Controlling the Uncontrollable
By John Porentas
The events of the last three or so months have left Ohio State fans all too familiar with terms like "lack of institutional control" and have made media stars of administrators that really ought to be anonymous, specifically director of NCAA compliance Doug Archie and his staff.
The sudden interest in those terms and persons was precipitated by the NCAA violations scandal that has rocked the football program, cost former Head Coach Jim Tressel his job, and left many more unanswered questions regarding the future of OSU football.
Public interest is focused on the short-term outcome, but there is growing interest in what might have been done to prevent all this in the first place and prevent it from happening in the future. According to former OSU Director of Athletics Andy Geiger, that is a difficult and sticky question at every university, and especially in Columbus, Ohio.
"The setup that we had (when he was director of athletics) was extremely proactive," Geiger said.
"It's my understanding that the current compliance people went to the car dealers, they are all over those kinds of things, they were doing their best to try to keep up with it, but there is, in Columbus, a very large community with a nationally prominent program, the Ohio State football program, that is just over the top in importance, in not only Columbus but in the state.
"That attracts all kinds of things to it, some of which is very, very difficult to control.
"There isn't any way that a compliance department, an Athletic Director or a football coach or whole staff of football coaches can be with people in a program 24/7. There are going to be influences, there are going to be relationships that built over time that can turn out to be negative and be very damaging. I experienced that, and it has been experienced one more time."
Geiger's first-hand experience with the impact of outside influences on the OSU football program have lead him to the conclusion that controlling the program is a nearly hopeless task unless you have the full and unmitigated cooperation of players who comprise that program. There is simply too much money involved, and too many people trying to dip their hands into it. In the end, some of those people influence players in ways to help in their attempts to cash in on OSU football, and in the process involve the players in cashing in as well. For example, without a place to sell signed items, no signed items would be sold. Too often, the fact that the way to make money is already established is too much to resist for some players.
"It is your hope and prayer in a situation like this that the guys 'get it' and that they are patient about the fact that there is a lot of wealth connected the program, there is a big-money situation, and they are not necessarily reaping very much of it at this point.
"It is very important for them to try and be patient and understand, particularly the ones that have a great deal of talent, that their day will come."
It's a nice idea, but one that Geiger admits does not come close to actually addressing the problems that arise when you are talking about the kind of money that surrounds the OSU football program.
"Accomplishing that across the board, as you can well imagine, is extremely, extremely difficult," Geiger said.
"That has been demonstrated before, and it has been demonstrated again. I didn't have, and I don't have, an instant answer to the problem."
Fighting an Uphill Battle
Despite his best efforts Geiger found it difficult to have full control over what was happing around the football program during his tenure at OSU. He is fully convinced that the current administration has made the same kind of effort, and now have the same kind of frustrations that he once had.
"I do not think that there was any laxity, or any corruption or any of those kinds of things that are officially part of what has taken place. I never experienced that, I never believed it and I will take it to my grave that these are basically very good people who are doing their best to try and do it the right way. It certainly is within the instructional ethic and culture to try and do it the right way," Geiger said.
"However, it doesn't always get translated across the board to all that play, and that's where you can have difficulty.
"That's how you end up not having Troy Smith for two games including a Bowl game.
"It's how you finally come to a decision that Maurice Clarett can no longer be a part of it, which was Ohio State's decision, not anybody else's decision, because you simply cannot have it both ways.
"You cannot have it (wrongdoing) going on and have it not come out. It becomes part of your culture, and that's where this went wrong," Geiger said.
Geiger paints a pessimistic picture about the ability of administrators to exercise full control over athletes with respect to NCAA compliance. On the other hand, he firmly believes that the current OSU administration did what it could and that those looking for more dirt related to institutional conduct will not find it.
"There isn't anything much more complex about this. They can dig and dig and dig and dig all that they want to, but they're not going to find intentional instructional corruption, or even not paying attention, as part of this. They do pay attention," Geiger said.
An Important Suggestion
While Geiger could offer no silver bullet to totally curb NCAA abuses at OSU, or for that matter any other school, he was absolutely resolute in his opinion that certain policies could lead to a much more-compliant Department of Athletics. Primary among those policies is that the football program cannot be treated in any way special with regard to compliance.
"What Ohio State has to be very, very careful about is making sure that the football program does not become its own athletic department within the athletic department," Geiger said.
"It has to be operated and conducted and cared for and cared about and managed the same way you manage the lacrosse programs or any of the other 36 sports.
"They all have to be centrally managed with the same reporting lines and all of those kinds of things. You just have to be very careful about that, and I know that they'll head in that direction."
Andy Geiger is an astute man, a man who is accustomed to speaking in public. He chooses his words carefully, and I couldn't help but notice that in his statement just above he used the future tense when describing how he expects the OSU department of athletics to operate. That implies that it has strayed from that path, that somewhere along the line the football program has become separate or above what is expected from other OSU athletic programs. It is probably what Mark Titus noticed and wrote about to the consternation of some, but something that Geiger says is almost inevitable when you are talking about a program as important and influential as the OSU football program.
"I think at times that it is so big, so very, very important, that there can become a little bit of differentiation.
"I experienced a little of that and tried to nip it in the bud.
"I'm not saying that this is the case now, but I'm saying that what you have to do is have everyone comply at the same level and with the same intensity, and that it has to be universal."
All that being said, Geiger still believes that full compliance is cannot be achieved via policy or programs, but must come from the full cooperation of the athletes involved. He also knows that gaining that kind of cooperation is nearly impossible, especially when dealing with a football roster of over 100 players when walkons are included.
"It's hard, it's really hard. You can't be with them 24/7, and you shouldn't," he said.
"They're all individuals. There are a hundred individuals there that come from 100 backgrounds. You can't paint them with a broad brush. It just doesn't work."
Despite it all, Geiger remains convinced that Ohio State, and Ohio State football in specific, will emerge from this crisis and continue to be strong.
"In time, the institution and the program will repair and will still be wonderful," he said.
"These are really good people. This is just tragic, because these are all really good people."
He is also hopefully that at least one person no longer with the program, one Jim Tressel, will also be fully repaired.
"I hope people in high places don't turn their backs on him and look at the long run," he said.
"He did a lot for Ohio State."
Part 1 of this series - Tressel Resignation Leaves Buckeye Nation With Great Divide
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