Blum: Above the Ink

By Brent Blum, ColumnistFollow Brent on Twitter @BrentBlum

As the philosopher Jay-Z (by way of the film Dark Knight) once said, "Die and be a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain."

Anymore, this is the story of college football. The Jim Tressel mess is just the latest verse. And from an Iowa State perspective, the organized mayhem that is the world of BCS football gets more disheartening by the day.

The reaction to the Tressel news from most on the message boards was generally a celebratory tone. The prevailing thought was that "The Vest" finally got caught and the Buckeyes will be rightfully put in their place. Hooray for the little guy.

My initial thought after reading the Sports Illustrated piece was how bizarre it was that the downfall of "The Vested One" was caused in large part by tattoo shops eloquently named, "Dudley’z Tattoos and Piercings" and "Fine Line Ink." And excuse my ink naivety, but tattoo "sleeves" cost upwards of several thousand dollars? I definitely chose the wrong career path.

But after looking at the big picture, the shadows cast from the latest college football giant to be brought down to earth darkens an increasingly bleak picture for the Iowa State’s of the world.

If titans like Southern California, Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State and others feel like THEY need to cheat to get ahead, how on earth can Iowa State ever compete on that level?

The playing field is already uneven as it stands. Ohio State’s football program generated close to $70 million in the year 2009 (the last year reported). Yes, $70 million generated for one sport. That is roughly $25 million MORE earned on football than Iowa State generated for their entire athletic budget.  And of that $70 million generated, the Buckeyes  reinvested $32.3 million of those funds back into the football program–tops in the nation. (Coincidentally, Auburn is No. 2 on the list in money spent on football at $29 million–insert Cam Newton joke here).

I have no idea how one would even go about trying to spend $30 million on one sport. Regardless, Tressel and the Bucks allegedly felt like they needed to go above and beyond the black ink. And when all is said and done, Tressel will be without a job and Ohio State will get some kind of punishment with the NCAA. But don’t fret Buckeyes, you will have some company on the "P" block.

Currently there are seven football programs on the NCAA’s  probation list: Florida State, Alabama, Southern California, Michigan, University of Central Florida, New Mexico and Florida International.  (To the latter two schools on that list, I quote the popular phrase, "You’re not doing it right.")

Even media darling Boise State is under some heat for some improprieties in their football program and self-imposed a scholarship reduction for the upcoming years. Yes, poor ole’ Boise felt the urge to get an extra leg up on the powerful WAC.

These schools all say the same thing: They will learn from this and be a better program for it. But much like we learned with Tiger Woods, "Show me a beautiful woman, and I will show you a man who will cheat on her." It’s inevitable that these programs will get caught with their hand in the cookie jar again. History says so.

According to, since the NCAA starting handing out sanctions in 1953, 74 separate schools have been placed on probation by the NCAA. This includes every Big 12 and SEC school, except Missouri and Vanderbilt. (Cyclone fans thank you Jim Criner.)

Think about that, over 60 percent of the schools competing in Division One have been on probation at one time or another.  And those are just the ones who have been caught.

For some schools, it’s a repeated pattern. Everyone knows about SMU’s travails in the ’70’s and ’80’s, but traditional powers USC, Auburn and Oklahoma and aren’t far behind. SMU has spent 17 years on probation since 1953. When USC’s probation is up in 2013, they will have spent 15 years on probation, Auburn is third with 11 years and Oklahoma fourth with 10 years.

And yet the beat goes on.

I doubt much will change at Ohio State. The Tressel era will be swept under the rug, Terrelle Pryor will take some heat for driving a new ride and they will be forced to forego several scholarships. But in a few years, the Buckeyes will be back atop the national picture with a big name coach and blue-chippers across the board, seemingly no worse for the wear.

And where does that leave Iowa State?

It’s easy to get disenchanted. As if the conference realignment missile crisis wasn’t frustrating enough.

Paul Rhoads fights an uphill battle each day trying to get kids to commit to playing in Ames. Yet the juggernauts can reload on top talent despite coming in and out of violations and probation. The top four recruiting classes according to this past February were: 1. Alabama 2. Florida State 3. Texas 4. USC. Three of the four are on active NCAA probation. Quite the deterrent I must say.

As sad as it is, there is no real fix. It’s been an ongoing issue since the ’50’s. There is no reason to think anything will change.

Welcome to big-time college football–where if you dodge enough NCAA bullets, you can go from villain to hero. Just be sure to hide the tattoo receipts next time.