No matter how you spin it, it’s clearly visible that college football has dug itself into some serious holes as of late, making NCAA violations look like the norm rather than the rare.
While most major programs have steered clear of the “NCAA Police” thus far, that doesn’t mean violations are not being committed on a daily basis throughout the landscape of college football. Although most of these violations will go mysteriously unnoticed, some programs haven’t been so “lucky” in this regard.
In what was the true eye-opener to the illegal side of college athletics, former powerhouse USC was brought down—and hard—after the NCAA found them in several major violations, including giving improper benefits to former star Reggie Bush.
Bush, responsible for a Heisman trophy and a national championship while wearing a Trojan helmet, and head coach Pete Carroll were the focus of the NCAA’s hammer-down.
But fortunately for those two, their time at USC had run out before much punishment could be done to either men. Bush, now with the New Orleans Saints, was stripped of his Heisman and championship rings, but little else was done to the former star who lived as a Hollywood celebrity throughout his years at Southern California.
And even more so, Carroll packed his bags and headed for the NFL right before much could be done to the Trojan general. After all, besides taking away statistics, wins and trophies, how much can be done to an individual after his college career runs out? Carroll’s overall legacy at the school may forever be tainted, but his success and experiences will never be stripped from him.
For Ohio State’s Jim Tressel, this whole breaking-NCAA-rules process didn’t turn out so unpunishable. Still with his program at the time of the investigation, Tressel went from fan-favorite to the second-most hated person in the state of Ohio, sitting behind none other than King James himself. In wake of his forced resignation, the Buckeyes went from media darling to a program in desperate need of help; the days of Terrelle Pryor and Tressel’s dominance long, long gone.
In comparison, Carroll and Tressel can be summed up in short: dishonest, successful head coaches who took their programs all the way up. However, what goes up always comes down. One difference, however, is Tressel went down with his program.
Carroll, on the other hand—not so much.
This reason alone should move Carroll up a notch on the all-time villain list. The former USC coach drove his program into the ground, began to watch it burn slowly, and bolted for “greener” pastures by taking the Seattle job, removing himself from any personal hammer-downs by the NCAA.
Tressel, on the other hand, was hammered down and left with no such opportunity; no NFL team to bolt to and certainly no escape-route from the NCAA. At least, in this respect, Tressel was the better NCAA-violating man.
Now without Tressel or Carroll lurking in the shadows of college football, USC and Ohio State have each began their own personal bounce-back.
Out of the two, there is no question which lies in worse condition—the Trojans not only were stripped of trophies, but were punished with the loss of 30 scholarships and a two-year bowl ban (up in 2012). Although the bowl ban was disheartening for most Trojans fans, the scholarship losses will end up being the harshest sentence, as the roster will start feeling the effect in the next few years in a big way.
Although Ohio State will feel the immediate effect of losing its poster boy in Tressel and the school’s star quarterback in Pryor, the program will feel the effects for only a season or two in different ways than the effects on USC.
The biggest concern for the Buckeyes will be how the latest benefits scandal will impact this year’s recruiting haul, as many top recruits will have raised questions on the honesty of the program by the time National Signing Day rolls around, which may have them thinking twice about becoming a Buckeye.
The glory days of Carroll are far behind us, and Tressel's spotlight is just in the beginning stages of its fade into black. Their legacies, programs and reputations have all now made the transition from coaching hero to NCAA villain.
Carroll, however, will forever be remembered as the villain that started it all and ruined last decade's empire of the Trojan army.