Forget the Fiscal Cliff; we have fallen off the Moral Cliff

Should Ohio State be in the BCS Championship Game?

Notre Dame v Ohio State or Alabama v Ohio State: You make the Call

Now that the Bowl bids have gone out and we know Notre Dame will play Alabama for the BCS National Championship, I thought it was a good time to reflect on whether Ohio State University should be in that game instead of one of the other teams.

The case against Ohio State came into the news again on December 5 when The Ohio Supreme Court suspended for one year the law license of an attorney whose emails to Jim Tressel triggered an ongoing scandal and NCAA investigation that cost the football coach his job at Ohio State.

At issue was whether Columbus attorney Christopher Cicero violated professional rules of conduct that prohibit revealing (confidential) information from meetings with a client or a prospective client.

The 5-2 court decision followed the recommendation of a disciplinary board that argued Cicero wrongly discussed interviews with tattoo parlor owner Edward Rife, a potential client. However, the court overruled the board's recommendation for a six-month suspension.

Cicero sent emails to Tressel in April 2010, warning him that players were selling memorabilia or trading them for tattoos. The email traffic sparked the scandal and ended Tressel's Ohio State tenure.

An NCAA investigation also led to a bowl ban this year, reductions in scholarships and the loss of Ohio State's $389,000 share of the Big Ten bowl pot a year ago. The entire 2010 season also was vacated.

Ohio State just completed a 12-0 season and is ranked No. 4 in the AP poll. Quite frankly, I thought they should have been ranked #1 or #2. They beat four ranked teams, as did Notre Dame, including one of the Rose Bowl contenders (Wisconsin), as did Notre Dame (Stanford). But, that is another issue for another time.

Some equate Ohio State’s suspension with the two-year suspension of USC in 2010 and 2011. In June 2010, after a prolonged four-year investigation into whether former USC running back Reggie Bush and his  family had accepted financial benefits and housing from two sports agents in San Diego while he was a student athlete at USC, the NCAA imposed sanctions against the Trojan football program for a "lack of institutional control," including a two-year postseason ban, the loss of 30 scholarships over three years, and the vacation of all wins in which Bush participated as an "ineligible" player, including the 2005 Orange Bowl, in which the Trojans won the BCS National Championship.  It was a much stiffer penalty for an infinitely worse offense than the “tattoo parlor” scandal at Ohio State.

Back to Ohio State and the issue of the former players who took benefits. The real crime, I think, is not that it was a stupid action by stupid players, but the university administration that downplayed it and Jim Tressel’s cover up (similar to Penn State). When will offenders realize the cover-up is always worse than the crime? The answer is probably never and that is why they commit offenses in the first place that warrant suspension or some other penalty.  

The Ohio State situation is less about scandal itself and even damage control and more about the way an institution responds to a crisis. This is why the penalty imposed on Penn State in its sexual abuse scandal was, appropriately, so harsh. When viewed from that perspective, perhaps Ohio State got what it deserved with the one year suspension and lost opportunity, perhaps, to play for the BCS Championship. Actions have consequences and people and institutions must be held accountable for their actions (or inactions). Unfortunately, the viewing public loses out by not seeing Ohio State play in the BCS Championship game. I fear the final score will be a blow out: Alabama 31 – Notre Dame 10. But, don’t take it to the bank.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on December 14, 2012