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Sports commentary: The Grim Reaper

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The Ohio State situation points to a need for the death penalty

By Mike Forster

  This being the sports section, I’ll not bother you with my views on the death penalty as it relates to law and order in our society.

I will however, share my opinion on the death penalty as it relates to college football:  It is needed.  And it is needed now.

The shenanigans that are being uncovered in Columbus, Ohio, should give sports fans great pause.  Things have gotten well out of hand.

Don’t kid yourself for a second:  If it is going on at Ohio State, it’s going on at a lot of other high profile programs.

That’s where the death penalty comes into the picture.

The death penalty is a little-used option that the NCAA has at its disposal.  It is used when a program is so far out of line that it has been deemed incorrigible.

The program is “killed” for a couple of years.  That means it will likely take decades for it to get back on its feet.

In the 1980s, SMU was such a program.  A growing powerhouse (fueled by some shady operations), SMU was hit with the death penalty in 1987.  

The school still has not returned to prominence.  I can guarantee you that it is a clean program, nonetheless.  That’s what the death penalty does.

First off, I’m not declaring that the gallows need to be broken out for Ohio State.  It would be unfair to single out the Buckeyes after so many others have gotten off lightly for so much for so long.

I do believe, however, that those gallows need to be built and tested so that they are ready to use.  Why?

Because, absent a credible threat that might deter such actions, it is human nature to continue behaving badly.

Credible threats are at the foundation of our society.  You do something bad, you go to prison (for the most part).

Credible threats of dire punishment work.

I just finished a book about the Chicago Black Sox World Series scandal.  In 1919, members of the team conspired with gamblers to throw that year’s Series.

A new commissioner of the sport threw the eight Sox principals out of baseball, in spite of the fact that they were acquitted in a court of law.

The author of the book was very sympathetic to Joe Jackson, one of the eight.  This author argued that Jackson deserved to be inducted into its Hall of Fame.

This author missed the point of the banishments.

The commissioner at the time, Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, sent a message with his penalty.  

Did those eight men suffer a penalty that outweighed their crime?  Perhaps.

Was baseball saved from the influence of gamblers?  Undoubtedly.  As a result, I can guarantee that Pete Rose will only tour the Hall of Fame as a visitor, just like you and me.

College football needs this kind of message.  One that will save it from overzealous alumni and sleazy businessmen.

The NCAA needs to send out a “We’re not kidding around anymore” message.  Give the schools a year, or so, to get themselves cleaned up.

After that, any major violations, such as illicit payouts or cheating on the meeting of academic eligibility gets your program a two-year moratorium on playing.  In other words, the school would get a visit from the big man with the ax and the black hood.

I’ll tell you how many death penalties would have to be meted out before the ship of college football was righted:  no more than two.

Those two will be the ones that everyone will point to when they resist engaging in bad behavior; behaviors, by the way that were formerly regarded with a wink and a nudge.

It would be a gutsy thing for the NCAA to do.  Let’s hope that, somewhere in its bureaucracy, there sits another man with the temperament of a Kennesaw Mountain Landis.