Recent events at Ohio State provide further evidence that big college sports endanger what Universities should stand for. The Buckeyes football team played for the national championship in 2002, 2006 and 2007, winning the 2002 national championship for the first time in 34 years. In 2011, its coach, Jim Tressel was forced to resign for failing to tell University officials that players were trading memorabilia for cash and tattoos, breaking NCAA rules. Ohio State vacated last season’s 12-1 record and its share of the Big 10 title and will be on probation for the next two years. Was Tressler alone in this coverup? One has to wonder what University officials new and when they knew it.
During his ten years at Ohio State Tressel made $21.7 million, earning more than $3.5 million in 2010 according to the New York Times (8/10/2011). The article further states that $4.6 million of Tressel’s earnings came from an arrangement between Ohio State and apparel-maker Nike. Evidently the $4.6 million went to Tressel instead of the University for its exclusive arrangements with Nike. Does this sound a little like money laundering?
In the beginning of college sports, students up made the teams. Now at the big football and basketball schools semi-professional athletes constitute the teams and a staff of tutors and academic coaches tries to maintain the illusion that they are students, too.
The last four years may have been a new low in business and government ethics; our hope is for Universities to instill ethical behavior in students. It is hard to play this role with the huge sums of money at stake in athletic programs; it is unlikely that Ohio State is the only school where there are payoffs to players and money is laundered to pay the coach.
What does President Gordon Gee of Ohio State have to say? His salary last year was $818,167 with a $300,000 bonus. (During his career at Ohio Tressel had a $200,000 signing bonus and $835,000 in game bonuses.) At the end of the 2010 season Gee said that the football coach’s salary reflected his value to the university. “You think about coaches and you think about surgeons and you think about English faculty. These are investments and we need to pay them so they are worthy of that investment (New York Times, 8/10/2011).” These words may come back to haunt the President.
If we assume that the English professor is paid about $100,000 a year, a generous assumption, then by Gee’s reasoning the football coach in 2010 was 35 times as valuable. The English professor exposes students to our cultural heritage and encourages them to learn to think critically. The football coach presides over a large entertainment subunit of the University. If President Gee ever faces a life-threatening illness, I wonder if he will call on his highly valuable football coach, or go to see the less valuable surgeon from his example.