I’m a big believer in giving credit where it is due. So today, I tip my hat—if not my bowtie—to E. Gordon Gee, the president of Ohio State. I was one of many people who ripped Gee in the last week after he ridiculously claimed that neither TCU nor Boise State was worthy of playing for a national title even if they finished undefeated. In what struck me—and others—as a blatant attempt to make sure the 66 BCS schools kept as much of the power, money and control as possible in college football, Gee came out with some blather about how teams in the BCS Conferences play a murderer’s row schedule and don’t play The Little Sisters of the Poor.
Actually, many of them do. And they all play them at home.
I wrote a column ripping Gee and making fun of him for being pretentious. Others did the same thing. Here’s how Gee responded: He told the Columbus Dispatch he never should have opened his mouth on the subject, that he didn’t know what he was talking about and that he was going to have his foot surgically removed from his mouth. He also said he had sent a contribution to The Little Sisters of the Poor.
Good for him. How often have you heard a college president not only admit he was wrong about something but say it in such a self-deprecating way. If this was a PR move it was a good one. If it is genuine, all the better.
Gee went at least one step further. Yesterday afternoon I received an e-mail from him in which he basically repeated what he had told The Dispatch. It included the words, “Lesson learned.” He then went on to say he was an admirer of my work and would love to sit down and talk to me at some point in the future. First of all the guy clearly has good taste in writing. More important though, the fact that he would write to me at all is remarkable: I hammered him, made fun of his first name and wrote that he needed to shut up. He writes back that I’m right and wants to get together.
This is not exactly the way Tiger Woods or Bob Knight react to criticism. (Tiger fans: there’s your Tiger shot for the day; enjoy).
I wrote back to Gee and thanked him for the note and told him I’d be happy to get together with him. Then I said this: “I would love to be able to convince you to open your mouth again—but this time in favor of a playoff which would be good for the young men who play college football; good for everyone financially and, yes, good for the players in their roles as students.”
No, I’m not holding my breath on getting that done but if Gee is willing to listen I’m (surprise) willing to talk.
Now, on to another college football topic: The Cam Newton ruling is scary on a lot of levels. Let me say this first: I recognize, as most of us do, how colleges exploit players and make millions off of stars like Newton. I’ve said for years there should be some kind of trust fund set up for players on ANY team that makes a school money and players should be able to withdraw their share—which over four or five years could be fairly substantial—the day they graduate. Yes, graduate. Those who leave school early to make NFL or NBA millions don’t need the money; those who aren’t going to be football or basketball superstars do need it and this would be a decent incentive to graduate.
That’s another issue for another day. Today’s issue is the Newton ruling. Here’s what scares me most about it: I find myself reading quotes from Big Ten commission Jim (Voldemort) Delany and long-time shoe salesman/player broker Sonny Vaccaro and nodding my head and saying, ‘uh-huh, they’re right.”
The day I agree with Jim Delany and Sonny Vaccaro the apocalypse truly is upon us. Delany, who used to work in the NCAA enforcement office, points out that rules on eligibility make it clear that if someone acting on behalf of an athlete breaks rules, the athlete can—and probably should—be held accountable. The NCAA reinstatement committee chose to take the narrowest view possible on this: the sins of the father should not be visited upon the son.
In principle that sounds nice but as Vaccaro points out, this opens an unbelievably deep Pandora’s Box. From this day forward, all anyone—father, mother, coach, street-agent, sister, cousin, aunt—need do is say to a star athlete, “you decide where you want to go and we’ll take care of the rest.” As long as the athlete can claim he didn’t know what’s going on, he’s free and clear. The minute the NCAA rules in the future that someone is ineligible because someone asked for money on their behalf, there’s going to be a lawsuit based on, ‘The Cam Newton Rule.’
If the NCAA is going to take this view, it might just as well throw the towel in and say, ‘pay ‘em all.’ Now some of you out there will say that’s great, that’s the way to go anyway. Only it’s not that simple. If you think college athletics is an arms race now, imagine what will happen if the doors are opened to having players go to the highest bidder.
You think Butler will play in the national championship game anytime soon? You think Boise State will ever have a top ten team again? No. College athletics will simply be about who can get the most money out of wealthy boosters to pay players. Heck, it is already that way to some extent but you let all those folks out of the closet with no deterrent at all for paying players and you can kiss that lovely first weekend of the NCAA Tournament when Winthrop beats Notre Dame and VCU beats Duke goodbye.
The NCAA didn’t want Newton to sit out the SEC Championship game because, in spite of its claims to the contrary, it IS in cahoots with the BCS and it doesn’t want TCU in the championship game. USC Athletic Director Pat Haden (correctly) asks why Reggie Bush got nailed and Newton did not. The answer is simple: Bush is no longer of any value to the NCAA. Newton is. Don’t be stunned if sometime in the next year or two the NCAA comes back and says, ‘wait, we now believe Cam Newton knew what his dad was up to—return all the trophies.’
That’s NCAA justice: it twists and bends the way it needs to twist and bend. Newton and Auburn are fortunate the NCAA needs Newton playing—at least for the moment.
I’m also baffled by my friend Bill Rhoden’s column in today’s New York Times. Bill argues that even though Cecil Newton put his son up for sale, he’s still a good man, just one who used poor judgment. To me, trying to turn your kid into a human ATM machine—whether he knows you’re doing it or not—goes way beyond poor judgment.
In this case, it has done the impossible: put Jim Delany, Sonny Vaccaro and me on the same side of an issue. I’m not sure which of the three of us finds that most frightening.