Forever Young

March 17, 2012

A Night to RememberAs much as I love Verne Lundquist and Gus Johnson and some of the other guys that do play-by-play for the NCAA tournament, and no matter how much CBS pushes their saccharine, self-published theme song “One Shining Moment” on me with each broadcast, every time I turn on a tournament game, the only voice I hear is that of Dick Enberg welcoming viewers to the Spectrum in Philadelphia and it’s the Kenny Loggins theme music that they used to use up with a swell.

And I am young again.

 

You say that maybe it’s over.
Not if you don’t want it to be.
For once in your life, here’s your miracle.
Stand up and fight.

This is it.


The Ohio State University and its Credibility Problem

August 19, 2011

From ESPN.com’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback column from this week comes a must-read for college football fans.  (Emphasis added):

O-H! N-O!

Ohio State’s Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor, cleared by the NCAA for the Sugar Bowl, later were forced to resign (Tressel) and suspended (Pryor) for violations the NCAA knew about prior to the Sugar Bowl. BCS games are among the biggest revenue events in collegiate athletics, so the NCAA waited until the money was in the bank.

Tressel admitted he was warned that OSU players were breaking NCAA rules, but said he did nothing because he “couldn’t think of who” to report this to. Ohio State has a six-person NCAA compliance office. It took me 45 seconds to get the names and phone numbers. Surely the associate athletic director for compliance sits within walking distance of Tressel’s office. With a straight face, Tressel claimed he didn’t know whom to tell about a compliance issue.

After the scandal broke, Ohio State announced it was voluntarily “vacating” all 2010 football victories. Yet open the new 2011 Buckeyes football media guide and the games are listed as wins.

As for OSU President Gordon Gee…[he] seemed to stand for the school’s integrity when he announced Tressel had resigned and would be fined $250,000. Later, Gee quietly changed Tressel’s resignation to a retirement, qualifying him for taxpayer-subsidized state benefits, waived the fine, and awarded Tressel about $50,000 in severance. So when the president of OSU makes a public announcement, he may or may not be telling the truth. That’s some example Ohio State is setting.

Defending the program as Tressel departed, Gee wrote, “Ohio State’s football team ranked first in academic performance among the nation’s top 25 teams.” Melinda Church of Gee’s office told me he was citing this NCAA Public Recognition Award: under Sport, click “Football FBS,” then “Display All.” But the award is not for “academic performance.” The award is for improvement as measured by the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate  [the “APR”] — that is, for raising a previous score. Gee changed academic “progress” to academic “performance.” Misrepresenting the content of a cited source is a big sin in academia — but apparently doesn’t bother the president of Ohio State….

The NCAA for its part is poised to make the APR system somewhat less lax — but only to the extent that colleges must graduate 50 percent of their athletes in order to qualify for football bowl games and basketball tournaments. That the NCAA’s ambitious goal is 50 percent graduation of athletes tells you how deeply fouled up the situation is.


The Discarded Student-Athlete

August 19, 2011

It’s common to read and hear the chattering classes on ESPN and other places talk about college athletes being used by their institutions to make big bucks while the “student-athlete” is left with nothing to show for his labors.  Frequently, the athlete can’t afford to live away from home and resorts to activities that violate NCAA rules just to get by while on campus (see the Ohio State football mess; also the allegations against the University of Miami).  University presidents and athletic directors routinely say they did the athletes a favor by offering them an education.  But many of those athletes couldn’t readily access that education either because they lacked the academic heft to have been admitted to the school without their athletic prowess or they simply lacked the interest in being educated–they’re only there for their sport and the chance to make it to the professional level.  All this does the athlete a great disservice, not to mention that it sullies the schools, too, but that’s for another time.

It’s less common to hear of athletes getting chewed up and spit out at the high school level.  But it happens.  Here’s one story.  Fair Warning:  The story has been related to me second-hand.  I have not personally spoken to the family or the young man involved.  That said, I am confident enough in the sources to share the tale here.

A young man from a family we know through mutual friends was a stand-out high school athlete on a team that would perennially contend for state championships.

Sadly, the young man faced challenges.  He abused alcohol and drugs throughout his high school career.  The athletic department knew this.  His coaches knew this. His parents knew this.  Despite professing “zero tolerance” for violations of the substance use policy, the young man was allowed to continue to participate; to continue to contribute to the team’s goals and to position himself for a major college scholarship.

Verily, the scholarship offers arrived from schools with great academic and athletic reputations.  He picked one early in his senior year and was ready to go.  He participated in events all through his senior year while continuing to have run-ins with the administration about his consumption.  But he never lost his spot on the team.

It was a great senior season.  The team did well.  The young man contributed to a state championship. Records were broken; celebrations were had.

Following the conclusion of the season, there was another incident.  Then and only then did the school take action against the young man.  They kicked him off the team.  After they had used up his skills and time and overlooked his problems long enough to hang another banner from the rafters, they were done with him.  It cost him his scholarship.  Even though he did nothing differently than had been previously tolerated during the season, they took an action that his prospective college couldn’t abide and he lost his ride.

I am in no way excusing the young man’s behavior.  He knew the rules and apparently violated them repeatedly.  Had the coaching staff followed their own procedures–you know, the ones that they use on the kids that aren’t stars on the team, where they kick the kid off so fast it makes your head spin–perhaps the young man could have better addressed his issues.  He would not have been so successful and the team might have suffered, but a chance at intervention would not have been missed.

In college, this happens quite often.  It’s referred to as a “money in the bank” approach to violations and punishment.  This is how the NCAA dealt with Reggie Bush at USC and later with the Ohio State problems.  Investigations were said to be underway, but no one was disputing the principal facts.  The players and coaches involved were cleared by the NCAA to play in their respective bowl games and generate giant television revenues for the NCAA and its member schools.  Only after the money is in the bank does the punishment come down.

The cynicism of the school and athletic administration in how they dealt with this young man is shocking and infuriating.  The school and the coaches used this young man just as surely as college athletes are used and discarded by their institutions.  But this is high school.  High.  School.  When they were finished with him, they spit him out and left him and his family to deal with an even bigger wreck than their might have been had they acted when they first confronted the problem.

I’m afraid to ask what happened next.


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