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Commentary: NCAA must make example of OSU or change expectations

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The NCAA has two choices: Set an example or set a new standard.

The oft-criticized collegiate policymakers must either make an example out of their current troublemakers – Ohio State, in particular – or adapt to the evident revolution taking place in college towns across the nation.

Bob Knight, the 70-year-old retired college basketball coach, probably isn’t a whiz around iPads and Androids. But even he recognizes the change in societal pressures college athletes face.

“I understand what’s happened and there was a rule that was violated. But it was an idiotic rule,” Knight told reporters last week, referring to the situation at OSU. “I think this NCAA that we’re currently involved with is so far out of touch with the integrity of the sport that it’s just amazing.”

Each morning, the paperboy delivers new allegations to the doorsteps of millions of Buckeye fans. Car improprieties here, free rounds of golf there, money changing hands everywhere.

It started Dec. 23, when the NCAA suspended quarterback Terrelle Pryor and five other Buckeyes for selling memorabilia and receiving discounts on tattoos.

OSU athletic director Gene Smith said at a press conference that day that Tattoo-gate was “an incident isolated to these young men, isolated to this particular instance.”

As it turned out, Tattoo-gate was merely the tip of a titanic iceberg cumbersome enough to sink Pryor and coach Jim Tressel.

The NCAA must acknowledge that, as OSU’s troubles weren’t isolated to a couple of athletes making a couple of bucks, the problem isn’t isolated to Columbus.

“We’re very fortunate we do not have a systemic problem in our program,” Smith said on Dec. 23.

Actually, it’s quite the contrary – and it might be like that at various programs across the country.

The wife of former Texas quarterback Colt McCoy called in to Colin Cowherd’s ESPN Radio show last week and said Longhorns players “didn’t have that self-control to say ‘No’ to somebody. … You have adults offering things and promising the world. We’re taught to go along with that, and say, ‘Yes,’ and accept those things, because that’s the respectful thing to do.”

Oregon cornerback Cliff Harris was cited Sunday morning for driving 118 mph on a suspended license in a car paid for by a university employee, as first reported by Oregon TV station KEZI.

The NCAA sent North Carolina a notice of allegations last week, just days after USC was stripped of its 2004 national title.

Former Buckeye basketball player Mark Titus wrote on his blog, Club Trillion, on May 24, that “Any OSU student in the past five years could tell you that a lot of the football players drive nice cars. You’d have to be blind to not notice it.”

We’d be naïve to figure OSU is the only school in this conundrum.

It could be running rampant from coast to coast, from the Midwest down to the deep south, from the top of teams’ depth charts to the bottom.

The only ways to stop a riot are to use excessive force or compromise. The NCAA needs to pick one or the other.

The wrongdoing might not be as “systemic” as it has proven to be at OSU. But at some point, the NCAA must recognize the burgeoning problem: Compliance departments can no longer monitor every action of every player on a collegiate roster.

Coaches are under too much pressure to win to refrain from recruiting top prospects who might have character flaws or troubled backgrounds.

Too many sleazebags have nothing better to do than latch on to a few naïve 20-year-olds and rouse them with a free pair of shoes or a steak dinner. These kids don’t consider the paper trail that’s always left behind. They don’t comprehend that media can get a hold of almost anything via a simple records request.

They can’t equate how something so innocent and miniscule as a free T-shirt can stain a previously clean program.

The NCAA can’t let things continue to spiral out of control.

Athletes either need to enter college frightened by the penalties they could incur by violating NCAA rule, or they need some leeway, some privilege to accept certain benefits.

Pryor got the fate he deserved. He now heads to the NFL far less prepared than he could have been. But he still held the world in his hands for three years without consequence.

NCAA rule should intimidate players from even speaking with crooks like Eddie Rife and Dennis Talbott. Of course, if that’s the route the NCAA takes, university compliance departments need to step up their efforts to investigate such connections.

Or, the NCAA could grant athletes the right to harmlessly accept a free jersey or pair of Nikes.

I don’t know which option would appease more people, but perhaps an autograph or two could sway the NCAA’s decision.

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