Troubled Waters

There are always concerns about the great game of college football — whether there are too many bowl games, if a playoff is necessary for final resolution, if coaches are being paid too much money. Now comes the tsunami, however, and whether the game will drown in its own success has become a matter of grave concern to the watchdogs.

Watchdogs? What watchdogs? And therein lies the dilemma. To use the cliché, the foxes are guarding the henhouses. The people who are supposed to be in charge of the game’s soul are too busy passing the collection plate to notice.

Let’s just start with what’s going on in Columbus with The Ohio State University. Five players were caught selling jerseys and “receiving improper benefits” from a tattoo parlor owner, who is also a suspected drug trafficker. They were subsequently suspended for the first five games next season but allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl.

Now comes word that Jim Tressel had known about this a year ago and covered it up, an act for which his school fined him $250,000, slapped him on the hand and suspended him for the first two games next year against lesser light opponents.

Tressel’s comment after receiving an email from a lawyer and former Buckeye walk-on was: “I will get on it ASAP.” But he never mentioned it again to authorities.

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Tressel has not only cast a blight on himself, but on the league’s flagship school in a conference that arrogantly portrays itself as athletic aristocracy — far above the great unwashed in the SEC.

Most people feel there is another shoe to be dropped on Ohio State by the big bad NCAA and that it will probably tack on additional punishment.

The big question, though, is what else Tressel knew and didn’t tell anyone and whether he has covered up other such incidents involving players in the past.

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The Tressel incident is just one more toxic layer on the college football landscape that seems to have been polluted by the huge amounts of money.

Still lurking in the shadows is that whole Cam Newton incident that appears to be the 50,000-pound elephant in the room of SEC Commissioner Mike Slive. And it still hasn’t been resolved to the satisfaction of critics who believe Slive may have been paying more attention to the bottom line of conference matters than the integrity of the game.

The truth is that today’s commissioners are mostly CEOs of large companies whose job it apparently has become is to keep the coffers full. Do you think that Slive was actively engaged in pursuit of facts that would have resulted in the proving of Auburn’s wrongdoing and, subsequently make the Tigers ineligible for the huge BCS payday that awaited all 12 SEC schools? Apparently he didn’t see the need to pursue it.

We’re not outright charging Slive with complicity in whatever indiscretions Auburn or the Newton family might have been involved in — that remains to be seen — but we’re just wondering about his priorities. And so are lots of others.

In the end, maybe it’s all about the money. Maybe that’s what college presidents have prioritized for Slive in his role as the marketer of the most lucrative college sports franchise in history.

Maybe that’s also why this whole Ohio State thing was swept under the rug — why Tressel was allowed to delay the inevitable a whole season.

The bigger the money gets, the bigger the temptations.

Then we read about the gambling habits of a man named Ted Forstmann, who wagered huge amounts of cash on college sports. That may or may not be an indictment of his character, but the fact that Forstmann is the CEO of International Management Group (IMG), which handles the licensing and marketing of the NCAA, as well as contracts of football and basketball coaches — as well as broadcast rights and branding for many large schools — is more than disconcerting.

As of 2007, IMG became a partner of sorts with the NCAA and some of its member schools.

IMG has said Forstmann no longer gambles on sports since 2007, and disallows its employees from gambling in sporting events, but according to a story written by Greg Couch in Sporting News, his sources have told him that Forstmann did gamble on an LSU football game after the NCAA went into business with IMG.

Coupled with other troubling news about the game — the word on the street is that Oregon is on the clock — and some of its ancillary personnel issues, these matters are disturbing to those who still feel that the conscience of college sports is being blunted.

Somewhere the sport has lost its way. And the guiding lights are flickering.

I’m just hoping it doesn’t lose its soul, too.

I’ll get to you on that ASAP.