What's a promise worth? It depends at Ohio State. We learned Thursday that the Buckeye Five have promised/vowed/pledged to return next year. In other words, not split for the NFL following the Sugar Bowl. In exchange for that promise/vow/pledge Jim Tressel said he is allowing them to play in the bowl.
It was a savvy, political move by the coach. Obviously, he held the bowl up as a carrot in exchange for the promise from the players. But other than that, what's a promise worth? Tressel is relying on character and integrity from the players who haven't shown much lately. Those same players had enough character and integrity to sell merchandise worth more than a combined $10,000.
You would think Tressel would first obtain a "vow" that his players never violate NCAA rules but maybe that's asking too much. You can say the Buckeye Five didn't know they were breaking the rules, but we're tired of that excuse. Really tired. Ignorance of the law hasn't been much of an excuse for the NCAA in the past until recently (see: Newton, Cam). Now it has to be the default setting on every case going forward. You can bet the didn't-know excuse will be raised more than once in Indianapolis when USC meets the NCAA appeals committee next month.
So what's a promise worth? Consider this: It is one that Tressel would not have been able to wrangle from his players had they not violated those NCAA rules. That's what makes this case greasier by the minute. Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan almost comes off as a sympathetic figure this week. A lot of you were no doubt turned off by Hoolahan lobbying for the Buckeye Five's participation in his game. But Hoolahan is a businessman. His charge is no different than a concert promoter -- fill seats and make money. Of course he wants Terrelle Pryor to play. Why wouldn't he?
It's the intersection of capitalism and the NCAA Manual that stains. You'll remember that the NCAA is allowing the five players to be eligible for the game because of some obscure six-year-old rule. It's a rule that the NCAA scolded us about not knowing on Wednesday. The Association can send out all the releases it wants explaining its actions but that doesn't change the fact that perception is reality -- the NCAA is favoring the power conferences and the power schools.
The NCAA does a lot of things well. It has not managed to realize it has a tremendous image problem. Tressel did nothing more than leverage playing time to get those "promises" from the five players, all eligible for the NFL Draft -- Terrelle Pryor, DeVier Posey, Mike Adams, Solomon Thomas and Dan Herron. There is absolutely nothing beyond Thursday's news that actually binds them to Ohio State after next week. Let's say any one or all of the five have a spectacular game against Arkansas and shoot up the draft charts. What a promise worth, then?
In the last week, the NCAA confused and bullied us. On Thursday, Jim Tressel distracted us. Nothing has changed. National perception remains reality. The big boys rule the sport. Big Brother and Ohio State knows the Buckeye Five shouldn't be playing in the Sugar Bowl.