Money is root of corruption in college athletics

Published 11:35 am Thursday, June 2, 2011

The recent resignation of Jim Tressel at Ohio State is an easy example of the corruption of big-time college athletics.

Like Richard Nixon, the question of “what did he know when” will be the albatross around his legacy at Ohio State. He won’t be remembered for the 2002 BCS national championship or his teams’ dominance of the Big Ten.

Tressel will be remembered for the man whose thumbprints as captain of the Buckeye ship are all over a grounding on the rocks of the NCAA enforcement apparatus.

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But forgotten in all of the talk of tattoo parlors, $100 handshakes (that number likely has gone up due to inflation) and sweetheart leasing deals for used cars is why we are at this point right now.

In quick answers, it is all about the dollars.

The NCAA rule book is thicker than the Earth’s crust and has more line items written by an industry of lawyers. It covers everything except the latest technology (see conference, video). It is so expansive that it requires a compliance department in each of the member schools to make sure that everyone plays by the rules. Or at least the rules that are in force at that particular moment. Many NCAA violations are not committed by unscrupulous boosters trying to buy the next five-star prospect’s signature, but through simple ignorance of the rules.

Ignorance isn’t a defense, but when the big-time schools have the money to afford folks to keep the program running within the rules and yours doesn’t, that constitutes an unfair advantage.

Big-time college athletics is a fan-driven enterprise. Judging by the huge TV deals signed by the BCS conferences, it’s a demand that the market will have to satisfy. It’s either that or they can air some more “Two and a Half Men” re-runs.

And to quote former star Charlie Sheen, that isn’t winning.

It means the conferences have more money from the networks thanks to increased advertising revenue. It means the member schools want to win big to bring even more dollars through ticket sales, donations, merchandise sales and other fund-raising streams that go straight to the athletic departments.

It means bigger stadiums, bigger screens, bigger coaches’ salaries and bigger luxury suites.

When the money involved shoots upward from the outhouse level to the penthouse, the pressure to win becomes even more intense. Coaches have to justify those multimillion-dollar salaries with victories and championships.

The pool of big-time difference-making prospects is shrinking as stricter academic standards have made it tougher to qualify to suit up.

The temptation to cheat is one that can’t be ignored. Run a program by the rules, lose, and you’re fired. A more logical solution is cheating a bit, getting away with it for a time and popping your golden parachute severance package on your way out of the door.

If not for the money brought in thanks to rabid fan interest, college athletics would be like Division III. Division III has no scholarships, small-time budgets and scant national interest.

It is a binary proposition. Do and accept money’s influence as college athletics becomes nothing more than a money-making machine and a farm system for the NFL or NBA. Or do not and watch interest and money wither away.

It is as simple as that.

Steve Wilson is sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. You can follow him on Twitter at vpsportseditor. He can be reached at 601-636-4545, ext. 142 or at swilson@vicksburgpost.com.