How People Learned to Stop Thinking

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Established October 31, 1996
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Last updated: 07/24/2011 8:19 PM
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A Nation Enraged, or "How People Learned To Stop Thinking For Themselves and Let Others Do It For Them"
By Tony Gerdeman

That sound you heard on Friday afternoon was the simultaneous wailing of the collective horde of national writers as they were ceremoniously drenched with a bucket of humility, resignation and reality.

The NCAA told Ohio State that they found no new infractions and that a Failure to Monitor charge would not be coming. The opinion-givers melted into a puddle of pus and muck, all the while screaming “What a world! What a world!”

While the ultimate sanctions aren't known yet, it is doubtful that a postseason ban will be handed down, which is apparently the one penalty that writers had been praying for. Literally.

For months we have heard the speculation about what people should expect Ohio State's punishment to be, but it was always based on reports that never seemed to turn out to be very accurate.

There was oft-laughed about George Dohrmann piece in Sports Illustrated that labeled nine other Buckeyes as rule-breakers. Eight of those players were cleared. If batting .200 is considered the 'Mendoza Line', then .111 should be the 'Dohrmann Line'.

Dohrmann tweeted on Friday that the NCAA wouldn't grant his grand source "Ellis" anonymity, so Ellis chose not to talk to the NCAA because he feared retribution from Ed Rife.

Ironically, when Jim Tressel talked about fearing for his players' safety regarding Rife retribution, it was laughed off as a lie. But it turns out that this fear is a real and apparent thing, or else Ellis would have talked to the NCAA, and Dohrmann wouldn't have had to hide his source's identity in the first place.

At least Dohrmann acknowledges that being afraid of what Rife was capable of is a legitimate concern, even if he won't admit it.

Despite the firestorm leading up to it, the article was quickly and immensely panned. People should have remembered that - me included - when the next bit of news broke little more than a week later.

Sports gossip site Sports by Brooks reported, and confirmed his own report, that the NCAA had found checks that were given to Terrelle Pryor as payment for signing memorabilia.

The next day, Dan Wetzel with Yahoo! took that bit of news and wrote a piece entitled "Why the OSU case is worse than that of USC".

In the piece, Wetzel cites two main reasons why Ohio State was worse than USC. The first being that Pryor was receiving checks.

"It’s the proof that the school, and its highest leaders, not only failed to monitor the behavior of its star athletes, but even when tipped off by federal authorities of a major scandal, failed to find out what was actually going on."

The second bit of "reasoning" was that USC didn't find out about Reggie Bush's violations until after he was gone. Ohio State found out about Pryor's violations while he was still in school, and somehow that's actually worse than NOT finding anything while the kid is still in school.

Isn't the fact that Ohio State found out about infractions proof of monitoring, and not LACK of it? Whereas USC let Reggie Bush finish playing before acknowledging his wrongdoing. I don't see how this can be debated.

With the NCAA coming out and saying that they have found no new violations, it would seem to reason that Sports by Brooks was wrong when he said, and confirmed, that the NCAA had checks in Pryor's name, and if there are no checks, then Wetzel's premise was just an exercise in conclusion jumping - and guessing wrong.

Wetzel is an incredibly-respected writer and reporter, and so for him to write something like this tells you a little bit about the national perception. It's okay to be wrong as long as everybody agrees with what you're writing.

Even though we don't know what the final punishment will be, rest assured that a lot of people have been wrong about this.

It's not hard to see why when you have logic failures like this tweet from Dennis Dodd on Friday night:

"It's clear from this non-finding that the enforcement model is beyond broken. How does this deter any coach from doing the same?"

Jim Tressel lost his job, and somewhere north of $20 million dollars. How's that for a deterrent?

Many folks responded to Dodd with just such a comment. As you would expect, he chose not to respond, because he would have to admit he was wrong, and that's something a lot of people have a hard time doing. That's why we saw so much rage on Friday.

Dodd, and others, on the back of this decision are calling for the NCAA enforcement practices to be burned down, blown up, tarred, feathered, and possibly even purple nurpled.

Back in May, the NCAA invited media members to attend a mock enforcement session. Here's an interesting point made by Dodd in his piece about attending that session:

"In each case, there are layers of rules, nuance and policies to be understood. We as a society largely don't have the attention span or interest to follow along."

No kidding. Nor do most writers, apparently.

ESPN's Pat Forde, he of the notion that Ohio State's self-imposed sanctions were akin to 50 lashes with a wet noodle, also attended the session. Here's what he wrote:

"They want us to write nice things about the enforcement process, of course, and we will, because enforcement director Julie Roe Lach and her staff deserve it after lifting the curtain on the most controversial and misunderstood thing the NCAA does. The association is gradually emerging from decades of bunker mentality in which it was secretive about everything - especially enforcement - and this was another step forward in that regard."

Wetzel took part in the session as well, and had this to write:

"Fans would feel reassured knowing people such as this are trying to keep college football and basketball in line. Most cries from the public demand stronger sanctions (as long as they are consistently applied). The committee on infractions says the same thing."

How things change.

I believe these people wouldn't be so angry if they had taken some time to do some research that didn't consist solely of innuendo and rumor. But let's be honest, innuendo and rumor is so much easier.

Research takes a lot of work. Researching past sanctions over the last 20 years involving 10.1 violations took me the better part of an entire weekend.

There is really no reason for a national writer to do that kind of work because it's easier just to write what you think, as opposed to what others know.

Our job is to cover Ohio State. Their job is to talk about college football. Can you see the difference?

The problem starts when opinion is laundered into fact. It starts out as one thing, passes through several hands, and somehow comes back as science.

When you add that in with bad reporting, like Sports by Brooks saying that he was hearing that the Ohio State sanctions will be like the Baylor basketball sanctions, which saw them barred from playing any non-conference games, things tend to get a little out of control.

Yet this information is consumed like tin cans in an old man's goat field.

Writers dug themselves a hole when they lumped Ohio State together with USC and held the two in constant comparison.

USC held the NCAA at bay while Ohio State invited them in. USC violated 31 bylaws. Ohio State violated five. The similarity stops at the fact that both five and 31 are prime numbers, yet people cling to the two schools like a lifeboat.

The national writers can continue to pretend to be upset as long as they like. It will actually give them something to write about, meaning they're not really all that upset about the situation.

In the end, I contend that if more people had done actual research, they wouldn't be surprised at the current direction the sanctions are heading.

We have tried to put things as straightforwardly as possible, because that's what the invested reader wants and deserves.

I certainly contend that our readers shouldn't be surprised with Friday's announcement, especially given that this is what we've been saying is likely to happen for a while now.

It may pay to be reactionary, but after a while it costs you your credibility. I guess that's why it's just easier to attack the entities that made it happen in the first place.

Don't be angry at the NCAA, be angry at the people who did your "research" for you. Then be angry at yourself for running with it like a baton on the anchor leg.

It's okay to admit when you're wrong, but as I said earlier, as long as people agree with you, you can be wrong seven days a week and people will still nod like they have never seen truth presented in such an amazing way.

Even when writers are wrong, the only thing that matters are mouse clicks and papers bought.

Remember, there are no sanctions for writers being wrong, only for being ignored.

Related Story - Tressel Explains his silence to NCAA

Related Story - Ohio State Avoids Failure to Monitor Charges

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