Alvarez: Ohio State’s woes bad for Big Ten

Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez says it hurts the Big
Ten to have its two marquee programs – Michigan and Ohio State –
sullied by controversy the past two years.

”Those are our two highest profile teams,” Alvarez said
Wednesday. ”It’s absolutely not good for our league.”

While Alvarez said he didn’t know if Jim Tressel specifically
cheated, it was clear that the former Ohio State coach was not
straightforward with the NCAA.

Tressel’s 10-year reign as coach of the Buckeyes ended in
disgrace Monday. He was forced to step down for breaking NCAA rules
after withholding information from Ohio State officials and the
NCAA about his players receiving improper benefits, including
swapping memorabilia for tattoos.

Alvarez said he’s working with his compliance staff to make sure
the rules are clear, and head coach Bret Bielema said he sent
people he leans on in the athletic department to check in at two
Madison, Wis., tattoo parlors to make sure something similar wasn’t
happening there.

”I think that it just makes everyone more alert that if it can
happen to those high profile schools – Michigan had never been on
probation; if it can happen to them, it certainly can happen to
us,” Alvarez said. ”I want to make sure that it doesn’t.”

Then there’s the product on the field.

The Big Ten is undergoing major changes with the addition of
Nebraska and a league title game, one the Buckeyes may not have an
opportunity to play in if the NCAA comes down hard on the

That gives Alvarez and the rest of Wisconsin little joy. Alvarez
pointed to the fact that the Badgers won a share of the Big Ten
title. They also beat Michigan and Ohio State in the process.

”You don’t want somebody to get their legs knocked out from
under them and look to that to give you an opportunity. It
shouldn’t have to be that way,” Alvarez said. ”We won the league
championship without all those things happening, I don’t want that
to happen to our league. I don’t want to sit there and lick my
chops and say, ‘Wow, that opens the door for us.’ I don’t think
that’s right.”

Wisconsin’s recruiting – often maligned for a lack of star power
– has helped them avoid unwanted spotlight because they rarely go
after the top recruits in the nation, Bielema said.

”I think that’s the choice you make as a coach about what kind
of people you recruit,” Bielema said. ”You almost have got to
kind of analyze it, realize, you’re going to get the problems that
you want to recruit. That’s what you’ve got to deal with.”

And while Bielema is sure his players are watching the coverage,
he’s told them to stay quiet.

”First thing I sent out was I don’t want to see any tweets,”
the coach said. ”It’s just amazing to me how people want to
comment about something they’re not involved in. That’s a rule that
we have with them. If you’re not involved in it, don’t comment on

Everyone else will, though. It’s certain to be a lingering issue
from the start of fall camps throughout the Big Ten.

Alvarez said he doesn’t believe those who say it’s impossible to
win in college football without cutting corners and that there’s a
big difference between inadvertent mistakes and major

”Breaking a rule, a secondary violation, inadvertently, is
different than giving someone a car,” Alvarez said. ”You break a
rule that gives you a competitive advantage – that’s different than
inadvertently buying someone a meal or inadvertently driving
someone someplace.”

Alvarez has some unwanted experience in investigations after the
school looked into a shoe store owned by a booster that was located
25 miles from Madison while he was football coach.

Investigators determined the shoe store gave impermissible
discounts and lines of credit to Wisconsin student-athletes from
1993 to 2000. After self-reporting the violations to the NCAA,
Wisconsin reprimanded administrators and coaches, reduced
scholarships for football and men’s basketball and paid a $150,000
fine to the NCAA.

A total of 31 athletes, mostly football players, were suspended
at least one game.

It remains a sore subject.

”Our administration did a poor job of managing that. And I’ll
say that publicly, I have said it publicly, we were not represented
properly,” Alvarez said. ”I just thought it was mismanaged.”

But he said that investigation and result is far different from
what’s going on in Columbus today.

”Different deal,” Alvarez said. ”This is totally

Colin Fly can be reached at