Bowl Mania (of the conflicted Ohio State alum variety)

A note from Saturday’s massacre: I can’t even second-guess my picks right. And I know the Big Ten isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but I can’t imagine anybody (not even Paul Finebaum and the ESS EEE SEE-flunky southern media) seriously contemplated the Big Ten going 0-5 on the day.

I at least had a clue of what I was talking about during the Orange Bowl, except I said that minimally. I suppose my secret should be to undersell my picks.

This comes from the Ohio State fan in me.

The closer we’ve gotten to the Sugar Bowl, the sicker I’ve felt about it. The scandal that will take Terrelle Pryor, Boom Herron, Devier Posey, and Mike Adams and sideline them for the first five games of next season – but WON’T sideline them for the Sugar Bowl, in large part because the Sugar Bowl wanted them to play – is one of those situations where everybody looks absolutely awful, and I feel like a sucker for having put all this effort into talking about bowl games.

This is how conflicted my feelings are:

  • This should be the ultimate nail in the coffin for the bowl system. How can you POSSIBLY argue that these money-grubbing bowl chairmen aren’t playing havoc with the discipline of being a student-athlete when you hear Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan say something like this?

    I made the point that anything that could be done to preserve the integrity of this year’s game, we would greatly appreciate it…That appeal did not fall on deaf ears, and I’m extremely excited about it, that the Buckeyes are coming in at full strength and with no dilution.

    The integrity of the GAME, not the integrity of the INDIVIDUALS. And the game must keep its integrity to keep the business of the Sugar Bowl afloat, the rules that the student-athletes must follow be damned.

  • Terrelle Pryor sold his Gold Pants. I can’t say this with enough emphasis. I can’t count how many times in the 90’s I heard an Ohio State player talk through passion and pain over how badly they wanted to beat Michigan so they could get a pair of those Gold Pants, and how much they’d cherish it if they got a pair. Three times Ohio State in the 90’s Ohio State went into Michigan Week unbeaten; three times they lost the game. I was in Ohio Stadium with Grandpa in 1994 when John Cooper’s team got their first win over Michigan, and I’ve never seen a celebration like it.Terrelle Pryor has three victories over Michigan, and has been as effective against the (admittedly weakened) Wolverines as any Ohio State quarterback since Art Schlichter (as we talk about disgraced Ohio State quarterbacks). By selling one of those charms, he revealed himself to be a mercenary, plain and simple.I won’t talk about Grandpa in this context; I don’t want to be that presumptuous. But I can tell you that move alone has crushed a ton of alumni, and I’m in that group.
  • (And we won’t even talk about the allegations that Pryor has been improperly driving around certain loaner vehicles from certain automobile dealerships a la Maurice Clarett, and at the very least has been stupid about getting traffic tickets while driving other people’s cars around. It’s almost like the guy is TRYING to make himself the most hated athlete in Ohio State history.)
  • And yet.

    When Devier Posey took news of his suspension, this is what his mother said in response:

    The NCAA is amazing…What they give them for rent and stuff is not enough. It’s just not enough. It’s already a financial strain on a family. The whole thing requires money, but they – the NCAA – don’t want to give it to them. The NCAA is saying, ‘Well, if they gave them money, they no longer have amateur status.’ Well, guess what? College football and basketball players are the only amateurs not receiving any money that I see plastered all over the TV and on magazines. They’re not amateurs. Who do they think they’re kidding? The NCAA certainly doesn’t look at them as amateurs. If they did, they wouldn’t be making money off them.

    This is what you’d expect the parent of an aggrieved player who has lost the ability to play half of his senior season to say, and this is the type of venting that those of us alumni tend to take to talk radio and dismiss out of hand. Obviously, the players are being ungrateful. They’re receiving a college education for their trouble. They need to be grateful for the full ride they are receiving.

  • The only problem is: Julie Posey is right. These players aren’t exactly receiving a full ride.

    Posey is, fortunately for him, an Ohio resident, so he doesn’t have out-of-state tuition contributing to the shortfall in his scholarship. The shortfall between Ohio State’s athletic scholarship and the actual cost of attending Ohio State computed by the Department of Education for financial aid purposes is only $3,575 per year. Pryor is still a Pennsylvania resident, and his shortfall is actually greater – $4,802 per year.And the NCAA puts all kinds of limitations on how a student-athlete can earn money to make up for that shortfall. Essentially, the vast majority of that burden goes on the parents. For the student to attend school, that shortfall has to be made up one way or another.At that point in an athlete’s career, how many trophies and championship rings of one sort or another have they collected? How much meaning do they really have? Why wouldn’t a family try to collect some money from those items on the sly?And why won’t the NCAA allow its schools to let their grants-in-aid actually meet the real costs of attending college for students who otherwise would never get the chance, or allow the funds that are supposed to exist to allow students with real financial need to get help to actually be used so players can be honest about their financial needs? This isn’t even a question of “paying players” – it’s about keeping them from having to pay to play at the collegiate level and creating the kind of inequities that lead players to the conclusion that they’re owed more than they’re getting.

I taught several junior-college football players when I worked at Middle Georgia College, before Middle Georgia decided that the character and the finances of the campus was being slowly decimated by football and killed the program. Those are students who have visions of getting their game right, or getting their academics right, or both, before they take a shot at a Division I football program. Even at that level, in a south Georgia town that was close to nothing but ground, the sacrifices the students had to make to pursue the game were ridiculous, and they felt pulled in a million directions. What little I saw of the athletes at Ohio State was so much more stressful.

I get what Terrelle Pryor, Boom Herron, Devier Posey and Mike Adams were thinking. It’s not right. They should not be playing in this football game. But I get it. And it boils down to: If I’m putting in all this work, why is everybody getting rich but me?

The system is desperately, desperately broken. It’s only becoming more obvious the further it goes on. I know what kind of can of worms you open when you say “treat the players like professionals”, and I don’t think you can go there. But I know we can’t stay here either.

And meanwhile, in the real world, the article that I read this morning about trying to save young black men in college convinced me that all of this is a very, very small subset of the real story, and the real fight. If you have a few extra minutes, please read this essay by an English teacher at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston about testifying in a trial about the senseless murder of one of his students, gunned down as he was desperately trying to find a way to make his life better.

Ohio State should win this game (for the record: OHIO STATE 31, ARKANSAS 24). The storyline will be Ohio State’s record against the SEC, whether it goes to 1-9 or to 0-10 in their last 10 attempts. On one level, that matters, and God knows I’m going to be talking about that around the Georgia and Alabama and Auburn and Kentucky and Ole Miss and Mississippi State faithful around my campus. That’s what’s good about college football; that’s why it won’t go away no matter how broken the system gets. How much has this game given us, as a family, a language to communicate in when times have been hard and when other words have been difficult to say? The game is, in the Deep South and in the Midwest and in the Southwest, a fundamental part of our culture. It’s an important culture. We shouldn’t belittle it.

And that’s why, if we find ourselves with a way to work to make this game better – and the educational system this game is within better – we should.

When I think about it, I honestly think I wrote this to motivate myself more as any of you.

Congrats to Matt on his share of the title; best of luck to Uncle Dave and Aunt Alice on the gauntlet of picks that have to fall right for them to claim a share.

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