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College Football, Academic Integrity, Football, Integrity

Scene from Sugar Bowl 2011 pre-game festivities in New Orleans: Spot the fake Buckeye (hint: it's my friend on the far right).

Back in the year 2000, in that Paleozoic miasma when the internet first went mainstream, a new menace arose to occupy us overworked and underpaid graduate teaching assistants: easy, cut-and paste plagiarism. If memory serves, we caught a few stars of the university’s football team in the act and waited for a) the department and a dean or two to enact UWS 14 on the offenders and b) the smoldering hatred of the rest of the players and their ardent fan base. Nothing happened. Unless a slap on the wrist and us being told in many words that the money Athletic Dept. brings in to the university outweighs academic integrity is grueling punishment.

As a teacher and a fan, I loved these kids. But, I could only wonder what some of them would do with their lives once they did not hit the big time on graduating. Insurance sales isn’t so forgiving.

So, Ohio State, I’m sorry THE, AS OPPOSED TO ALL OTHER OHIO STATE, Ohio State University plays Arkansas tonight in the Sugar Bowl. The smack talk has begun ahead of another “sure Big Ten loss.” As I said after TCU beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl this past weekend, private TCU’s football budget is a scant $2 million less than state-university ours, we have the better marching band and Madison may be godless but we sure are literate. That last blow was a tad low, I admit, but I’m not from the school with a Pokemon for a mascot. Great horny toad, special attack!

If you’re still reading this, it probably means you (are bored and) have more than a passing interest in football. Then, you’re aware that five Ohio State football players have been suspended the first five games of next season for selling their own stuff. Wow, what a mess on so many counts.

To the NCAA:

1) Players should be able to do what they want with their possessions.
2) Good grief, are you inconsistent with how you apply the rules. All I hear is, “You’re suspended, but wait wait wait, not until you play in the Sugar Bowl. And this isn’t how we treated other cases but what the hell.”
3) They’re kids. Kids playing football for free and with hopes of making the pros, when they should be studying more. You call 1.65 to 2.0 GPAs that drugged goats could keep an eligibility requirement? (We’ll get back to this. Oh yes we will.)
4) All so you can make millions, greedies.

To the players:

1) Don’t give me that “I didn’t know I couldn’t sell my stuff” crap. Player misconduct is not worth it, and many Division 1-A athletic departments walk around bellowing to you guys what you can and cannot do. If you didn’t hear it from Tressel (because he was off somewhere ensuring the finer terms of his own career furthering), you heard it from someone else.
2) You see your fellow players doing what you did? Why do you think that is? And what makes you five so special?
3) Maybe the rules are dumb, but no matter what, you broke them. That’s what it comes down to.

The same semester as the plagiarism almost-debacle, I told my students this, “I don’t want you to learn geology. I want you to learn how to learn science. Or anything, for that matter.” A whole load of us are not athletes and cannot even dream of being Terrelle Pryor, much less LeBron James. We, too, go through school broke-ass but with no jerseys and rings to sell, in the hopes that our degrees will get us more than nugget squishing duty at McDonald’s, not probable entry to multi-million-dollar pro contracts. Student athletes have that going for them.

But, what of the athlete who doesn’t make the professional cut? What is he going to do with that 2.0 GPA and degree in communications? That’s why I wanted them to learn how to learn, just for that situation. Sure, there is plenty of room in corporate America for “creative” rule-breakers, but Ohio State’s five broke the cardinal rule of that game: Don’t get caught. That means you’re just dumb enough to make scapegoat. And, even if the kid goes pro, what are the odds he makes it through to retirement and sportscasterhood having invested wisely, not selling his Superbowl ring at the local pawn shop to make rent and, most important of all, with his spine and other vital body parts intact? Remember what that Chicago Bear and wise investor Walter Payton once said, “Tomorrow is promised to no one.”

Football is football. It isn’t life, except for a certain cream of the crop and they, too, need a backup plan. It isn’t going to put food on the table, educate and clothe your kids, pay the mortgage, build schools, hospitals and levees and bring about world peace and harmony. [Unless we get our enemies into football and they huddle with us around the gridiron, beer and bacon cheeseburger in hand … wait, nope, oh well.] Real life and its continued existence requires doing things right, with integrity. Barring that, don’t get busted. If you lack the sense for either, and I say this with love, good luck. You’re going to need it when you walk into that job interview and the rest of your life.

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