Welcome to the premiere of America's newest game show, We Hope You're Not Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader, in which coaches, parents and sports executives compete to see who tried to slip the most blatant violations and ethical misdeeds past the NCAA, the public or both—all for fabulous cash and prizes!
This is an article from the April 11, 2011 issue
And what a scandal-filled few months it's been. Why, just last week there was a report on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel in which former Auburn players claimed that they had been provided with money and sexual favors at various schools during their recruitment. Plus, Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, in the midst of the NCAA tournament, was busy fending off reporters' questions about a recruiting violation. Whew. Since the wrongdoers seem to be trying to top each other with some of the most shameless cheating in memory, why not make the competition official? Let's meet today's contestants.
First, say hello to a 58-year-old father of four who left a malodorous e-mail trail of misconduct—from Ohio State, football coach Jim Tressel!
Next, he's a newly unemployed Tennessee basketball coach who admitted lying to NCAA investigators about recruiting violations—give it up for Bruce Pearl!
You would be more likely to recognize this next contestant if he had his hand out. That's right, he's the zany dad who tried to sell the quarterbacking services of his son. Cecil Newton, come on down!
Finally, in the yellow blazer bulging with one-dollar bills is the CEO of the Fiesta Bowl, who was fired last week for, among other things, reportedly using bowl funds for a $1,200 visit to a strip club. It's John Junker!
Welcome to the rogues' gallery, gentlemen. Coach Tressel, let's start with you. When you received an e-mail from an attorney last April alerting you that several of your players, including quarterback Terrelle Pryor, were violating NCAA rules by selling and exchanging memorabilia for tattoos, you not only failed to inform anyone in the school administration but also allowed the team members to keep playing. Your explanation: You were trying to protect the confidentiality of a federal investigation of the tattoo parlor owner. Bonus points for that inspired bit of excuse-making! You then signed a form assuring the NCAA that you were unaware of the violations, even after you had forwarded the original e-mail to one of Pryor's mentors. It was a brazen series of transgressions followed by an utterly lame alibi. Well done, sir.
Now to you, ex-coach Pearl. You illegally recruited several players by inviting them to your home for a barbecue. Dishonesty: check. Then you denied it to NCAA investigators until photos from the cookout came to light. Cover-up: check. When you were found out, you threw yourself on the mercy of the NCAA and admitted your wrongdoing. "I learned that it's not O.K. to tell the truth most of the time," you told a press conference, "but you've got to tell the truth all of the time."
Oooh, we're sorry, Bruce. We were looking for some creative blame-dodging there. I'm afraid that trace of integrity, sincere or not, will cost you valuable points and eliminate you from the competition. But thanks for playing our game. As a consolation prize, when you shake our producer's hand on your way out, he'll slip $100 into your palm.
Next, we have Reverend Newton. When your son Cam was being recruited in 2009, you told Mississippi State it would cost as much as $180,000 to make him a Bulldog. I'm afraid that lack of originality earns you zero points. But you more than made up for it with your defense during the investigation, that Cam shouldn't be punished because he was unaware you had put him up for auction. The NCAA actually bought that Cam was in the dark, your son didn't miss a second of playing time in leading Auburn to the national title, and you, Reverend, created a lasting loophole for future cheating parents: They can just say they did everything behind the player's back. Congratulations—you just eliminated Coach Tressel from contention.
That brings us to you, Mr. Junker. A Fiesta Bowl investigation revealed that, among other things, you allegedly used the bowl's funds to fly legislators to Boston for a Virginia Tech--Boston College football game ($65,000), a golfing junket to Pebble Beach ($33,000) and the notorious strip-club festivities.
For that last expense, you offered a defense destined to become a classic: It was all research. "We are in the business where big strong athletes are known to attend these types of establishments," you told investigators. "It was important for us to visit, and we certainly conducted business." For conjuring up an excuse both comical and wildly unbelievable, Mr. Junker, you are today's grand prize winner! Take a look at your brand new car! (Of course, if you tell anyone that we gave you a car, we will vigorously deny it. This never happened. Do we understand each other?)
That's all the time we have, folks. Thanks to all our contestants for setting an example of dishonesty and duplicity for young athletes to follow, while ensuring that our show will have a steady supply of sports figures with shaky ethics and questionable character for years to come. Be sure to stay tuned for another new game show, Who Wants to Insult My Intelligence?, with cohosts Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Goodnight, everybody!
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