Sugar Bowl CEO: ‘Integrity of game’ Trumps NCAA

Ken Gordon of the COLUMBUS DISPATCH reports today that after Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan found out on Dec. 7, 2010, that five Ohio State players might be ruled ineligible for his New Orleans bowl game because of NCAA rule violations, he “pressured” Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith lobby the NCAA to keep the players eligible.

Terrelle Pryor: Athlete-Student

Hoolahan to Gordon:

“I made the point that anything that could be done to preserve the integrity of this year’s game, we would greatly appreciate it. That appeal did not fall on deaf ears, and I’m extremely excited about it, that the Buckeyes are coming in at full strength and with no dilution.”

Despite knowing that Ohio State players had broken NCAA rules repeatedly, Sugar Bowl CEO Hoolahan injected himself into the NCAA investigation process and may have been influential in the NCAA accepting the same ignorance-of-the-rules defense that NCAA athletes have been using ineffectively for over a century.

All in the name of “preserving the integrity of this year’s game.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the NCAA subsequently ruled that Ohio State players could play in the Sugar Bowl because they were unaware that selling OSU football related items and receiving extra benefits from a tattoo parlor owner - because of their status as Buckeye football players - was against NCAA rules. AD Smith also later confirmed that his NCAA compliance department at the school, the largest in the nation, did not adequately inform the guilty OSU players of the extra benefits rule.

As reported here last Saturday
, a prominent Buckeye football player who was on the team when the NCAA violations occurred, Thaddeus Gibson, later disputed Smith’s claim that players didn’t know the rules by saying that Smith and OSU coaches made players aware of the rules in question “all the time.” Gibson himself also received tattoos from the same establishment that the guilty Buckeye football players were associated with.

Thaddeus Gibson: Players Knew The Rules

So if the NCAA’s interpretation of its own rules was the key in whether or not the five Ohio State players were able to play in the Sugar Bowl, why didn’t Hoolahan instead direct his plea to the NCAA office in Indianapolis?

More from Gordon and Hoolahan:

Hoolahan said the Southeastern Conference, which has its tie-in with the Sugar Bowl, was eager to “display its wares against this type of opponent,” referring to an intact OSU squad.

He said he was aware of the sentiment among many Buckeyes fans that the players should not be allowed to play.

“I appreciate and fully understand the Midwestern values and ethics behind that,” he said. “But I’m probably thinking of this from a selfish perspective.”

Does Hoolahan, who makes over $600,000 to stage one exhibition game a year, sound like the kind of guy the NCAA wants representing its student-athletes? (Or in this case, athlete-students?)

If the NCAA knows it can make considerably more money with a college football playoff system, which would also eliminate corrupt BCS bowl carnival barkers like Hoolahan from having undue influence on major NCAA rulings why hasn’t a playoff happened?

Ask Jim Delany.

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