Growing up in Ohio, I was in the minority, in that I never much cared for Buckeyes football.
The Ohio State coach back then was Woody Hayes, who was the very type of the coach as militaristic martinet and total jerk. Couldn’t root for him. Even then, I kind of was drawn to the guy in nerdy glasses at State College.
Then, later on, there was that thing where a girl from Ohio State broke my heart. Sigh.
So, no, it didn’t upset me last week when The Ohio State University’s current coach, Jim Tressel, resigned amid scandal. Tressel had been blind and mute about multiple NCAA rules violations by his players, including sweetheart deals on cars and trading memorabilia for tattoos. Sadly, it was pretty standard scandal fare for college sports.
But let’s look deeper, at two numbers.
One is $3.5 million. That’s how much Tressel received from OSU each year to wear sweater vests, quote the Bible, beat Michigan and, apparently, be utterly clueless about anything that didn’t involve zone blitzes and formations.
The other is zero. That is the amount, under NCAA rules, that the young athletes who fill 102,000-seat Ohio Stadium on Saturdays can be paid for their exertions. Oh, they get free tuition, room and board, but not a penny more. Any other student with a campus job gets paid for it. But not athletes, even as they risk injury to reap money and glory for the dear old U.
In fact, the NCAA has a rule book as thick as Tressel’s Bible listing all the ways in which an athlete – but not his coach or college – is barred from benefiting from his own prowess. Some of these kids may not be top scholars, but they can smell rank hypocrisy.
It’s long past time to create an honest system of paying college athletes. This absurd pretense that they are amateurs foments much of the booster-driven sleaziness.
A better system isn’t hard to devise. It took me a couple minutes to do the math for OSU. Force its football coach to make do on a meager million bucks a year. That’s leaves $2.5 million to pay the players. Assume 100 on the squad. Create a scale: all freshmen get 10 grand, sophomores 20 grand, juniors 30 grand and seniors 40 grand.
Just to stress the idea of team, pay All-America quarterbacks and bench-warming scrubs who are in the same class just the same.
The cost? Whaddayaknow? $2.5 million.
A few more rules: Fail to maintain a C average, get convicted of a crime, accept a favor from a booster – boom, you’re off the team, no more payments.
Sure, my system would need tweaking. It wouldn’t end the epidemic academic cheating by players.
But, compared to the NCAA’s current Kafaesque maze, it would be clearer, easier to enforce and far more intellectually honest.
And, intellectual honesty, you’d think that would be something an institution of higher learning could get behind.