Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lingering Items--Penalties Edition

Whether the sanctions levied against Ohio State were too harsh or too lenient may be a matter of perspective. That won’t stop nearly anyone from questioning athletic director Gene Smith’s competency, however.

The biggest surprise levied against the Buckeyes was the 2012 bowl ban. Otherwise it seems like things pretty much went down as expected. When Ohio State self-imposed a litany of sanctions against the program, all they really did was give the NCAA a little wriggle room to make a few additional tweaks in order to look like it wasn’t just simply taking the Buckeyes’ word on everything.

So the tweak they made was not the one that was expected mainly because Smith was emphatic time and again that a bowl ban wasn’t on the horizon. So sure was Smith, in fact, that he didn’t even contemplate pre-empting the NCAA on that count by making the 6-6 Buckeyes sit home this bowl season instead.

What fans have now is a meaningless Gator Bowl to soothe their feelings when what they really wanted was to hit like the hurricane new head coach Urban Meyer promised for next season, play for the Big Ten title and possibly a national championship.

Smith is taking more heat for this then perhaps he deserves, though he does deserve some. It’s difficult to take Smith to task for the underlying infraction given former head coach Jim Tressel’s conduct. And assuming the conspiracy theorists are just that and Tressel didn’t take a bullet for Smith (what would be his incentive for that?), Smith’s only real sin was not level setting his bosses or the fans of the program.

The feeling always has been that Smith is wired into the NCAA in ways that other athletic directors are not. Every time he spoke, in that semi-sincere, semi-arrogant way of his, it carried the imprimatur that he knew from where he spoke. It turns out he was just as clueless as nearly everyone else in this whole matter.

One of the cardinal sins you can make in any organization is to overpromise and under deliver, which is exactly what Smith did here. Had he kept his mouth shut and just said that he hopes that the university had done enough to satisfy the NCAA, I doubt anyone would have been surprised by the bowl ban. After all, the NCAA is a random, feckless, morally undisciplined enterprise rife with conflicts of interest and wholly incapable of governing a church picnic, let alone a multi-billion dollar enterprise.

But the one thing to remember is that the NCAA Committee of Infractions ultimately is a group of individuals with their own feelings and emotions and the last thing individuals with their own feelings and emotions want is someone who carries the imprimatur of authority, like Smith, telling them what they should or shouldn’t do.

In many ways, Smith’s constant proclamations that a bowl ban was not in the offing served almost as a dare to the NCAA. So where’s the surprise that they did knock the battery off of Smith’s shoulder only to watch him flinch?

I have very mixed feelings about the sanctions overall. Much of my trepidation is with how the NCAA treated Tressel, a very fine man and educator, who made a serious mistake. But a 5-year “show cause” finding is particularly harsh. It may be that Tressel wasn’t going to coach again in college anyway, but to basically be told that he can’t earn a living at his chosen profession for the next 5 years is an astounding penalty given his one indiscretion.

As for the bowl ban, that seems harsh if only because while the Buckeyes did play in last year’s Sugar Bowl, part of their sanctions was to forfeit the game and give back the money earned. Effectively, it’s as if they have been banned from two bowl games.

Yet the NCAA isn’t going to do much to explain its reasoning mainly because it doesn’t have to, which gets to the other side of my feelings about this. I understand that the conduct engaged in by the Buckeyes’ players broke a rule and I understand that Tressel covered it up deliberately. But the rule makes no sense in any context but one in which the NCAA doesn’t want anyone else earning money that could have instead lined their pockets. The fact that Tressel covered it up just proves the adage, though, that the cover up is often worse then the underlying breach.

I know that a lot of fans are calling for Smith to be fired and maybe he should be as part of the overall housecleaning. I’m not sure he could have ferreted out Tressel’s misconduct but some of the other activities that went unchecked are a failure that occurred under Smith’s watch. He should have had more robust systems in place.

Ultimately, though, the NCAA matters are now finally behind the Buckeyes. Sure they’ll linger because of the bowl ban and scholarship reductions, but the football program itself is on solid footing right now. Besides, it gives Meyer and the players the added chip on their shoulders for the 2012 season and should set them up well for 2013 and beyond. The hurricane may be delayed, but it’s still a good bet that it will hit ground and leave appropriate damage in its wake.

James Harrison, the NFL’s reigning and most clueless thug, seems to have reluctantly accepted the fact that his vicious hit on Colt McCoy was illegal. The revelation came to him apparently about the time he lost his appeal and the rest of his Pittsburgh Steelers teammates, while publicly supporting him, privately sate him down and told him that his brutish ways were actually hurting the team far more then helping. That it happened in the wake of a bad loss to the San Francisco 49ers is just a bonus.

But Harrison, as is his wont, doesn’t go down without a fight and thus surmised that the Browns as well should be fined or otherwise penalized for not properly attending to McCoy. So we have Harrison adamantly denying he did anything wrong for most of the last two weeks suddenly getting religion and becoming the voice of concern for McCoy?

Harrison is like the criminal who in the course of robbing a house gets bitten by the watch dog and then sues the homeowner. Lacking an ability to process either irony or context Harrison should just shut his mouth and play within the rules, assuming he can which actually may not be a safe assumption at all.

Meanwhile the Browns were indeed let off the hook for their malpractice when it came to safeguarding their starting quarterback but the rest of the NFL must now pay a price by staging so-called independent athletic trainers in the press box to oversee all the vicious hits and make suggestions to each team’s medical staff as to which players they may want to administer an exam to.

I’m happy whenever the NFL creates additional jobs, particularly for athletic trainers. I wonder, though, exactly why the NFL went macro on this instead of focusing specifically on the fact that the Browns medical and coaching staff screwed up. Indeed, the Browns’ medical staff for the last several years has a distinct history of putting its players in jeopardy but yea, it sounds like the NFL has an institutional problem.

It may very well be that the Browns and their medical staff needed some tough love in the form of some kind of penalty given their history but then again what we know most about the NFL is that they are very reticent to punish management and very pleased to punish the players.

The person to feel sorry for here is McCoy. He’s about to miss his second straight game and whatever grip he had on the Browns’ starting quarterback job. More than that, though, he very easily could have lost his life or at least suffered some permanent damage when he was sent back into the game seconds after getting his brains scrambled.

There was a teaching moment here just not the one the NFL focused on.

The Cleveland Indians continue to make their quiet offseason noise by signing any retread with a pulse that they can find. The latest contestant in this year’s version of “Who Can Fill the Shoes of David Dellucci?” is Andy “Don’t Call Me Either Adam or Dave” LaRoche.

This LaRoche, the son of former Tribe closer Dave LaRoche, a mediocre pitcher from the mid 1970s, brings a resume that includes a .247 average with 5 RBI in 40 games last season. But there’s more. LaRoche’s high water mark, batting average-wise, is .258.

If it makes you wonder why anyone would continue to sign LaRoche given his age (28) and the fact that he’s never done anything of note at any time for any major league team he played for, just follow the money. LaRoche, like so many that the Indians sign every offseason, is on a minor league contract. The team pays more in laundry bills then it would have to pay LaRoche.

If by chance he makes the big league team out of training camp, and if he does, look out, then he’ll make the major league minimum, which for 2012 is slightly more than $400,000. In other words, what LaRoche lacks in skills he more then makes up for in the fact that he works cheaply.

The one good thing to keep in mind in all of this is that Eric Wedge is no longer the team’s manager. LaRoche is just the kind of player that Wedge loved, mainly because LaRoche’s baseball skills approximate those that Wedge possessed as a player. That would have meant only one thing: a spring and early summer of screaming at the television every time LaRoche grounded out weakly with runners in scoring position.


The Cavs start their season in a few days, which leads to this week’s question to ponder: Will the Cavs take Jared Sullinger with the first pick in next year’s draft?

Happy Holidays, everyone.

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