Sports

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

The Ohio State football scandal is prompting new questions that reach far beyond the Buckeyes. The popular coach at Ohio State, Jim Tressel, was forced to resign earlier this week. He knew some of his players broke NCAA rules, but he covered it up.

As NPR's Tom Goldman reports, breaking the rules is one of college sports oldest problems.

TOM GOLDMAN: Ohio State's immediate future seems as gray as Jim Tressel's famous sweater vest. Tressel's gone. The team's star quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, is suspended several games next season for selling memorabilia and receiving improper benefits.

Investigators also are looking into how Pryor got the multiple cars he's been driving at the university. Ohio State is college sports' wreck-of-the-moment. Naturally, that means wall-to-wall chatter in the sports media.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Around the Horn")

Mr. BOMANI JONES (Reporter): Remember this, Woody Hayes had Ohio State on probation in the 1950s and said, famously, that if his players were hungry, he'd feed them out of his own pocket.

GOLDMAN: Bomani Jones, here on ESPN's "Around the Horn," is one reporter who doubts the scandal's long-term impact.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Around the Horn")

Mr. JONES: This has happened before and people will get over it. Watch.

GOLDMAN: Dust off the history books and you'll discover just how much this has happened before. In 1852, a Harvard versus Yale boat race on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire was considered the first intercollegiate sporting event. They had a sponsor - the Boston-Concord-Montreal Railroad - and, says college sports historian and author Murray Sperber, they broke the rules.

Mr. MURRAY SPERBER (Author, "Beer and Circus"): Scholars have looked at the records and a number of rowers were not registered students at the time, or were former students.

GOLDMAN: It's a long and winding road from Lake Winnipesaukee to Jim Tressel. But Sperber says it's linked together by two powerful forces: amateurism and American-style competitiveness that have always driven college sports, unfortunately, says Sperber, in opposite directions.

Mr. SPERBER: The structure was set up in almost a British 19th century form, where gentlemen play the game honorably and don't cheat. That model, meeting the American impulse and obsession to win, is just contradictory and has never been resolved. It's like squaring the circle.

GOLDMAN: The nearly 50 people currently in the NCAA's enforcement division think amateurism, winning and money can mix, with vigilance. The division enforces the NCAA's many rules - way too many, critics say - and investigates rule breaking.

Julie Roe Lach is the new vice president of enforcement. She says on-campus monitoring is stronger.

Ms. JULIE ROE LACH (Vice President of Enforcement, NCAA): Ten years ago, most compliance staffs had one or two people. Now you see anywhere from five to ten at many larger Division I schools.

GOLDMAN: In the same timeframe, Roe Lach says the NCAA has nabbed more rule-breakers. More coaches, she says, have been suspended for so-called secondary infractions, which are either isolated or inadvertent violations.

Ms. ROE LACH: Ten years ago, there were about 2,000 secondary cases processed a year, now there's over 4,000.

GOLDMAN: Earnest efforts by earnest people, but critics like Murray Sperber simply see, in his words, hamsters on the wheel. How to break the cycle of rule-breaking? Sperber's not the first to suggest blowing up college sports and replacing it with a free market system like the pros. No more student athletes, at least in men's basketball and football.

It's a long shot at best, considering how much college sports, in its current state, is part of the fabric of so many communities across the country. There are discussions going on about reform but within the current structure. Which means, when it comes to scandal, the operative phrase remains: On and on.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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