With Buckeye fans still abuzz over the recent allegations (and every talk radio station in the nation offering opinions), here are a few of my thoughts on the matter to consider…
It is important for Ohio State fans not to jump to conclusions. The New York Times allegations may surround Clarett, but this instance is not like the other headlines he has made in his brief but tumultuous career. When it comes to the press, Maurice has been minding his own business. He has given no controversial interviews. He has made no ESPN sound clips. He has been as quiet as a church mouse since the Fiesta Bowl.
This is not his fault.
Clarett's only "crime" at this point is that he accepted the help of a professor by being given oral exams instead of written.
For those who wonder and frown at such a measure (thinking it was simply because he was a football player that he received such treatment), allow me to comment in a moment of true confessions… I am not an athlete – I am anything but. Yet in my numerous years of college, I cannot tell you how many times (at different universities no less) professors have moved deadlines, given me alternate testing dates, taken off fewer points than the syllabus required, etc. with me personally. Why did they do it? They did it because they could. The universities that employ them give professors great latitude. They are allowed to do their job as they see fit so long as their students learn. Was I the only one in the classes receiving such treatment? Sometimes I was, but sometimes I was not. Start asking around, and you will discover that a great many non-athletes had a professor or two see that they were struggling and take a personal interest in them.
In the instance of Clarett and his professor, neither the young man nor Ms. Pierce are guilty of wrongdoing if the facts are as reported. This is a non-issue blown up to sell papers. If an instructor sees a young person who they feel has potential on the verge of falling between the cracks, then they should try and help them. Their job is to teach. That is what they are paid to do (that and research). If for some reason their methods are not reaching a student – if they truly care about the mandate they have been given – then it only makes sense that they might help a student. Whether or not they are an athlete is immaterial.
If Maurice has committed NCAA violations, then Ohio State alumni and fans might have a reason to be angry with him for the damage he would incur on the football program and reputation of the university. In such a case, Maurice will be suspended and will pay for any poor judgment.
Until then, I would caution fans to understand Maurice not been found guilty of any wrongdoing.
It might be unfair, but unless Clarett has a stunning season (we are talking 2,000+ yards and 30+ touchdowns), the Heisman is probably a pipe dream. Heisman voters are notorious for not appreciating candidates who make waves. Even though the latest spat are no fault of his own, Clarett has done nothing but make waves (some good and some ill) since arriving to play at Ohio State.
Could he still win?
Yes, it is a possibility. He has not broken any laws and is not know to have violated any NCAA rules. He is still eligible. It is possible that the upperclassmen thought to be in contention might once again stumble with Maurice filling the void, but that is a long shot.
Just or unjust, based upon the recent headlines, Clarett can no longer be viewed as the front-runner for the award.
The Specter of an Investigation
The real story this week is the one that The New York Times barely mentioned.
Did tutors give improper aid to student-athletes in writing papers, doing homework, etc.? If so, then not only did tutors violate any employment agreements they signed with the university, they also violated student code of conduct and NCAA rules. This would be a serious breach of the university's integrity and be worthy of sanctions with any sports program whose players might have been involved.
What should fans think about this?
First, if this is found to be the case in Ohio State's investigation – the Buckeyes will suffer some sort of penalties. Given their record when other infractions have been discovered, Ohio State will likely self-penalize rather than forcing the NCAA to become deeply involved.
Second, as of now nothing has been shown to be untoward in the football program. It is just possible that this was an isolated incident. It is also possible that this is a perfect example of the game of "telephone" children play where by the time a statement reaches the third or fourth individual – it no longer bears any resemblance to the original utterance. Allegations remain just that – allegations – until they are proven to be fact.
Third, fans should be patient and withhold judgment. This is going to take a while to resolve. Do not be surprised if Ohio State's internal investigation takes two weeks or more. Do not be shocked if the NCAA comes to town and spends the next three months snooping around even after Ohio State has examined the facts. Stories like this one – be it true or false – do not go away very quickly.
If Ohio State has committed Infractions…
If Ohio State has done wrong, then the Buckeyes should be penalized. It is as simple as that. There is no place for cheating in collegiate athletics. Period.
In my book, there are very few things in life worse than a cheating, rogue football program. It is absolutely unconscionable. If violations are found, then any players found to be involved in such a violation should know that they have shamed themselves and their university.
If on the other hand, Ohio State has done no wrong then the fault will lie with The New York Times for insinuating something that was simply not the case with its articles. It will be yet another black eye for a paper involved in numerous inaccurate pieces as of late and prove reminiscent of the Sports Illustrated episode with Andy Katzenmoyer. In Andy's case, Sports Illustrated chose to print a letter that claimed to be from a member of the university community. In it, they claimed Andy received improper aid in a previous semester. That might have been taken more seriously except for the simple fact that any faculty member at Ohio State would know that OSU is one of a handful of major universities that operates on a quarterly system…
Will this be an example of investigative reporting uncovering wrongdoing, or it will simply be an example of a new publication trying to sell more issues with innuendoes and rumors.
Only time will tell which option is the proper one.
Cheating in College
Ultimately, the problem is not about student athletes. The problem here is a societal issue. Educators in recent years have become increasingly alarmed at the rise in cheating among their students.
How bad is it?
I will give you two personal examples. While a student at a state school nearly a decade ago, those taking math exams were only allowed use of certain calculators. Why? It seems that ingenious cheaters had figured out a way to store formulas and sometimes even answers to tests on other models. Considering the brainpower of the electronics on the market at that time that took some serious work. So, each student had to sit and wait patiently while each calculator was checked in order to ensure that no one could fraudulently pass a test. The second example is a bit more telling. I also attended a private school that offered a wide range of courses on the Bible. Yes. You know where this is going. I actually witnessed students talking about how they cheated or were intending on cheating on their exams on the Bible. If a person will cheat on a subject matter such as that, then there truly is nothing sacred.
The reality is that students are going to cheat. They always have; they always will. There are cheaters in every sizeable class at state and private universities. Some times those cheaters are going to be football players. Some times they might be volleyball players. Some times they are going to be marginal students. Some times they are even going to be students on academic scholarships.
Again, is it wrong?
Yes, without question.
What should be done?
To be frank, I think college educators are fighting a losing battle. Unless the values are taught and enforced in the home as a child grows to maturity, there is little that they can do. Those caught will most likely not learn from the error of their ways but simply be more careful the next time around. Those who "play by the rules" – and that includes a great many athletes as well as average members of the student body – will continue to face an uphill battle.
What Should Ohio State Do With the Allegations?
There are several steps that help a university avoid serious sanctions and even full-blown NCAA investigations.
1. Deal with the allegations immediately and do it head on… This has already been handled. Andy Geiger and Karen Holbrook did exactly what needed to be done. Rather than allowing this story to gain more steam over the weekend and roll over whatever it hit at the bottom of the hill (namely Ohio State's reputation), they took a pre-emptive strike to limit the damage from the allegations as much as possible. Other universities have sat by in silence in recent months; Ohio State did not. As a result, the damage to the university's reputation will be more limited no matter what the outcome.
2. Aggressively Investigate. This process was set into motion as early as last Friday when Andy Geiger first heard from The New York Times. What that means is that the university has a head start and might be able to shorten the process as well as show that they are serious about the integrity of the university. Both are immeasurable positives in this sort of circumstance.
3. Deal with the findings. Whether or not the findings will be made public for all to see or whether the findings will go directly to the NCAA is as of yet unknown. If violations are found, then they need to be met with self-imposed sanctions. If no violations are found, then Ohio State fans can sleep at night knowing that at least for now – the Buckeyes are clean and doing everything possible to win and do it the right way.