Tuesday, December 28, 2010

SPORTS>>Suspend disbelief at NCAA penalties

By Todd Traub
Leader sports editor

I was at the traditional, Christmas Eve party with family and friends when the talk inevitably turned to a certain, upcoming bowl game foremost on the minds of Arkansas Razorbacks fans.

So I got football to go with the sausage balls, the Sugar Bowl AND the candy bowl.

I didn’t get dragged into the discussion of the Jan. 4 game between Arkansas and Ohio State because I’m a sports editor or anything like that. I got dragged into it because I showed up.

Anyone who follows college football right now would have suffered the same fate.

The reason for the uproar, of course, has to do with the misadventures of the Ohio State players and the nature of the punishment that has befallen.

Buckeyes starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor, running back Daniel Herron, receiver DeVier Posey, offensive lineman Mike Adams and defensive end Soloman Thomas must sit out the first five games of 2011 for selling memorabilia to a tattoo parlor owner in exchange for tattoos.

The five must also repay between $1,000 and $2,500 to charity while a sixth, linebacker Jordan Whiting, must sit out one game next season.

Tattoos, of course, have become the adornment of choice, a way of expressing one’s rugged individuality the same way everyone else does. But I digress; what matters here is that the players broke NCAA rules governing outside income and gifts.

The punishment, which is sort of like invading Canada because the Virgin Islands attacked us, makes it clear what is going on.

The NCAA wants its BCS bowl game to be as attractive as possible for the sake of advertising money and other revenues, so the six besmirched Buckeyes must play.

We figured out a long time ago that college football is as corrupted by the influence of money as any other institution, and the NCAA is as beholden to the almighty dollar as you or I.

The Razorbacks fans I spoke to sensed an additional NCAA bias in favor of the Big Ten and Ohio State. I don’t know about that; all I ever hear is how great the SEC is, but I agree the proper punishment should be a bowl game suspension.

Whether it’s to a national championship game, another BCS game like the Sugar Bowl or a lesser event like the New Orleans Bowl, a postseason bowl trip is supposed to be a reward to players for a job well done.

It’s one last chance to play, usually somewhere far from home and often in an appealing climate, with lots of dinners and other functions, sightseeing tours and NCAA sanctioned gifts thrown in.

Do the misbehaved Buckeyes deserve such a reward? No.

It could be argued that missing five games next year is actually a harsher penalty. Some of those will be conference games, and losses could wind up costing Ohio State more down the line — a shot at a league title and another really good postseason bowl trip.

And if it’s all about cash and free things for these guys, then consider they will miss out on five opportunities to impress NFL scouts next year.

Except of course, the players could jump to the NFL and avoid the suspensions altogether, leaving only the charity payout as their penalty.

But wait, the other Ohio State seniors may have a say in this. In the run-up to the team’s departure for New Orleans on Tuesday, the upperclassmen were still deciding whether or not the six tarnished Buckeyes would sit out the Sugar Bowl after all, or be allowed to play but not start.

Razorbacks fans can recall the 1978 Orange Bowl when Lou Holtz suspended three key players for a dormitory incident involving a woman, and Arkansas still beat Oklahoma 31-6. The Hogs fans are entitled to think Ohio State should suspend its guys and attempt the same thing in the Sugar Bowl.

But no matter how this shakes out, whether the six players participate a little or not at all Jan. 4, I’d say Ohio State has already lost and the Hogs have already won.

If the Buckeyes play their guys and win it’s a tarnished victory. If they lose, well, they lose.

No. 8 Arkansas is entirely capable of beating No. 6 Ohio State even if the Buckeyes are at full strength. If the Razorbacks play a short-handed opponent, their chances at a Sugar Bowl victory get even better.

If Ohio State uses its tarnished players and Arkansas wins, then what a righteous victory it would be.