In terms of scandal-o-rama, the NCAA is running a distant second to the Trump administration. But since part of the NCAA’s mission includes seeing to the welfare of students, they shouldn’t even be in the “also receiving votes” listing in a top-25 poll of American institutions.
The Urban Meyer debacle at Ohio State, where his misdeeds surrounding the misdeeds of an assistant coach, which included domestic violence, pinned the needle on the mendacity meter. OSU’s flaccid punishment of a three-game suspension for Meyer, who had 22 days to work up an apology to DV victim Courtney Smith and still whiffed, affirmed that the idea of honesty and integrity in big-time college sports remains a speck on the horizon.
Basketball players at North Carolina last week were suspended between two and four games for re-selling their sneakers made exclusively for them, a foul called nowhere else in American life. And Meyer gets three games for dissembling, prevaricating and shaming himself, the program and the university?
Then again, compared to the scandals of fellow Big Ten members Michigan State and Penn State, involving coaches and sexual abuse of athletes in their charge, the Buckeyes figure Meyer’s blithering stagger around the ethical landscape was mere foolishness, so get back in there for the Texas Christian game, Urbs.
I wondered what Chris Petersen had to say about the big NCAA picture. Knowing the Huskies football coach wouldn’t address any specifics about another program or coach, I asked him whether running a clean NCAA program borders on the impossible.
“I don’t think it seems like it borders on the impossible,” he said Sunday at his season-opening presser ahead of the magnum game Saturday in Atlanta against SEC powerhouse Auburn. “In my experience, our players have been good, really good. We spend a lot of time educating them, talking about it. It’s a little bit about what you emphasize, in life and coaching.
“I’m not trying to sit up here and say we haven’t made mistakes. We’re far from that. But we work hard at that, trying to pay attention to it. Painful things happen. We talk about it ad nauseam, and then, ‘How can this happen?’ It does.”
Nicknamed “The Bishop” by his provocative pal at Washington State, Mike Leach, Petersen had his halo further polished last week. CBS Sports surveyed about a fifth of the 129 FBS coaches for their anonymous responses to questions, including which coach runs the cleanest program.
Tied at the top, each getting 17 percent of the vote, were Petersen and David Shaw of Stanford.
That reputation came despite the fact that during his tenure at Boise State, the football program was busted for the dreaded “lack of institutional control.”
The NCAA stripped three scholarships a season for three season from 2011 to 2013 after an investigation discovered 63 instances of rules violations. From its statement:
“Boise State failed to establish an adequate compliance system to report NCAA rules violations with regard to impermissible housing, transportation and other benefits to prospective and enrolled student-athletes. The university failed to provide adequate rules education and training to staff members to ensure compliance.
“In addition, the university failed to monitor its program to deter, find and report instances of NCAA violations to the NCAA.”
To Petersen’s credit Sunday, he brought up the transgressions himself.
“We thought we were doing everything right, and mistakes were made,” he said. “I think there’s a difference between when you make mistakes when you know you’re wrong, and making mistakes when you just didn’t know — even though it’s our job to know what’s right and wrong through compliance.
“That was one of the more frustrating things I’ve been through.”
Petersen recently went through another molar-grinder, this time not against the NCAA, but something more important — Nick Saban. The Alabama coach poached LB Ale Kaho after the five-star recruit — Petersen’s highest-rated signee — wheedled out of his letter of intent with Washington, claiming deaths in the family and a divorce between his parents made him not want to be a Husky.
Apparently Saban is better at Hallmark sympathy cards than Petersen.
Asked whether he would like to see rules changes that prevent poaching, Petersen said, “I think everybody would. Just so everybody’s on the same page. Everyone’s working hard to do the right things.”
“I think so, for the most part,” he said with a small smile. Asked if Saban worked around the rules, Petersen demurred: “I don’t have much to say about that.”
In the press conference, Petersen indirectly responded to the Kaho dubiousness.
“We don’t want a kid committing to us unless he’s a thousand percent sure where he wants to be,” he said. “There are guys who commit, and (recruiters) still won’t leave him alone, still trying to change him. It’s very, very difficult.
“But if we slow things down, and (let) a kid and his family make an educated decision and feel good about it, probably we’ll have less guys flip-flop.”
Nah. There’s no money in slowing down and reflecting. These are 17-year-olds, all hormones and impulse, and top coaches know exactly how to exploit that, as well as the rules. Petersen is a helluva coach, but he’s nowhere near Saban in ruthlessness.
Petersen offered mostly a shrug when it came to question of the unmanageable nature of the industry and its absurdly arcane super-morality about amateurism.
“I think there’s a lot of things that happen that are out of our control, even though we’re responsible for it,” he said. “There’s 60 people in our building (not counting the 110 football players) we deal with on a daily basis. I think we have one of the smaller crews in college football — from SIDs, to the medical team, to recruiting, to our operations, to our video. I try to keep it tight. I don’t need a bunch of extra people around.
“When you have a lot of people, super-competitive, things happen. Human nature is involved. I don’t know if it’s unique to this arena. (College football) is just always in the newspaper.
“All you have to do is pay attention to what’s going on (nationally). Our players, our staff, everybody — just pay attention to what’s going on out there. Nobody’s immune to this, and you see what’s going to happen if it’s not right.”
In other words, it was always thus, and so shall it be always.
Despite his errors at Boise State, Petersen has elevated Huskies football nearly to the industry pinnacle. Yet if we pay attention, as he instructed, student welfare, and the welfare of people nearby such as Courtney Smith, remain like ethics and honesty — specks on the horizon.