Friday, June 24, 2011

Before Things Get Worse, OSU Recruits Should Jump Ship Now

Trouble is brewing in Columbus. Ohio State's football program will likely suffer heavy sanctions from the NCAA for the misdeeds of Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor, as well as several other Buckeye players, depending on how deep the investigation goes. It's not a good time to be a Buckeye.

Tressel resigned from his position as head coach in May after it had been discovered that he knew his players were ineligible and played them anyway. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor and four other Buckeyes traded team memorabilia for benefits (e.g. tattoos, cash). Pryor was also found to be driving cars he could not afford: a clear sign that he had been taking illegal benefits from Ohio State boosters. The NCAA decided to open up a separate investigation on him. Then, at the behest of his lawyer, Pryor left Ohio State before the NCAA could indict him. It stands to reason that there was enough evidence that would have found him guilty.

Despite some OSU fans finding admiration in Jim Tressel for stepping down (several see Pryor as a selfish villain, however), it is unlikely that the NCAA will offer lighter punishments because the two main perpetrators of the rule infractions are now gone. The NCAA hit USC pretty hard despite the fact that both Pete Carroll and Reggie Bush were not present at the time the violations were discovered—five years after they had been committed. Bush had long since been a professional football player, and Carroll had taken up the head coaching job for the Seattle Seahawks. That didn't stop the NCAA from vacating games that Bush played in, stripping away USC's 2004 National Title, and demanding thirty scholarship reductions.

Those punishments were for only one player at USC. Ohio State's "tattoo-gate" involved five players, along with the head coach (Tressel), who had direct knowledge that they were committing violations. The implication now stands that the NCAA's punishments will be harsher for Ohio State.

Buckeye fans argue that Ohio State's infractions and the investigation that followed is far less detestable than USC's. If analyzed side-by-side, however, this is false. Ohio State's violations and predicament are far worse. Considering the role that Tressel himself played in the scandal, and since he only admitted the violations after he was caught, and since he had clearly lied to the NCAA about his knowledge in order to get his players into the Sugar Bowl, the NCAA might even allege that Ohio State had a lack of institutional control. (Brian Cook at MGoBlog believes this is certain to happen.)

OSU's athletic department had slapped Tressel on the wrist with a two-game suspension and a fine of $250,000. It was later increased to five games to match the players' suspension. While many Ohio State fans and supporters believed that such a punishment was satisfactory, it clearly wasn't. Alumni had publicly stated that Tressel should either step down or be fired. In the end, the pressure mounted, and Tressel resigned.

The wake of this scandal continues to be felt in Ohio State's recruiting. Players who were once heavy Buckeye leans are now deciding to look at other programs. Tom Strobel, a defensive end from Ohio and highly sought after by Ohio State, committed to Michigan. Strobel had reportedly grown up a Buckeye.

SeVon Pittman, a defensive end who had been offered by Ohio State, and who had been considered a "sure thing" for the Buckeyes, committed instead to Michigan State.

Five-star offensive tackle Kyle Kalis, who had previously committed to Ohio State, has since de-committed and is now looking at Michigan. He says that Chris Wormley, a four-star defensive end out of Mentor, Ohio, is also considering the Wolverines. Wormley was previously interested in Ohio State as well. 

Bucknuts, an Ohio State discussion forum, reported that Kalis as well as Ohio running back Brionte Dunn had completely written off Ohio State as a viable option for their college careers. The reason: they understand that, if they were to go to OSU, they might have to endure punishments for crimes which they weren't ever involved.

As bad as it is to be a Buckeye right now, it's an even worse time to become one. There's a very strong chance that the NCAA will hit Ohio State's football program with one, if not several, bowl bans, as well as any number of scholarship reductions. Most players who commit to Ohio State will probably have to pay full tuition and might not ever play in a bowl game. Stripping Ohio State of bowl appearances could also mean ineligibility for the BCS National Championship, even if the Buckeyes go undefeated. Think of it this way: would you apply to a job at a company which you knew would tank in the next year?

There will still be high school prospects, ranked and unranked, who grew up wanting to be Buckeyes and will go to Ohio State even if it means paying tuition for all four years and possibly giving up the chance to play in a bowl. Those are the players that Luke Fickell, OSU's interim head coach, is trying to get right now, as he should.

For the recruits that still need to be sold on Ohio State, however, it's becoming increasingly difficult to sell a dishonorable program. Both Tressel and Pryor jumped ship before hearing the NCAA's ruling. Either they anticipated heavy punishments and were only thinking of themselves, or they knew they were guilty and were going to get punished anyway. In either case, their decision only benefited themselves, not Ohio State, which will still suffer punishments without them, just as USC had to without Bush and Carroll. If Pryor was truly honorable, he would have stayed (as he had promised Tressel and the university he would) and faced the music. Tressel cannot give many excuses for leaving either, but his departure from Ohio State was inevitable.

Because these two people, who were each believed to be the epitome of Buckeye greatness, left the university they claimed to love, there is little reason why a recruit should go to Ohio State when they are going to suffer punishments for crimes they did not commit. Worse, the perpetrators have left them hanging out to dry. While Tressel's being forced out of Ohio State is seen as punishment enough by the Buckeye faithful, he has still not taken full responsibility for his actions. Tressel leaves Ohio State as a multi-millionaire, and though he may love coaching, he is not short-changed except in that he is no longer able to coach at OSU. He can live out the rest of his life comfortably and will be nonetheless revered by Ohio State fans, just as Hayes was. Pryor, meanwhile, has abandoned his troubles at Ohio State for a shot at the pros. It's largely the same story, but it's the future players who will suffer the punishments.

Things are about to get vastly worse for the Buckeyes before they get better. Any recruit having committed to Ohio State should at least consider other options—not necessarily Michigan, or even the Big Ten. Ohio State is a sinking ship. Its program right now is racked with instability.

It has become unstable because of dishonorable people who tried to cheat and win at all costs. Now the Buckeyes are being forced to play fair, but without the two main people who should be forced to do so. Recruits who had nothing to do with Ohio State's infractions should cut their ties and look elsewhere. It's the only way they can know they'll play in a bowl game and reap the rewards of hard work.

Otherwise, you can thank Jim Tressel, Terrelle Pryor, and Ohio State for pissing away your college career.

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