Ohio State: Compliance national champs?

Realpolitik. - Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

After the embarrassing and costly tattoo scandal, Ohio State administrators set an ambitious goal for the university athletic department: to have the best NCAA compliance system in the country.

How is Ohio State trying to prevent another scandal from happening?

Brad Wolverton, of the Chronicle of Higher Education, dug into the nitty gritty on how Ohio State hopes to keep athletes out of trouble ($), from the school hiring former Buckeye/rule-breaker Jason Singleton to help educate student athletes and community members, to beefing up their 1.1 million dollar enforcement operation to 14 staff members.

Making sure every T is crossed and I dotted is an overwhelming job, given the sheer amount of ways students can get themselves in trouble. Cars, hundred-dollar handshakes and tattoos may be obvious examples, but Singleton and his coworkers have hit everything, even the free game tickets football players are given for their families. From Wolverton:

The ticket office, where Mr. Singleton stops later, is where much of the monitoring takes place. Each player is allowed to give out four complimentary tickets per game, with most going to family and friends. Players are not permitted to give passes to employers, agents, or boosters.

Pre-tattoo scandal, Ohio State performed random spot-checks on about 10 percent of the names on players' lists for tickets. After that, officials started placing calls to all 4,000 or so people set to receive free tickets every year. This season, more than 100 didn't check out.

The addition to detail is admirable, but given the importance of a coaching staff's commitment to running a clean program, and the inability of coaches and staff members to babysit kids 24/7, increased compliance spending may not guarantee potential problems will be sniffed out in time. The onus is still on coaches to recruit and educate quality kids.

Ohio State's coaching and compliance staff realize this, leading them to undertake a bold and perhaps controversial move. From Wolverton again:

Starting this season, each assistant football coach is responsible for ensuring that every player has a checking account and a personal budget (players can’t suit up otherwise). The coaches are required to monitor players’ spending habits to make sure they don’t get in financial trouble.

On one hand, this move makes a lot of sense. Every college student could use a little help managing their money, especially kids who may come from more disadvantaged backgrounds. Ohio State Public Servant of the Year Gene Smith certainly agrees.

"Some of our guys from low socioeconomic environments were getting a $3,000 Pell Grant, and all of a sudden they're spending it on an iPhone and whatever else today's bling is," says Gene Smith, the Buckeyes' athletic director. "Now, we're teaching them about their cars, their apartment leases, and how to have a budget. An assistant coach is engaged—not just the compliance office."

#BLINGBLING. Nipping financial problems in the bud might not only make students less likely to hawk autographs for critical needs like tattoos (or you know, rent), but could help set them up for success after college.

Critics worry that this Big Brother-ism represents an unreasonable breach of the privacy of student-athletes. Athletes already have their dietary and study habits monitored by the school. Is it necessary to have to defend their purchase Call of Duty or iTunes downloads to a university administrator? What's next? I'm fairly certain Mike Leach will be the first coach to try and veto a football player's dating decisions. Are we ready for GENE SMITH: ATHLETIC DIRECTOR AND WINGMAN EXTRAORDINAIRE?

If this is a trend for big budget athletic programs, you have to wonder if will eventually play a role in recruiting, since higher academic and personal conduct standards certainly do (ask BYU how their 'no girls in boy's dorms or booze' rule helps on the recruiting trail). Would this create an incentive for schools to lower their standards relative to their peers?

Imagine, if you will, Houston Nutt putting his arm on a Tight End prospect and saying something to the effect of "Son, here at Texas State, we trust our athletes enough to make the right choice. We're not going to send a babysitter or a bureaucrat to monitor your checking account, or if you're going to class. We empower you to do what's right. Do you want to go somewhere where you aren't trusted? Step into my Circle of Trust....GIGGITYBORKUS." Don't tell me this isn't a feasible scenario.

At the end of the day, keeping hundreds of student athletes in compliance with the vast NCAA code is a tough job. Credit Ohio State for trying to stay ahead of the curve to preserve the school's brand, and ability to compete in the postseason. This behavior may be a bit self-serving, but in the long run, it may really help students stay out of trouble and learn valuable life lessons.

That's what we can expect out of one of the Big Ten's Leaders. Or is it Legends? Whatever.

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