Not just a joke: ACC must punish offending teams in Wake Forest scandal

Wake Forest's firing of a radio analyst who leaked game plan information should just be the beginning of an even bigger scandal—if the ACC wants to maintain its integrity.
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Did you hear this crazy Wake Forest story? The team’s football radio announcer, Tommy Elrod, shared game plan information with Wake Forest opponents.

And Elrod was fired?

Yes, of course.

Wacky. So that’s the end of—

No! That is not the end of that. Are you kidding me? This is a major scandal, and not for Wake Forest. Anybody who used that information from Elrod cheated to win a football game. This includes coach Bobby Petrino and Louisville, the only school that has been publicly called out for studying at the Tommy Elrod Institute of Higher Cheating. It apparently includes other schools as well. If the Atlantic Coast Conference has a shred of integrity, this will lead to major suspensions, at minimum.

The ACC cannot do what many fans already have: laugh at Wake Forest and move on. Think about this for a second, and you’ll realize it’s not just a joke.

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Pure hypothetical here: What if Clemson had used Louisville’s stolen game plan to beat the Cardinals this year, a win that helped land Clemson in the College Football Playoff? That would be an enormous story. Well, this is the same transgression. The ACC can’t minimize this because the victim was “only” Wake Forest.

Louisville spokesperson Rocco Gasparro told the Courier-Journal that Petrino “doesn't have a comment (on) what appears to be a Wake Forest issue.” Rocco, please: a Wake Forest issue? What?

When Petrino hired his mistress at Arkansas over more qualified candidates, then crashed his motorcycle with her on board and lied about it to his bosses, was that a Harley-Davidson issue?

Petrino apparently cheated to win a game. And it was probably easy to do. When Elrod coached at Wake Forest, he was co-coordinator of the passing game. His other co-coordinator, Lonnie Galloway, now works on Petrino’s staff. That sound you hear should be Galloway calling his lawyer.

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Now, you can say other coaches would do what Petrino did, and you are right. In fact, Wake Forest’s statement implies that other schools were involved, and those coaches should also be punished severely.

But I’ve talked to enough football coaches over the years to say, with confidence: A lot of them would not do this. This is also supported by Wake’s statement, which says Elrod “provided or attempted to provide confidential and proprietary game preparations on multiple occasions.” The words “attempted to provide” imply that some coaches told him, “No thanks.” The everybody’s doing it defense is not a defense—and it drives the many honest people in the coaching profession crazy.

If the Patriots got caught doing what Wake’s opponents apparently did, Roger Goodell would take away all their draft choices, starting with pick No. 199 in 2000.

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As I write this, I’m pretty sure that Louisville is investigating new ways to give Petrino a raise. The Cardinals could have a top-10 team, led by a Heisman Trophy winner, next year, and that’s why the school held its nose and re-hired Petrino in the first place. Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich knows fans won’t fill his stadium to watch great sportsmanship. Petrino is delivering in exactly the way Louisville should have expected.

The ACC should have higher standards, though. Earlier this season, the ACC fined Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher $20,000 for ripping the officials when his team lost to Clemson. Well, O.K.—conferences do that. But what’s worse? Complaining about the officiating, or cheating to win a game?

“Your responsibility is to promote fair play,” said one collegiate athletic official. “How can you stand idly by when coaches are accepting game plans surreptitiously?”

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You can’t—because if you do, you’re saying this conduct is O.K. You are telling all your coaches, in all your sports, that they can go swipe a playbook or spy on a practice.

The ACC has a responsibility to protect the integrity of the game—and, by the way, to protect its members. One of many dirty truths about college sports is that many conferences do not treat all members equally. Wake Forest is not Florida State, just as Vanderbilt is not Alabama. Conferences tend to favor their biggest revenue-generators—especially in an era when almost any school is a threat to bolt a conference.

Well, the conference can’t close its eyes and pretend it doesn’t hear Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson screaming. This is too big, too important. This should not be the end of a small, wacky story. It should be the beginning of a much bigger one.