Beamer, London, O'Brien cringe at college football's scandalous offseason

Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer says punishment for NCAA violations has to happen faster

Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer says punishment for NCAA violations has to happen faster (Rob Ostermaier, Daily Press / July 26, 2011)

From all accounts, Frank Beamer, Mike London and Tom O'Brien are men of integrity, with 47 years of head-coaching experience and nary an NCAA scandal among them. Their players graduate and win.

Alas, many of their college football coaching brethren are not as principled and balanced, and this offseason's wave of wanton cheating cases has shaken the sport.

Suffice to say, the three cringe at the damage.

"It's not good for college football right now," said O'Brien, entering his fifth season at North Carolina State after 10 at Boston College. "Any time you have that many people involved in that many alleged violations, whether they are proven or not, it's not good for the sport of football.

"Certainly it's incumbent upon us as coaches to take care of our programs one way or another. When you look at the high profiles of the schools involved, that's the thing as unsettling as anything else."

Within the past year, improper benefits to athletes have cost Southern California the 2004 Bowl Championship Series title and Ohio State last season's Sugar Bowl victory, not to mention Jim Tressel his job as Buckeyes' coach. The NCAA is investigating last season's top two teams, Auburn and Oregon, for possible recruiting violations.

Closer to home: The NCAA stripped Georgia Tech of the 2009 ACC title for alleged stonewalling of a probe that otherwise seemed routine — All-ACC receiver DeMaryius Thomas accepted $312 in clothes; North Carolina is scheduled to appear before the Committee on Infractions in October to answer charges of academic fraud, improper benefits and former assistant coach John Blake doubling as an agent's recruiter.

Commissioners John Swofford of the ACC and Mike Slive of the Southeastern Conference have derided the state of affairs, and rightfully so. But it's coaches who see their profession tarnished, and coaches who must stem the corruption.

Beamer is entering his 25th year at Virginia Tech after six at Murray State. The Hokies were staggering from NCAA violations when he arrived, but under his steady leadership they've enjoyed 18 consecutive winning seasons.

Monday at the ACC Football Kickoff, I asked Beamer about the state of college football, and he immediately took aim at the NCAA and, although not by name, Ohio State.

"I think what needs to be looked at is how quickly schools that are in question are investigated, and if punishment is due, then get the punishment out there," Beamer said. "When things happen and it takes a year, a year-and-a-half, it takes two years, I just don't think that's good for anyone.

"If it means hiring more people at the NCAA level, that's what I think they need to do because I certainly want a level playing field. … We need quicker action, we need quicker results, to get to the bottom of things.

"I think people would question some of the punishments that have come around. When … kids can play in a bowl game but can't play the first few games (the next season) I'm not sure that's the right message to be sending. … If you break the rules, there needs to be a response."

The NCAA, you'll recall, issued five-game suspensions to five Ohio State players last year because they traded memorabilia for tattoos and other merchandise. But rather than withhold them from the Buckeyes' high-profile, big-money Sugar Bowl against Arkansas, the NCAA weaseled out and set the punishment for this season.

So I asked Beamer: "When those Ohio State players were cleared for the Sugar Bowl, were you, like, 'Are you kiddin' me?' "

"That's my point," Beamer said. "Seems like if you did wrong, you should be punished, and the quicker you can get that, the more chances you have of not getting something wrong again."

Compared to Beamer and O'Brien, London is a pup, entering his second season at Virginia after winning the 2008 national championship as a rookie head coach at Richmond. He's a dynamic recruiter, especially in-state, but worries about a national scene that's rapidly adopting basketball's sordid model of unregulated summer competitions replete with leeches of every variety.

"You have (agents') runners, the runners of the runners, big (apparel) corporations paying to fly recruits, and their parents and their siblings and their friends (to camps)," London said. "I don't know how you legislate it. It's where we are in society right now, and now the NCAA has to deal with it."

So do head coaches and their assistants. They have a choice: Tip-toe into the muck and risk falling in, or run in the other direction.

"There isn't anything I can do about the national," O'Brien said. "The only thing I can do is make sure that I do the best job that I can at N.C. State to make sure we never get into that conversation one way or another."

I asked O'Brien if, given the impossibility of monitoring players 24/7, he ever looks at schools under NCAA investigation and thinks, "There but for the grace of God go I."

"No, you can't (monitor constantly)," he said. "But I feel confident in my abilities to manage a program because of the people I'm able to hire. If there's one thing I've done well in my career, it's hire good assistant coaches."

That was an accurate, none-too-veiled dig at North Carolina's Butch Davis for hiring Blake, whose reputation preceded him.

A Naval Academy graduate and former Marine, O'Brien vets potential assistants himself. He doesn't micromanage staff or players, but rest assured, everyone knows who's in charge.

And that's what major college sports needs more than anything: ethical head coaches who understand that resolute leadership, or lack thereof, emanates from the top.

"I think if you have the right guys and you have the right system in place," O'Brien said, "then you're going to have some control over what happens in your program, even with everything else going on in the periphery — I hope."

If not, the entire major college sports enterprise will crumble.

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/sports/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP

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