The Suspended Players Starting A Bowl Game Debate… Bowl Games Really About Benjamins

January 4, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

The 2010 college football regular season is in the books, and it has made me realize one thing—I miss Tim Tebow!

Since the universally admired Florida quarterback departed for the NFL, college football has been a parade of negative headlines. The pre-season NCAA probe into illegal contact with agents, the Cam Newton inappropriate benefits controversy, and the Reggie Bush Heisman relinquishing melodrama were all tabloid quality mainstays of the media that defined college football in 2010. So it should come as no great surprise that the 2010 Bowl season should be overshadowed by yet another scandal.

Five Ohio State players, including QB Terrelle Pryor, have been busted for selling championship paraphernalia and receiving improper benefits at a tattoo parlor. The NCAA investigated the matter and ruled that all five players must be suspended for the first five games of the upcoming 2011 season (Ohio State is appealing the ruling to reduce the suspension). Although the case against the players was fairly straightforward, and the action against them swift, it left many pondering the question, “Why didn’t the NCAA suspend them from the Sugar Bowl?”

The answer is simple, but discomforting to many. College football is all about the money.

At one time collegiate sports were a bastion for the STUDENT-athlete, but for most schools those days are long gone. Football programs are revenue generators and major attracting forces for potential clients… I mean students. There is so much wealth and revenue wrapped up in college sports that today’s game no longer tries to hide its commercialism.

Just looking at the names of bowl games clearly illustrates the profit driven commercialism of the modern “amateur” game. Bowls names, such as the Meineke Car Care Bowl, the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, Bowl and the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl have virtually no connection with the sport other than a cooperate sponsorship, and that is to say nothing of the formerly sacred bowls – such as the (Discover) Orange Bowl, (AT&T) Cotton Bowl, and Rose Bowl (Presented By VIZIO) –which have sold out their naming rights to maximize revenue. Even the national title game bears the imprint of big business with its new moniker the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game.

My point in all this name nonsense is that there is nothing wrong with a sport making money, but it seems that the NCAA is in a ludicrous state of self denial continuing to purport the antiquated image of non-professional, uncompensated athletes in the profit driven big business of sports. We see it time and time again in college sports. Each year it seems that more and more college stars are revealed to have accepted some sort of illegal benefit or to have had in appropriate contact with an agent. Why? Because college sports are all about money.

It is that fixation with money that clearly drove the decision to ban the Ohio State five from games next season and not this year’s Sugar Bowl… correction that’s the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The absence of these five players, especially Pryor, would have hurt the competitiveness of Ohio State and in turn undermined the competitive validity of the gme. Watching a Pryor-less Buckeye team take on the Arkansas Razorbacks is a far less compelling game to watch. A less exciting game makes for poorer attendance and poorer ratings. Poorer ratings make for weaker commercial endorsement and the profitability of the whole bowl game decreases as a result.

Paul Hoolahan, Sugar Bowl CEO, validated my argument in his statement about lobbying to keep the suspensions from impacting the bowl game when he said, “I made the point that anything that could be done to preserve the integrity of this year’s game, we would greatly appreciate it… That appeal did not fall on deaf ears, and I’m extremely excited about it that the Buckeyes are coming in at full strength with no dilution.”

He is right. A punch-less Ohio State team would have undermined the entire bowl. Although I believe Mr. Hoolahan was looking at it from purely financial eyes consider the fans stake in the game. Fans that purchased Sugar Bowl tickets did not do so to watch backups play, they came to watch the REAL Ohio State take on Arkansas. Anyone who has ever bought a ticket to watch a sports team play only to find that their favorite superstar attraction is missing, for whatever reason, understands the disappointment I am describing. Recently I purchased tickets to watch the Miami Heat play. Had LeBron James been M.I.A. I would have been S.O.L., and would have been very upset about it. It would definitely impact my future ticket purchasing decisions, and the Sugar Bowl is no different.

Last, I’d like to consider the suspension itself. Players were punished, in essence, for selling their personal effects and getting discounted tattoos. TATTOOS! To channel my best Allen Iverson, we are not talking about cheating or a crime or the game that they go out there and die for and play like it’s their last. We are talkin’ about TATOOS. I simply don’t see the need for such drastic measures over something so very inconsequential. Does anyone really believe that Ohio State has a competitive advantage in signing recruits because of discounted tattoos?

These five guys are being punished enough. The NCAA would only hurt the sponsors and the fans by suddenly taking a principled stand against minor infractions. Where were all these so called principles when the naming rights for bowl games went up for bid anyways? The punishment is fine the way it is. It will be a deterrent to future devious tattoo discounts and will make Ohio State be more accountable for their athletes. But enough is enough; let them play in the Sugar Bowl.

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The Reggie Bush Fallout Debate

November 17, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Bleacher Fan and Sports Geeks.

It has become glaringly apparent that college football has lost its innocence. While this is in no way a new phenomenon, the high profile nature of NCAA probes and other investigations of misappropriations by coaches, teams, and individual players serve as hard evidence that the purity of this pastime has been irreparably marred. There is probably no more spectacular example of this than the Reggie Bush Heisman Trophy debacle.

In the wake of the allegations surrounding Heisman Trophy hopeful Cam Newton it appears another player is now thrust into the media spotlight and tried in the court of public opinion, bringing a potentially negative legacy to himself and college football alike.

Just a few years ago Cam Newton made headlines for his arrest for burglary, larceny, and obstruction of justice. This led to his departure from Florida to Blinn College, where he continued to play football before joining perennial SEC powerhouse Auburn. Now, however, new accusations are surfacing claiming that Newton may have fled Florida to avoid an expulsion for academic infractions, specifically cheating.

While this no doubt causes problems for Cam Newton and Auburn, it also reopens issues for the Heisman Trophy voters. Those involved with the Heisman Trophy award probably felt they had turned the page on much of the drama that surrounded them lately with the closing of the Reggie Bush chapter. It appears, however, things won’t be that easy for them.

Which brings us to today’s debate: Should the uncertainty surrounding Cam Newton’s eligibility impact Heisman Trophy voters and Auburn’s perception as a clean program?

The focus of today’s debate will not be on whether Newton is innocent or guilty, but rather whether Newton’s alleged actions should (should being the operative word) negatively impact the perception of Newton as a Heisman Trophy candidate, and of Auburn as a clean football program.

In this one the Bleacher Fan believes in the continued perception of Newton and Auburn as being clean, reputable competitors. Sports Geek, on the other hand, will play defense, explaining why a player and program accused of such unethical actions should be above reproach.

May the court of TSD opinion convene.

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The Ranking a Banned Program Debate Verdict

October 4, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan.

The fact that the Southern Cal Trojans are not playing in a bowl game this season is not open for debate. But whether or not that bowl ban should extend into a ban from the rankings as well… now that is a whole different story.

Bleacher Fan and Loyal Homer each examined the issue but found themselves on very different sides.

In his argument Loyal Homer defended his firm belief that a post-season ban should also warrant a ban from the rankings as well. His main hang up with allowing a team, like USC, with a bowl ban to continue to be nationally ranked is that it brings attention and exposure (see a previous debate involving BCS notoriety) to a team that is supposedly being punished. This is a valid point, especially in a society where the media coverage of celebrity misbehaviors often exceeds that of those who are actually doing things right. Despite their violations, USC continues to garner media coverage and will likely stay in the public eye so long as they are nationally ranked.

Loyal Homer, however, failed to address the fact that a school like USC would likely continue to receive a great deal of media coverage because it is a rather large school which has had a national following for quite some time. But his point was made. Maintaining a high profile for schools violating NCAA policy is contradictory and sends the wrong message to the public.

Loyal Homer also called attention to the fact that a banned school’s inclusion in the national ranking system comes at the expense of another school. Southern Cal’s inclusion in the top 25 means that another school which is not on the business end of NCAA punishments is denied a top 25 ranking and the attention and exposure that goes with it. This exposure means a great deal to schools that fight just to become bowl eligible.

Bleacher Fan explained that while the NCAA may have been justified in their actions against USC, a ban from the rankings would be both unnecessary and inappropriate. The thesis of his argument – that a post-season ban should only apply to the post-season – was equally obvious and direct, yet well put. By banning USC from bowls for the next two years the NCAA was not attempting to undermine the competitiveness of their football program during the regular season but rather enact punishments to deter further rules violations.

Furthermore, Bleacher Fan’s assessment that bowls and rankings are independent of each other was dead on. The ranking system is not set up to simply determine bowl selections as much as it is to compare the most competitive football teams in the nation. Unless USC is banned from regular season play, then the program can surely be counted in the latter category.

But what sealed the deal for me in this debate was Bleacher Fan’s argument that banning a team from being ranked undermines the validity of the ranking system, and that the rankings ban would be punishing the wrong people. On both counts he is absolutely right. The ranking system cannot claim true validity if rankings are artificially inflated or deflated because of aspects other than actual football performance. If teams banned from the post-season are winning against other nationally competitive teams they should be credited for it with a high ranking. Imagine, if you will, if a team like Boise State were to take on USC this season. Can you imagine the uproar and backlash if they beat the Trojans but did not see a significant rise in their rank since USC was not bowl bound because of off the field issues? It just wouldn’t make sense.

It would not make sense to punish the current team for the sins of the past. The 2010 USC team was not even high school aged when the violations their team is currently being punished for occurred. It is one thing to take an ethical stand against rules violations but it is another thing entirely to undermine the achievements of a blameless group of players for the transgression of the responsible parties that are no longer present to feel the sting of punishment. This air tight logic is why I’m awarding this victory to the Bleacher Fan.

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The Ranking a Banned Program Debate… Post-season Ban Applies Post-Season Only

October 3, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

Six years ago, Reggie Bush (while playing at Southern Cal under then-head coach Pete Carroll) violated an NCAA eligibility rule by accepting money from a professional sports agent.

The NCAA unfortunately has a very difficult task when it comes to situations such like this, where the infractions are being addressed several years after they actually took place. The people guilty of committing infractions are no longer under the governing body’s rule. Therefore, there is very little that can be done to hold the actual guilty parties accountable.

While the NCAA does still retain the authority to penalize a program, the NCAA must also be very careful about the way punishments are implemented because the people who will be most greatly affected by the punishment are those currently in the program, who had nothing at all to do with the infractions that took place.

To avoid a situation where the children must pay too greatly for the sins of the parents, the NCAA has stripped away any recognition for what the football program did during the season infractions take place, and has banned the program from participating in post-season football for the two years following the discovery of infractions.

Although I would like to see a more aggressive partnership between the NFL and the NCAA so that guys like Reggie Bush and Pete Carroll don’t get to walk away virtually unscathed (don’t forget, Bush gave back his Heisman Trophy, it wasn’t taken from him), this is actually a very fair and just punishment to be levied on the program.

The institution suffers by missing out on the exposure and profits of playing post-season football, but the impact to the athletes and coaches CURRENTLY within the program will be extremely minimal. They will not get to play in a bowl game for the next couple of years, which is unfortunate, but they will retain every other benefit that comes from playing at a major university.

So, why take the punishment a step further by banning the program from consideration when ranking the top 25 teams in the nation?

Rankings and Bowls are Independent of Each Other

If there were only 25 bowl invitations extended every year, and those 25 invitations were offered to the top 25 teams in the nation, I would completely agree with a ban on ranking to accompany the ban on bowl eligibility. But that is simply not the case.

The national rankings serve as a gauge of which are the best 25 programs in the nation, not the best 25 bowl eligible programs. Last season there were 43 teams that played in bowl games and were not ranked in the top 25. What does USC being considered for a national ranking now have to do at all with bowl eligibility?! Absolutely nothing!

Just because a team is ineligible to play in the post-season does not mean it does not deserve consideration as being one of the best teams in the country.

If Alabama was banned from 2010 bowl eligibility it would not change the fact that it is the best team in the nation right now. Why try to ignore, cover up, or alter that fact by producing a fraudulent ranking written as though Alabama did not exist? It would completely devalue the entire ranking process.

Southern Cal, bowl eligible or not, is going to remain in contention as one of the 25 best football programs in the country. Any attempt to disregard or ignore that fact is pointless.

You Can’t Penalize the Wrong People!

It is important that the current active members of the USC organization are not penalized too harshly for the rule-breaking of the predecessors. But, there is another group that would also be unfairly punished if USC were to be banned from ranking eligibility – opponents.

That’s right. Banning USC from consideration for a national ranking is actually penalizing every single team that USC would play while they were under that ban. Why? Because there is greater prestige associated with playing and potentially beating a ranked team.

Think about what the Washington Huskies accomplished last weekend. Which sounds better – beating USC, the team banned from bowls AND rankings, or beating USC, the team ranked as the 18th best in the nation?

When the BCS rolls around, and a team that beats USC is potentially jockeying for position within the BCS standings, should they not be given full credit for defeating one of the 25 best programs in the nation? It is not their fault (nor is it their concern) that USC is banned from bowl games. But if you take away USC’s ability to be ranked, you essentially rob their opponents of the credit they deserve for competing against one of the best teams in the nation.

A Rankings Ban Adds No Value

What could possibly be gained by stripping a ranking away from USC this season?

Whether they are bowl eligible or not, they are still potentially one of the best football teams in the nation. The ONLY benefit gained by removing the ranking is that the team that is ACTUALLY the 26th best could be artificially bumped into a ranking they did not earn, nor deserve. That minor, arbitrary alteration would come at a far greater cost to USC players today (who were only 13 and 14 years old when Reggie Bush broke the rules) and their opponents (who deserve full credit for beating a major football program).

Taking away USC’s ability to earn a national ranking is the same as banning them from playing at all this season. Their opponents gain nothing by playing them, and their current athletes would have absolutely nothing to show for all of their hard work this season.

They were banned from the POST-season, not the REGULAR season. Let the regular season play out as it should, and when bowl season rolls around USC will serve its punishment accordingly.

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The Early Season NFL Injury Debate… Saints Get Bushwhacked

September 27, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan.

Early season injuries are always tough. Just when a team is trying to find its stride, a key player gets injured and it is as if the team has to start over from scratch. Any rhythm the team has offensively is gone. All of the practice, the OTAs, the training camp, is rendered meaningless because the coaching staff and players have to hit reset on the approach to offense.

My colleagues, and others in the sports media, will argue for a variety of players as having the most important injury after three weeks of the regular season. However, most of those players either aren’t important enough to their team for the injury to be meaningful, or the team wasn’t important enough to the division, conference or league – that is, team expectations were low – so the injury just is not that big of a deal.

The first scenario includes players like Ryan Grant, Kevin Kolb, and Dennis Dixon. They are probably decent players, but not irreplaceable. The second scenario includes a player like Matthew Stafford. He may be important to his team, but the expectations for the Lions were so low that his absence doesn’t really impact anything.

Reggie Bush, however, is a different story. The division, conference, and league has high expectations for the returning champions. The Saints, in many ways, are a team defined by offense and big plays. Reggie Bush is the key to making the offense work. He is a versatile player, and one the team built its offense around. He can take a hand off, a direct snap, or split out wide in the slot and catch a slant pattern. He is the type of player a team has to get the ball to in space because he can quickly make a big play.

It is evident that a player is really tough to replace when beat writers start printing stories about how the team is dealing with the aftermath of the injury. Browse any local paper you’d like to, and you’ll see articles about how the Saints are going to struggle moving on from Bush’s broken fibula.

The biggest chance to look for in Bush’s absence is how the Saints will adjust to zone coverage, especially when facing a nickel package where the defense has at least one extra defensive back. Normally this is a situation where Bush would be sent in motion after lining up in the running back position. The idea is to create a mismatch with the opposition where Bush runs pass patterns against lower depth chart defensive backs or even linebackers. Especially on third down – a down the Saints are excellent at converting at 36 percent this season and a whopping 44.7 percent last season – as that is the preferred down for the opposition to mix up the defensive look.

Those who argue that Bush’s absence will not be felt are likely have their head stuck in the stat sheet. Bush isn’t setting records for rushing yards or receiving yards. But to reduce what Bush does for the Saints to stats reflects a poor understanding of Bush and, frankly, of football. Bush can change field position and break any play, and that is the most difficult type of player to replace in the lineup.

The Saints are not going to start playing terribly now. But, the team will have to hit reset and break out of an approach that has worked for several seasons. It is difficult, frustrating, and inconvenient, and there will be an adjustment period for the Saints. Bush isn’t the type of talent that can simply be replaced. The gameplan has to change, and that is why Bush’s injury is the most difficult to recover from at this point in the season.

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The Stripping USC’s Title Debate Verdict

June 2, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan.

Bleacher Fan’s argument centered on the iniquity of punishing the wrong people for crimes they did not commit. While this immediately distracted me with parallels to the A-Team’s back story, I eventually got my ADD under control long enough to focus on the issue’s importance to today’s debate. Throughout his argument Bleacher Fan pointed out that Southern Cal itself did nothing wrong with the recruitment and retention of Reggie Bush. And as far as anyone can tell USC was largely in the dark about his receipt of improper benefits. But, while it is easy to see that USC did not knowingly violate rules, the fact that NCAA policies were violated cannot completely be dismissed.

Loyal Homer’s argument was primarily focused on the guilt of Reggie Bush and the enforcement of NCAA regulations. He adeptly observed that the amateur nature of college sports makes them an entirely different ballgame from the pros. Loyal Homer made a case that the NCAA protects this amateur status of college athletics through stringent enforcement of its regulations. Citing the Connecticut men’s basketball team as a telling example, he made it abundantly clear that any wrong doing in time will come to the light of day.

As someone who usually interprets the world through a legalistic view, Loyal Homer’s point that policy and precedent were certainly not lost on me. I believe he made another excellent point that since the regulations are abundantly clear – the ones about amateur athletes not being allowed to receive illicit extra benefits from their school, those associated with a school, or even those outside the school – then certainly the benefits of living in a more than $750,000 home rent free would qualify as a rules violation. The logical connection is that the NCAA investigators will find evidence that Reggie Bush clearly violated this policy, and therefore the BCS policies implemented in 2007 leave no wiggle room and the team’s bowl appearances and subsequent titles must be vacated.

That certainly seems like a simple solution, but I am ultimately left wanting when I ponder the human cost faced by the university and Bush’s teammates who did not violate this rule – a stirring point hammered home by Bleacher Fan. I cannot help but feel empathy for those athletes who dedicated incalculable hours of training and practice throughout their lifetime, which ultimately culminated in winning the national championship. To think that the actions of one selfish individual could completely undermine the achievements of an entire program seems to be the greater injustice.

As stated in the introduction of this debate, the issue at hand is not a football matter as much as it is an ethical matter. It was a question of the morality surrounding the issue, a spirit of the law matter rather than a letter of the law matter. The ultimate question is, “Should the NCAA strip USC of their 2004 national title?”

Simply put, I cannot agree that the NCAA should punish an entire program for the actions of one individual, especially considering their alleged wrongdoing did not directly impact the outcome each game. A punishment of this magnitude would be unique in its enormity. The sweeping punitive actions of the NCAA would disproportionately penalize the innocent and there is nothing fair about that. While it is true that one of my favorite mantras is “life isn’t fair,” I believe this is one occasion where it should be, and for that reason I am awarding the victory to the Bleacher Fan.

Although I was initially torn over the issue since it does not necessarily fit with my cutthroat, “shoot’em all and let God sort it out” approach to justice, I became exponentially more comfortable with my ruling on this issue when I put myself in the Trojans shoes… or cleats, if you will. If one of the 27 World Series championships of the New York Yankees was erased from the record books because of the actions of one single player I would find it to be a huge injustice not just to the sport but to the teammates who were innocent. For example if it was proven that Roger Clemens did indeed use steroids during his stint in pinstripes, and Bud Selig sought to strip the entire franchise of titles won during his tenure, I would certainly cry foul.

The aforementioned is an example where the rules violation actually could impact the on-field outcome, while Reggie Bush’s alleged violations carried an insignificant influence on the successfulness of the program, if any at all. Therefore I cannot support a punishment of this nature. As cliché and uncomfortable as it makes me feel to say it, it just seems unfair.

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The Stripping USC’s Title Debate

June 1, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan.

Allegations of college athletes receiving money and perks to play for their respective teams have become fairly common. They are usually followed by an investigation and some sort of punishment. This process is usually pretty straight forward. A school makes a few public apologies, the NCAA puts them on probation for a while (or they discipline themselves like Michigan just did), and pretty soon life goes back to normal. But what happens when these allegations are leveled against a national championship team? More specifically, a team that won a title more than half a decade ago?

That is exactly the case for USC and the ongoing Reggie Bush debacle. The former Trojan running back is being accused of receiving improper payments and gifts. These alleged violations could prove to erase USC’s 2004 record, and the national title that goes with it.

So what can and should be done about this situation now? Is there a statute of limitations on moral issues such as this? Is it fair to punish the program and players who did nothing wrong for the actions of one player? Does the NCAA really have the grounds or authority to erase a national title?

Plenty of questions remain. That’s where The Sports Debates comes in as we attempt to provide some of the important answers surrounding this debate: Should the NCAA strip USC of their 2004 national title?

Loyal Homer will argue in favor of stripping the USC football program of a title that they may not have earned legitimately. Bleacher Fan will argue that although certain Trojans’ actions may have been morally ambiguous, there are no grounds for stripping the team of a championship they clearly won so long ago.

Bear in mind, this debate is not really a football debate as much as an ethical question. So bring your minds, and your morality, to the table.

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