Monday, August 15, 2011


I usually don't have a problem with ESPN's Outside The Lines stories. How can you? The Sunday morning show is informative, hard-hitting, and, well, accurate.

Its the accurate part that I am now questioning.

On Sunday's OTL, ESPN continued following the story of The Ohio State football program. This is the program that is the current poster child for what is wrong with college football, recruiting, and corrupt coaches. Of course, the story recanted the issues with former star quarterback Terrell Pryor's receiving goods and services in exchange for his autographing memorabilia, and with former head coach Jim Tressel's lassiez-faire (to put it kindly) attitude towards reporting known NCAA violations.

What bugs me was a small, but sensationalized reference in the piece. If you hadn't been scrutinizing the story, it would have slipped right past you. It was almost a throwaway line -- except that it unfairly damned The Ohio State University athletic department.

The reference was made in conjunction with OTL's reporting on the money allegedly made by OSU boosters in the market for autographed memorabilia. That's money which, as the story goes, eventually made its way to players in the form of favors or cash.

What OTL said in the story was:

"Ohio State may have seeded the market for autographed merchandise."

That was a reference specifically aimed at a particular OSU-sponsored player autograph event.

What is bothersome is that the ESPN story would try to damn OSU for doing something innocuous, while making it sound like OSU's conduct was part of the overall bad conduct on the part of the University and its employees -- and by employees, we include coaches and players.

This is no excuse for The Ohio State, but plenty of schools conduct events like this one. So are all football programs "seeding the market" for player autographs because they choose to hold player meet and greets like the one depicted by ESPN?

It is hard to understand how an autograph session or sessions even manages to "seed the market" for memorabilia, anyway. The accusation against the players were that they specifically and privately signed stuff for boosters who returned favors -- like tatoos -- to the players. It is not alleged that signed merchandise was taken from those official OSU events and resold in a manner which violated NCAA rules.

And their is no allegation that the autograph signing event was a violation of NCAA rules. So why did ESPN go out of their way to mention the autograph event?

Indeed, if the official Buckeye athletic department signing events had any effect, it would have been to diminish and water down the memorabilia market, not to "seed" the market, as ESPN alleges. By making more autographed gear accessible, OSU would have discouraged other boosters from getting players to sign for them personally. The official OSU events would have made the privately-signed stuff less valuable in a watered-down market for memorabilia.

This mention of "seeding the market" by the ESPN story was just one part of a much larger, well-done piece. It is just hard to understand why the reference was used, except to make the story more sensational and damning of The Ohio State University.

ESPN's Outside The Lines is great TV for anyone interested in the other side of sports. But we can do without the editorializing.

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