Cook: Hold applause on 'new' culture of college football

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We heard a lot Monday from NCAA president Mark Emmert when they brought the hammer down on Penn State football because of the university's role in the cover-up of the Jerry Sandusky child-sex abuse scandal. "Our goal is not just to be punitive but to make sure the university establishes an athletic culture and daily mindset in which football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people."

We also heard from Dr. Edward Ray, executive committee chairman of the NCAA. "Basically, as a group, the presidents and chancellors said, 'We've had enough. This has to stop. We have to re-assert our responsibilities and charge to oversee intercollegiate athletics.' ... Does this send a message? The message is the presidents and the chancellors are in charge. ... This is a stark wake-up call."

The only person missing from the circus was Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee. He would have fit right in at the podium with the hypocritical Emmert and the sanctimonious Ray. Gee staunchly supported football coach Jim Tressel after news broke in 2010 of Ohio State players accepting tattoos and other benefits against NCAA rules. Gee continued to defend Tressel even after it became known that Tressel had lied to him and NCAA investigators about the violations. Tressel won the national championship in 2002, didn't he? He beat Michigan every year. He ran the money-printer that was Ohio State football. So it's no wonder Gee responded to a question about any plans he might have to fire Tressel by saying, "Are you kidding? Let me just be very clear: I'm just hoping the coach doesn't dismiss me."

Gee thought he was being funny. I don't remember too many people laughing, other than those diehard, blindly loyal Buckeyes fans, who still were defending Tressel after he finally was fired in 2011 after a damning report in Sports Illustrated made a strong case that he was playing loose with the rules when he coached at Youngstown State. It was a repulsive comment by Gee at the time, not to mention an indictment of major college football and its role on campuses at big-time football schools. It seems even more repulsive today after listening to Emmert and Ray preach about the morals and integrity that the universities are supposedly demanding when it comes to their money-making athletic programs.

The presidents and the chancellors are in charge?

Never again will "hero worship and winning at all costs" -- Emmert's words -- be placed above the values of higher education?

I'll believe it when the presidents and chancellors no longer are paid a tiny fraction of what their football coach makes. I'll believe it when they don't raid another university to hire their coach even though that coach is under contract. I'll believe it when they don't allow their school to jump conferences with no regard for those schools that are left behind.

I'll believe it when the often-ludicrous term "student-athlete" actually means just that -- and in that order. I'll believe it when a kid who has no business getting into college no longer is lured and then welcomed in merely because he can throw a football or knock a running back into next week. I'll believe it when a coach can't run a player off his team so he can give that player's scholarship to a better player.

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

Do you really believe the culture of football is going to change at Alabama or Ohio State or Louisiana State because of what happened at Penn State?

It's nice to think Alabama coach Nick Saban, Ohio State's Urban Meyer, LSU's Les Miles and so many other coaches woke up this morning and had an epiphany. "Man, this football business is getting out of hand. We need to cut back and make it less important." It's even nicer to think Gee, for instance, will call in Meyer later today. "Urban, we need to talk. Let's start with that private jet you get to use. No more. All of those other perks you have? Gone. From now on, I'm going to treat you the same way I treat the dean of the School of Music."

Absurd? Of course, it's absurd. But it's no more outrageous than Emmert and Ray wanting you to believe their "message" will have an impact on any football school other than Penn State. Thank goodness you aren't so gullible to believe that.

It was easy for the NCAA to come down hard on Penn State. Every clear-thinking person is horrified by the thought of a pedophile knowingly being allowed to run free in order to protect a successful football program, a university's brand and the millions of dollars each generates. I'm still having a hard time understanding how the Sandusky case is an NCAA matter and not one that should be settled in the criminal and civil courts, but I won't begin to argue that Penn State doesn't deserve everything it gets. Not even the Penn State administration can make that argument. That's why it quickly agreed to the NCAA sanctions. Could you imagine it putting up a fight? "We know we harbored a sex offender for more than a decade, but we really think our bowl ban should be two years instead of four."

No, that wouldn't fly.

Penn State got the "message." There's no doubt about that. It got it even before the NCAA sanctions. When former FBI director Louis Freeh released the results July 12 of his nearly eight-month investigation into the university's role in the Sandusky case, he said Penn State's current administrators had made "immense and significant" changes to the campus culture. Ray said Monday that if the previous leaders had been as open and transparent as university president Rodney Erickson and this board of trustees, "We wouldn't be having this conversation."

The NCAA slammed Penn State, anyway. All of college football is better for it. Just ask Emmert and Ray. I'm sure they'll take a minute from patting themselves on the back to tell you it's true, oh, it's definitely true.

Please pardon me if I don't join in the applause for the NCAA's sense of righteousness.

roncook

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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