Is playing by the rules even possible?

“If the game of life ended tonight, would you be a winner?” Thus begins the text of Jim Tressel’s book, “The Winners Manual.” In Tressel’s case, the answer is no longer clear. The man who has marketed himself as the most moral of coaches, resigned in disgrace on Memorial Day. Though from a distance it appeared he was doing everything the right way, we are learning there’s been more than one skeleton hiding in his closet. It is doubtful that the most “successful” coach of our time will ever again patrol a sideline.                                                     

Tressel’s situation has been well documented by every sports commentator over the last couple of weeks. Under the guise of taking care of his players, the eight time national coach of the year orchestrated the greatest cover-up since Watergate. In the end, Tressel’s many indiscretions were finally trumped by the unforgiveable sin of lying to the NCAA.

We would be fools to believe this is an isolated Tressel or Ohio State issue. With the rewards of money and the power, self-preservation becomes the number one item on the agenda of the American football coach. Whether players are sporting thousands of dollars worth of tattoos, or driving around campus in new cars, the coach seems to conveniently play the ignorance card. In spending countless hours with their players, how could they not know?  

As fans, we demand winning. A subpar season always brings cries of, “fire the coach.” Even Joe Paterno is subjected to this at Penn State. Wherever big-time college football is played, the coach is usually the highest paid and most powerful man on campus. The pressure to win from fans, season ticket holders and contributors is immense. The result is predictable.
And it’s not just at the college level. We hear quiet rumblings about “recruiting” players at the high school level. This week all high school coaches are sitting in mandatory training sessions focusing on the possible penalties that could result from “out of season” practice. The only reason a high school coach would recruit, or add out of season practice sessions, would be that he feels that same pressure to win.        

I don’t know the answer. We as a society seem to have gone just a bit too far down this road. Tressel has been fired, but Ohio State as an institution seems to be unscathed. Many a truth is spoken in jest, and the fictitious headline reads, “Ohio State commits numerous infractions, Florida Atlantic hit with probation and scholarship reductions.” When an Ohio State goes down, the NCAA and the networks simply lose too much money. This explains why Pryor and his tattooed teammates played in this past January’s bowl game and why the only program ever to be shut down was at SMU.   

As a diehard sports enthusiast, at this point I can only request, “God help us.”         

Fore!

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