Am I to believe Clarett, someone whose reputation and word is so poor that a perfectly reasonable analyst on ESPN wouldn’t believe him under any circumstance? And if not, how do I ignore the corroborating stories by other former OSU players Marco Cooper, Curtis Crosby and B.J. Barre? Even former OSU and Minnesota Vikings star Robert Smith has gone on record as saying violations probably occurred. Smith, however, emphatically supported the University and doubted whether it was the source for cash payments, car rentals and other improper benefits. According to Smith, the most likely scenario is that football boosters, rich alumni supporters of the football team, were providing secret benefits unbeknownst to the Athletic Department.
Or am I to believe Ohio State University and its athletic director, Andy Geiger, who told reporters last week, “I hope there is the most thorough investigation in the history of intercollegiate athletics, because this is so bogus I can’t even characterize it.” Now that sounds like a risky declaration if I’ve ever heard one! Especially considering that this is the same athletic director whose men’s basketball coach was recently fired for paying a former recruit $6,000. If Jim O’Brien could pay his basketball players, what’s stopping Jim Tressel and the boosters from paying football players as well?
Whenever I hear about improper benefits being paid to recruited scholarship athletes, I immediately think of “Blue Chips,” the 1994 movie staring Nick Nolte, Shaquille O’Neal and my favorite player, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway. “Blue Chips” is one of those movies, like “Varsity Blues,” that most people agree have more than a hint of truth in them. It’s sad to think that $100 handshakes actually exist and free cars are actually provided to star players, but I can’t help but believe it as infractions are continually found in all sports.
The story of Maurice Clarett is actually a little sad. He had the potential to be a great college and professional football player, and now he has put all of that in serious doubt. I don’t distrust that he received improper benefits, and I firmly believe that he was “helped” with his academics while at Ohio State. Ohio State does after all ::cough:: Andy Katzenmoyer ::cough:: have a history of academic improprieties.
I’m very interested in learning how this will situation pan out. If boosters are found to be giving football players illegal money, it could lead to a larger NCAA investigation into the role boosters play at major universities. Don’t be surprised to learn that what happens in “Blue Chips” occurs in almost every major basketball and football program across the country. But don’t worry Lord Jeff fans-I’m fairly certain that our football players aren’t having their pockets lined with $100 bills.
Standing by my earlier statements
A month ago, when the Atlanta Falcons were 4-0, I said they were not as good as their record implied. I asked if anyone would want Michael Vick leading their hometown team down the field with two minutes left facing a five-point deficit. Well, they are now 7-2, on top of the NFC South with a commanding three-game lead, and on their way to a conference title. Time to eat my words, right?
WRONG. I’m sticking by my claim that the Falcons are not as good as their 7-2 record would suggest. Vick has thrown for over 200 yards only once this whole season, the team has had only three 80-plus-yard rushing performances and only one 100-yard receiving performance. Offenses like this do not win championships. Yes, the Falcons have some impressive wins over San Diego, Denver and St. Louis, but they also got blown out by Kansas City and still have two games left against second-place New Orleans.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Falcons win 11 games, but I would be shocked if they made it as far as the NFC Championship game. The NFC this season is shaping up more and more like the NBA’s Eastern Conference; an ugly, less-talented younger sibling. I would list as many as eight AFC teams as better than the Falcons, and I think the Eagles are the only NFC team with as much as an outside chance of winning the Super Bowl. The AFC, on the other hand, has as many as four or five teams with legitimate Super Bowl contenders, including the Patriots, Steelers, Colts and Ravens, among others.
The team that everyone is talking about this week, however, comes out of the NFC. The Green Bay Packers, written off after losing four of their first five games, are now sitting atop their division. Brett Favre is quietly putting together MVP numbers, and the Packers’ defense is starting to look almost respectable. Favre is really an amazing story. Not only did his season start out terribly, but his wife is sick, and people started talking about his early retirement. Now, nine weeks into the season, he looks as good as ever with one of the best wide receiver groups he’s ever had. Javon Walker and Donald Driver have 1400+ yards and 12 touchdowns between them, and Ahman Green has over 1000 total yards. The Packers right now are the only team I see capable of taking down the mighty Eagles in the NFC.