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CBSSports.com Senior College Football Columnist

NCAA remembers its core principles, makes Ohio State pay for its crimes


Jim Tressel's attempts to protect Terrelle Pryor hurts Ohio State and damages his career. (US Presswire)  
Jim Tressel's attempts to protect Terrelle Pryor hurts Ohio State and damages his career. (US Presswire)  

Until Tuesday afternoon, this was the face of the present-day NCAA: Penn State was closer to lack of institutional control than Ohio State.

A school under legal scrutiny in a child sex abuse scandal was somehow being threatened with an NCAA inquiry. Meanwhile, an overgrown, bloated, arrogant football factory continued to belch entitlement.

But Big Brother finally -- if not perfectly, and perhaps only briefly -- got it right in penalizing Ohio State. It got back to one of the main tenets of its bible -- the NCAA Manual.

Punish the wrongdoers. At least, punish them enough so that the verdict doesn't look like the result of a lawyered-up, backroom, handshake summary disposition.

That guiding principle of lack of institutional control is the foundation of NCAA rules: Thou shalt keep your players, coaches and administrators on a tight leash. No competitive or recruiting advantages. No cheating to get ahead.

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Sounds simple, but it's complicated. So complicated that a few years ago, membership asked for a more distilled definition. The NCAA came back with an eight-page document.

Defining institutional control had become Supreme Justice Potter Stewart's summation regarding pornography from 1964: "I know it when I see it."

Never mind that with Tattoogate, Ohio State pretty much checked off all the boxes in violation of institutional control.

  Competitive advantage? Check. Ohio State was able to win a share of the Big Ten and gain a BCS bowl (Sugar) by playing ineligible players.

  Willful violation? Check. Jim Tressel hid those emails and the fact that he knew his players were taking extra benefits.

  Recruiting advantage? Check. As long as we're stretching the meaning of institutional control, let's assume that Ohio State gained an advantage in recruiting by posting another Big Ten title.

Let's not forget booster Bobby DiGeronimo, who had run amok reportedly handing out $200 handshakes. Ohio State's violations were so pervasive that the school received a second notice of allegations. That almost never happens, especially after an initial infractions committee hearing.

But the NCAA infractions committee didn't quite go all the way Tuesday. An institutional control finding would have meant "enhanced" penalties. There will be those who argue that merely slapping Ohio State's tattooed wrists with a "failure to monitor" finding was stopping short. But it was enough ...

... enough to be an "aggravating factor" in applying a postseason ban for 2012, according to infractions committee spokesman Greg Sankey.

... enough to highlight the fact that Ohio State was a repeat violator and technically eligible for the death penalty.

... enough to brand Jim Tressel as ethically bankrupt.

... enough to make a mockery of the school's slow-moving, avoidance conduct in dealing with the issues.

"I would not suggest it's a new day," Sankey said of the NCAA, "but these penalties are significant."

And fair, which is about all we can hope for these days. The college world will compare this to USC. The Trojans did get slapped with institutional control. Former AD Mike Garrett fought the law. The law won. One player (Reggie Bush) cost USC a two-year bowl ban and 30 scholarships.

A conniving coach and 14 players (who took $16,000 in extra benefits) cost Ohio State a bowl and nine scholarships. But for one shining moment, the NCAA reeled it all back in -- all the bad publicity, all the brash P.R. moves. We still don't know where the Penn State thing is headed, but this time, it was just that a football giant got it right between the eyes.

For cheating giantly in football.

The NCAA showed some stones a lot of us didn't know it had. The bowl ban was unexpected. Experts were predicting there would be no such penalty. This one hurts in Urban Meyer's first season. But only his first season.

The NCAA told us that Tressel, for all he has done positively, has a disturbing, hidden dark side. Don't believe it? The NCAA issued a five-year show-cause order, which essentially means Tressel can't coach in college again until 2017.

The full-vested Vest probably has enough money to live on. But his conspiratorial hiding of those damning emails allowed Ohio State to win a share of a Big Ten title and a BCS bowl. Next step: Return the trophy and Terrelle Pryor MVP award back to the Sugar Bowl.

Had Tressel been forthcoming about the tattoos and extra benefits, his players would have had to sit out a few games, and that would be it. The NCAA student reinstatement committee wouldn't be embarrassed by using an obscure rule in allowing the Buckeye Five to play in the bowl.

But it's also likely that the Bucks wouldn't have reached, or won, the Sugar Bowl if Tressel did the right thing. The fact that he chose to hide that information showed that the coach bought into the image he had created.

That image being that the Buckeyes were all about pure, Ohio, man-up football. That image was passed down from Woody and nurtured all these years. Wonder who the old man would sucker punch first for disgracing his program right now?

Tressel? Gordon Gee? AD Gene Smith, who said just recently there was "no precedent" for a bowl ban at Ohio State?

The school's NCAA strategy was to isolate the violations, saying they were acts of a rogue coach and rogue players who went rogue. The gambit worked spectacularly. Well, if you consider spectacular being able to go bowling next in 2013.

This case started with players not having the proper education of the rules. It ended with administrators not having the proper grasp of the situation.

This case shows where the NCAA belongs -- on the street, prosecuting wrongdoers. When did it get in the business of sticking its nose into legal matters, especially those as sordid and disgusting as those allegedly involving Jerry Sandusky?

Turn to Page 4 of the NCAA Manual. There listed under the NCAA Constitution, Article 2, Bylaw 2.1, you will find the Principle of Institutional Control And Responsibility.

Basically all you need to know is that it is the "responsibility of each [school] to control its intercollegiate athletics program in compliances with the rules of [the NCAA].

A school is responsible for the "actions of its staff members ... and any other individuals or organization ..."

Reading those simple words, Ohio State clearly lacked institutional control. But it's never that simple. In the end, the NCAA couldn't find a reason to throw the rulebook at Ohio State. It wasn't a new day for the NCAA, but it wasn't the end of days either for Ohio State.

Big Brother might not have gotten it all the way right, but at least it didn't get it wrong. Somewhere out there among the rogues, cheaters and lawyers, there is still room enough for fairness.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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