- Tim Keown, Senior writer, ESPN.com
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The adventures in integrity never cease in big-time college athletics. This might not be the week to be strafing the NCAA landscape with depressants -- 'tis, after all, the season of song and joy and billions made on the backs of the unpaid -- but in the past week there were two more remarkable instances of institutional "courage" at work.
1. The NCAA wielded the hammer of public justice and used it to whack Baylor freshman basketball player Perry Jones after it was discovered that his mother had received -- and reportedly repaid -- $1,000 in rent money from an AAU coach. Jones was ruled ineligible for the Big 12 tournament, a convocation the Bears quickly exited.
It is accepted that Jones did not know his mother accepted the money from the coach. It is unclear whether the coach had any connection at all to Baylor. And yet, despite precedent set in the Cam Newton case (no suspension) and the Ohio State Five (delayed suspensions), Jones was suspended immediately and taken from his team at a critical time.
Jones is ranked the No. 2 NBA draft prospect by Chad Ford, and there's little question he is going to declare for the draft and leave Baylor like a roadside rest stop. There are already stories indicating that NBA scouts aren't concerned by the revelations, which must be a great relief to the Jones family. (Could you image NBA teams refusing to draft a guy because his mom got $1,000? If that's all he got, they might not draft him for being a bad businessman.)
It's likely that the NBA's rule against athletes coming straight from high school to its league is the only reason Jones hung his hat in Waco for even two semesters.
And so he can move on and be done with college basketball with a shrug. The one game missed in the Big 12 tournament will be long forgotten the second he declares for the draft and begins working out for pro teams.
If the circumstances were different, the Jones case would seem to be a perfect trigger for a suit against the NCAA and its dictatorial policies. The randomness of the punishments -- and those the NCAA chooses to punish -- could use an airing out in a public arena. Jones, however, is not destined to be the Curt Flood of college athletics.
Here's why: If Jones was committed to his university and the quaint idea of getting his degree, there would be no question. But because his commitment to Baylor is fleeting, he has no equity in the system. Baylor knows this, too, and has since it began recruiting him. The school makes a one-year deal for a player who makes a one-year deal, and both hope the planets align well enough for mutual benefit.
This is not a cry for basketball to adopt baseball's three-year policy, or football's -- quite the opposite. The NCAA should stop prostituting itself for the sake of the one-and-done players and release itself from the NBA's rule against players heading to the NBA or the D-League out of high school.
Of course, there's too much money involved for the NCAA to rid itself of the one-and-done mentality. Besides, whom would John Calipari recruit? The players are the indentured servants -- and no, don't tell me a scholarship is adequate payment for the revenues received by the universities and the NCAA -- and they're caught in the middle. The NBA doesn't have to pay to train its workforce, and the NCAA is fine with that.
And the rest of us get to enjoy the fruits of their labors beginning this week. And make no mistake -- we will enjoy it, but cases like Jones' can make us think about the fairness of the whole enterprise.
2. Ohio State University suspended football coach Jim Tressel for the first two games of next season (Akron, Toledo) and fined him $250,000 (out of a roughly $4 million salary) for failing to disclose that he had been informed in April 2010 that at least two of his players were either selling merchandise or bartering it for services.
It's safe to say Tressel has entered a new realm here. This goes beyond duplicity to some outward ring of arrogance.
Flash back to the news conference in December announcing the suspension of the five Buckeyes, including quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Tressel stood there and said, "We're the ones who need to make things even more crystal clear."
And he knew what was going on six months before and didn't disclose it. The more direct form of expression would be this: He lied about it. And then when Yahoo! Sports revealed what Tressel knew and when he knew it, the school gave him two games. The man who is paid nearly $4 million a year to coach the team and understand the rules and lead young men got 40 percent of the penalty of the guys who sold jerseys and pants to get tattoos.
If only this were a joke.
And one of the conditions of Tressel's suspension was a public apology. (That's one tough administration. I hear a couple of them might get jobs as NHL goons.)Tressel was the featured speaker at a booster backslap the other day, and a reporter was on hand to see if Tressel would choose the friendliest forum to unveil his apology.
And this is what Tressel said: "I sincerely apologize for what we've been through."
Is that an apology? Is this taking responsibility? Does it even make sense? Doesn't that sound a lot like, "Sorry we got caught"? At its best, it's an evolved form of the if-I-offended-anyone apology. It was such a non nonapology that the reporter felt compelled to ask Tressel afterward if that statement served as his apology.
And this is what Tressel said: "I've tried to apologize all along."
Let's examine that statement for a moment. I've tried to apologize all along. I envision poor Jim spending hours on the phone, calling local and national reporters only to have them hang up before he can get the words out. I envision him standing on street corners in Columbus, screaming out his apology only to find nobody will listen. I envision him trying his hardest to apologize only to give up and move on to the booster dinner, where finally someone would allow his hollow rhetorical distortion to stand as mandated public repentance.
Oh, and before he was finished, Tressel reiterated his mission statement and comforted us by saying it has remained unchanged.
And this is what Tressel said: "The mission I've always had is we make sure we help young people change their lives."
Come to think of it, maybe Perry Jones is the lucky one. He'll be gone soon, and there's a chance he can escape with his dignity.
This might not be the week to be strafing the NCAA landscape with depressants, but the Perry Jones and Jim Tressel stories were two more remarkable instances of institutional "courage" at work.