Excellent - even borderline explosive - article from of all place, the NY Times. While they may not be known as a great sports newspaper - they do have some good thinkers over there!!
To Keep Title Would Be to Lose Integrity
By WILLIAM C. RHODEN
EIGHT months ago, Maurice Clarett scored the winning touchdown in the second overtime of the Fiesta Bowl to propel Ohio State to a 31-24 victory over Miami and an undisputed national championship. The game was an example of how enthralling intercollegiate sports can be.
Now I feel Ohio State should entertain the possibility of returning the championship trophy. Karen Holbrook, the first-year president of the university, should insist that this option be put on the table.
Earlier this week, Clarett was suspended by Ohio State for the remainder of the football season for violations the university said it uncovered during a two-and-a-half-month investigation. Athletic Director Andy Geiger said the university had determined that Clarett violated N.C.A.A. bylaws that make it illegal for players to receive preferential treatment based on athletic reputation or skills and that require players to be truthful and cooperative with investigators.
The evidence suggests that Ohio State played last season with an ineligible player - the team's best player. Asked at a news conference earlier this week if Clarett had received some of the preferential benefits during the 2002 season, Geiger replied, "Partially, I think." When asked later at the news conference if, in effect, Clarett was an ineligible player last season, Geiger maintained that Clarett wasn't ineligible because the university wasn't aware of any violations at the time.
Asked if he wasn't splitting hairs, Geiger responded: "It's not splitting hairs. It's exactly the way the rule is.''
So Geiger's defense in all this is ignorance: He had no idea last season what Clarett was up to, and the athletic department had no idea.
"If the university was unaware or uninvolved, then the university is not culpable," he maintained at the news conference.
The N.C.A.A. is not disagreeing with Geiger, at least for the moment. Yesterday, Jeff Howard, a spokesman for the N.C.A.A., said during a telephone interview that Ohio State was not culpable for what may have occurred last season, but then added, "at this time."
Ignorance is no defense.
The bedrock of N.C.A.A. reform is institutional control: the president of a college, its athletic director and the head coach of the sport in question should know what is going on. In a tight-knit football community like the one at Ohio State, they usually do. And for that reason alone, Ohio State has to think about giving the trophy back. Maybe Ohio State didn't know what was going on - attempts to reach Holbrook and Geiger yesterday were unsuccessful - but that doesn't mean that the spirit of the N.C.A.A. rules wasn't being violated.
As it is, the N.C.A.A. can't strip the Buckeyes of the national championship because the N.C.A.A. does not have control over the Bowl Championship Series. If it did, Ohio State might eventually be facing the possibility of having the N.C.A.A. order it to give the trophy back. After all, there are any number of instances in which the N.C.A.A. does hold an institution responsible for violations committed by a student-athlete, even when they occurred without the college's knowledge.
The N.C.A.A.'s executive committee ruled that the University of Massachusetts had to vacate its basketball team's 1996 Final Four finish and return money because players were deemed to have received benefits from an agent.
Connecticut's 1996 Round of 16 team was penalized by the committee for the same infraction, and had to return nearly $100,000; its tournament appearance was wiped away. In 1971, Howard Porter of Villanova, the most valuable player in that year's Final Four, was determined to have played after signing a professional contract. Villanova had to return money and its achievements were wiped away, too. And Michigan, citing a scandal over payment made to Chris Webber and three other star players in the 1990's, announced last November that it would forfeit every game won while those four players were there.
So despite the note of finality suggested by Geiger earlier this week, the whole issue of Ohio State's championship season may not be over yet. Which brings us to Miami. Donna E. Shalala, the president of that university, said yesterday that she wasn't interested in Ohio State handing back the championship.
"The game's over, and we really want to move on," she said. "We like to win games on the field.''
But she was less compromising about the idea of institutional accountability and control. "We are smaller, so I would expect someone to notice. If a student-athlete is suddenly flush and driving a fancy car, I would expect someone to know."
I don't know what Geiger and Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel are telling Holbrook, but I suggest she heed the advice someone gave to Shalala when she left Hunter College in 1988 to become chancellor at the University of Wisconsin. "They said trust no one in athletics,'' she recalled at the time. "More presidents have gone down the tubes because of their athletic department."
Ohio State won a national championship, but the championship appears to be tainted. Geiger likes to talk about integrity and morality in intercollegiate athletics. If there is any of that left at Ohio State, university officials should seriously consider returning the trophy. They may not have known then, but they know now.