screw up last spring and summer and fail to deal with the situation, then cover it up last December, but others in the athletic department enabled that coverup.

Can you say "Lack of Institutional Control"?  Yes you can.  It's not like Tressel and Ohio State have a pristine record to fall back on; a 2009 report found the Buckeyes to be one of the biggest violators of NCAA rules dating back to 2000.  Tressel was hired by Ohio State in 2001.

I don't know how long it's going to take for the NCAA and the Big Ten to intervene in this manner. It's obvious that Ohio State was afraid to, especially when Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee joked that he was worried that Tressel "would dismiss me."  Gee hoped that we thought that was a joke, but deep down, there's probably an element of truth there.  Is Jim Delaney too scared?  I don't think so, and frankly, I don't think Delaney wants this scandal to taint the new B1G this fall.  Certainly the SEC acted quickly to suspend Tennessee's Bruce Pearl last fall... and this is bigger, much bigger, than what Pearl did.

Bottom line:  I get the feeling that the only way the sweater vest is in Lincoln next October is if he buys a ticket, because I don't think Jim Tressel will be coaching Ohio State at that time.

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