A saucy female perspective on sports pop-culture

Friday, March 10, 2006

1999 Final Four

Wow! If I had known that my 1999 OSU Final Four hat would be so valuable, I wouldn’t have worn it while working out and given it so much “character.” (When I say “character,” I am fondly referring to the sweat stains, rips, and tears that grace the hat.) I’m sure you might be wondering why such a unique object is now so precious. Well, for one, I’m hoping the NCAA isn’t going to remand my hat the way they have ordered Ohio State to remove their “1999 Final Four” banner due to penalties resulting from NCAA violations suffered during the 1999-2002 seasons. Secondly, with the NCAA ruling comes a bevy of other penalties, such as wiping out records from four NCAA tournaments, which includes that famous Final Four appearance. My hat will live in infamy because it will be the only remaining proof that OSU really did reach the Final Four in my lifetime! (The last time they had reached the big dance was in 1962 when they lost to Cincinnati and they claimed the title in 1960 defeating California.) Given the egregious error in judgment by former coach, Jim O’Brian, is forcing the school and the record books to erase evidence of the team’s success really an appropriate punishment? Why should the student athletes who worked so hard, then and now, be forced to pay a price for a coach’s dishonest deeds?

If you’re wondering how Coach O’Brian misfired, he gave a recruit $6,000 five years ago, well actually he gave the recruit’s mother the money. I suppose you could call O’Brian a softie because the recruit was a foreign student who had fallen on hard times and the coach just wanted to help him out. O’Brian argued that it was not a violation because they player, Aleksandar Radojevic, was a former professional player in his home country of Serbia and thus has forfeited his amateur status. Secondly, the coach knew he the money fell in a “grey-area” because he and his administration attempted to conceal the cash payment from the University. The truth about the loan came out when a separate and private law suit by a private citizen indicting two separate boosters for “failure to pay $359,910” for housing, feeding, supporting, and doing school work for Boban Savovic, another OSU basketball recruit. Clearly this was another massive NCAA violation. In hearings the Savovic suit, the $6,000 came out and all illegal infractions were brought to the table. Ironically, Radojevic never did play for or attend OSU because the NCAA ruled him ineligible due to the money he received as a professional player in Serbia. Can anyone tell me why OSU felt the need to recruit all these Eastern European players in the first place? What’s wrong with your own Ohio boys?

So flash-forward to March 10, 2006, OSU has been placed on three years’ probation, is forced to whip out records of four seasons, and repay the NCAA $800,000 from tournament revenues. The team will no longer be banned from post-season play, which is a HUGE relief considering that this year they are 22-4 and have greatest recruiting class in the country coming in to school for next season. If the NCAA had banned OSU from post-season play, not only would they not play in the tournament this year, the new recruits would have been released from their letters of intent and all that work to rebuild the tarnished program would have been lost.

So with all the logistics out of the way, how fair is it to punish players and coaches of the present for the mistakes of the past? Due to the allegations, OSU self-imposed a postseason ban that affected last year’s team. The current coach, Thad Matta, has had to deal with the scrutiny of the NCAA and bad press as much as the former coach has in light of all the talk, investigations, and court dealings. Striking the records from the books hurts the players more than it does the school. Although Savovic did play for OSU all four years, including the 1999 season, how is it right to erase the work of a TEAM for the infractions of one player and a bevy of irresponsible coaches, adults, and boosters? To make matters even more entertaining, after Jim O’Brian was found guilty of violations, OSU fired him, and rightly so. To counter his dismissal, O’Brian sued the school for wrongfully sacking him because according to his suit, he could only be fired for a “material breach” of contract and argued that the $6,000 loan didn’t qualify and that OSU is required to pay him for the firing. Pay is right, OSU might have to pay O’Brian as much as $9.5 million for that firing. So who really looses here? Clearly the coach who started the shenanigans is going to earn a million-dollar payout that could set him up for the rest of life. Sure, he’ll have a hard time coaching again and until 2011, any school that wants to hire him will have to appear before the NCAA, but the tarnish and clouds surrounding his misconduct brand the currently players and the school more publicly than they do O’Brian.

Luckily, OSU rebounded this season to a stellar 22-4 season and currently are ranked #7, won the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Championship and are slated to take a decent stab at the Final Four. If all goes Coach Matta’s way, by the end of next month the probation and violations will no longer follow him around as much as the glory and glow of an exciting run to Atlanta and the big dance. The players from this seasons team have etched their names in the record books for good and stand little chance of having those accounts erased. If I get my way, I’ll have a new hat to add to my collection of “OSU Championships” and maybe I’ll get to witness the first OSU men’s basketball championship winning game!


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