Notes on the Passing Scene

Welcome back to The Campus Game.

What a week for sports fans … Final Four weekend coming up, MLB opening weekend, the Masters teeing up at historic Augusta National, spring football taking place across the nation.

Inside this post, please find information on:

* Impeaching the Senator?
* The Fraudulent Five
* Professor’s Book Case
* Baseball Quiz

Welcome back to campus!

Impeaching the Senator?

Although I live, work, and was raised in SEC territory, let me preface this section by mentioning that I lived in Columbus, Ohio, for a couple of years. My son was born within a long field goal of the Horseshoe along the banks of the Olentangy River, my wife is an alum of TOSU (that’s THE Ohio State University – at least to some), I grew up pulling for Woody over Bo … I’m predisposed to pull for the Buckeyes.

Still … I believe the Senator should be impeached.

Jim Tressel … aka “the Senator” … committed a passel of coaching sins the past year.

Enough to get him fired.

A year ago this month, he found out that at least a couple of his players (including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor) had violated NCAA rules by accepting improper benefits from a local businessman under federal investigation. The players (five in all) apparently sold memorabilia for cash and other benefits. Tressel did not inform his superiors or the NCAA (as he was obligated to do). He did, however, find time to inform a “mentor” of Pryor’s according to the Columbus Dispatch.

Compounding his lapse in judgment, Tressel signed an standard annual NCAA form in September stipulating that he knew of no rules violations in his program. He did know of such violations.

In December, a representative of the local U.S. Attorney’s office visited OSU as part of that federal probe. In those interviews, Tressel again could have come clean. Again, he did not. That same month, OSU and the NCAA reached an agreement that allowed the five players to participate in the Sugar Bowl against Arkansas (which the Bucks won) and serve five-game suspensions at the start of the 2011 season.

Tressel himself finally earned a two-game suspension and a $250,000.00 fine when an internal investigation at OSU in January discovered his initial email exchanges back in April 2010 concerning the infractions.

Still, the Senator cloaked the full truth.

In mid-March the Columbus Dispatch reported that Tressel had not only received and responded to the initial emails about the violations (he got the email tip from a former OSU player), but that the Buckeye head coach had forwarded them to a man named Ted Sarniak (Pryor’s mentor mentioned above). At that point, Tressel “asked” to have his suspension raised to five games, same as his players.

Note that during the whole ordeal Jim Tressel was never forthcoming. He never got out front of the story or acknowledged any rule-breaking or wrong-doing at any step of the process. Only when he was caught did he take responsibility.

To make matters more putrid in Columbus, OSU president E. Gordon Gee sounded as smarmy as he looked during a press conference on March 10, 2011, when he responded to a query about firing Tressel by saying “Are you kidding? I just hope he doesn’t dismiss me.” Now there is strong leadership.

As much as I’ve liked him over the years, it’s time to impeach the Senator (and let him dismiss E. Gordon Gee first).

Fraudulent Five

This is a golden age of sports documentaries.

HBO provides the best, including such fare as Magic and Bird: Courtship of Rivals, Lombardi, Ali-Frazier I: One Nation Divisible, Nine Innings from Ground Zero, and many others. All feature the incomparable voice narration of Liev Schrieber. As a college professor teaching sport history and sport sociology courses, these documentaries are invaluable resources.

ESPN has entered the market with the reasonably popular 30 for 30 series. While not to HBO standards, many of these films are worthwhile (my favorite is the Marcus Dupree saga – The Best that Never Was).

The latest 30 for 30 release focuses on the Michigan Fab Five college basketball squads of the early 1990s. The Fab Five (Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, Ray Jackson) came to Michigan as a freshmen class in the fall of 1991 and led Big Blue to consecutive NCAA championship game appearances. They lost both.

Rose developed the documentary, and it takes an interesting slant. He argues that the Fab Five changed college basketball … the group’s trash talk, swagger, black socks, and baggy shorts appealing to the hip-hop generation of young (primarily African American) fans.

Where the documentary goes off track is in the lack of balance.

Put bluntly, the Fab Five overestimates their accomplishments and downgrades their opponents. Rose and company got blown out by Duke in the 1992 finals, and then Webber pulled one of the all time choke jobs in the 1993 loss to North Carolina (calling a timeout in a sheer panic at the end of the game with his team trailing by a bucket and out of timeouts). Webber should probably be glad he had on baggy shorts to conceal whether he soiled them, wet them, or both at the end of that game.

Rose is probably correct that the Fab Five had a social impact, but I disagree that it was a positive one.

Case in point … the bashing of Duke players in racist and stereotypical tones. Rose and others smear Grant Hill as an “Uncle Tom”, they claim Duke would not recruit certain types of black players (from poor socio-economic backgrounds), and they use some choice street terms in describing some of the Blue Devil players. Oh yeah … the final score of that 1992 game was 71-51, and Duke went 4-0 against those Fab Five squads. Rose doesn’t mention that much.

Webber comes off worse than Rose (perhaps because he refused to be interviewed or take part). After losing to Duke, he is shown storming back to the locker room cursing any camera person or fan who got in his way (by the way, he was never so reticent to get in front of a camera or mike after a win). After choking against UNC, he cried like … well, like some of the names the Fab Five called their opponents.

Webber turned pro after the 1992 season, and Rose left a year later. Eventually, all sorts of recruiting violations were unearthed regarding the Fab Five. Michigan got walloped with sanctions and removed all references to those teams. They do not exist from an official university standpoint.

So, yes the Fab Five probably did influence the culture … putting down opponents, having a sense of entitlement that far surpassed their accomplishments, poor sportmanship on and off the court, cheating and lying about it … quite a set of accomplishments in only two years.

Perhaps we should call them the Fraudulent Five.

Professor’s Bookcase

Living on the Black is yet another of John Feinstein’s many fine sports books. While a few years old (2008), it holds up well in tracing the 2007 MLB season through the experiences of pitchers Tom Glavine (Mets) and Mike Mussina (Yankees).

The two subjects are thinking-man’s pitchers, both late in their careers and getting by on guts and guile more than talent at this point in their careers. Glavine was in pursuit of his 300th career win that season, and (as a longtime Braves fan), I felt some pangs of regret that Glav did not win that milestone game in an Atlanta uniform (I bet he does too).

The book is a nice way to get yourself mentally geared up for the 2011 baseball season.

If that’s not enough, try this tough baseball quiz published by the great George Will.