U.S. Basketball Writers Association 2011 BEST WRITING CONTEST
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FIRST PLACE: COLUMN
Ohio State AD has no business chairing NCAA basketball committee
David Teel, Newport News Daily Press

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith has no business chairing the NCAA basketball tournament selection committee this weekend.

Two reasons.

His preposterous support Tuesday of Jim Tressel, the Buckeyes' unrepentant rogue of a football coach, leaves Smith with zero credibility.

The scandal engulfing Ohio State football demands his total attention and undoubtedly will distract him as the basketball panel is sequestered in Indianapolis to construct the 68-team bracket.

As you undoubtedly know, Yahoo! Sports on Monday exposed the button-downed Tressel as a fraud. For nine months he withheld from his superiors and the university's compliance staff information that at least two of his players were involved in a federal drug case and the sale of memorabilia in violation of NCAA rules.

During a hastily arranged Tuesday evening news conference, Tressel strained all credulity by saying he didn't know where to take the information.

"I don't think less of myself at this moment," he said.

Excuse me? You're not some rube from Rochester. You've been coaching an iconic program for 10 years and have a national championship ring to show for it.

The moment you know of anything that sniffs of an NCAA violation you don't walk to the compliance office and athletic director. You run!

For this blatant ethical breach, Ohio State suspended Tressel two games and fined him $250,000, the judicial equivalent of a 10-minute timeout for pulling your sister's hair.

This weeks after Radford suspended basketball coach Brad Greenberg for four games for the cardinal sin of taking an ineligible player on a team trip so the player, from France, wouldn't be alone on campus over Thanksgiving.

Keep in mind, the trip was to Charlotte. Via bus. Not to Maui via charter jet.

So you tell me which school has a firmer grasp on reality.

Greenberg's crime was rooted in compassion, Tressel's in cold calculation.

Smith added to the absurdity with unconditional support of Tressel.

"Wherever we end up, Jim Tressel is our football coach," Smith said. "He is our coach, and we trust him implicitly."

This is whom the NCAA entrusts with its signature committee? An athletic director who's that cavalier about NCAA violations?

Despite the near-nuclear fallout, Smith plans to soldier on as committee chair this weekend, and NCAA officials have no plans to remove him.

"I am so lucky," he said during a Wednesday teleconference. "As you know, I'm blessed with an outstanding staff at the Ohio State University. This committee is made up of a great deal of experience in this industry. They're very close, cohesive. We work well together. Then we're supported by a great NCAA staff.

"We have two committee members who were having personal family challenges that we talked about on Saturday morning in our conference call, tried to help them feel comfortable with their personal issues that are significantly greater than mine. They had to go through some challenges. Things worked out well.

"Logistically, the NCAA worked with me to handle my travel in a great way. I'm ready to roll, get this responsibility going."

Sorry, but I'm not buying what he's selling. There's no chance the S curve and Virginia Tech's record against the top 50 will be foremost in Smith's mind.

Hey, I'm sure Smith is an experienced multi-tasker. But this isn't like toggling between Facebook and Twitter. This is, as Comrade Fairbank suggests, walking a tightrope with your pants on fire.

Gene Smith ought to get off the tightrope and grab a fire extinguisher. He should recuse himself from basketball committee deliberations, return to Ohio State and starting cleaning up the Buckeyes' scandalous football program.

Second place: Graham Couch, Kalamazoo Gazette
Third place: David Jones, Harrisburg Patriot-News
Fourth place: John Feinstein, Washington Post
Fifth place: Bud Withers, Seattle Times