Wednesday, December 14, 2016

No Honor Among Thieves

The saga began with the bizarre news that the Louisville football team may have obtained Wake Forest offensive plays (that the Demon Deacons had not run before) prior to the Cardinals' 44-12 win over Wake in November.

Bizarre, not because anyone would put an act of espionage or cheating past Louisville's coach Bobby Petrino or even the institution, given their collective history of unfamiliarity with the truth and familiarity with NCAA rules violations and women of leisurePetrino's statement when confronted with evidence that his staff had notice in advance of Wake's game plan was, given his personal history, borderline absurd: "As I've already stated this season, my coaching philosophy has always been to play the game with sportsmanship." But bizarre because, well, did at-the-time number five in the country Louisville really think it needed help to beat Wake?

But the story took a decidedly weirder turn on Tuesday, when Wake Forest announced that, after a month-long investigation, it had determined that one of its own radio commentators had been the mole providing game plans not only to Louisville, but offering them to other schools for the past three seasons. The disbelief and disappointment on the Wake side of the equation is palpable in the press release announcing the results of the investigation and in statements issued by Deac Athletic Director Ron Wellman and head football coach Dave Clawson.

Clawson summed it up: "It’s incomprehensible that a former Wake Forest student-athlete, graduate-assistant, full-time football coach, and current radio analyst for the school, would betray his alma mater. We allowed him to have full access to our players, team functions, film room, and practices. He violated our trust which negatively impacted our entire program."

That's right, the traitor wasn't some media shill hired by IMG to cover the Wake games. It was Tommy Elrod, a former Wake quarterback and 11 year coach for the Deacs before he moved to the broadcast booth in 2014, after not being retained on Clawson's coaching staff upon Jim Grobe's departure. This is the same man who, according to the school, “provided or attempted to provide confidential and proprietary game preparations on multiple occasions, starting in 2014.”

So far, Elrod's response (and that of his lawyer, another former Wake football player) has been this:

Elrod's Twitter account

There is of course rampant speculation regarding Elrod's motive in betraying his alma mater, team, and quasi-employer. I personally think the "Hell hath no fury like a quarterback scorned" (because Elrod wasn't retained by Clawson) is the leading candidate. And while others speculate regarding whether the insular world of college football in general and coaches in particular (which seems to be built on a distrust of anyone outside of the team) will turn even further in on itself, there are two other more troubling and fundamental issues, that must be addressed.

First, was Elrod not only exposing the Wake football team to a slanted playing field repeatedly the past three years, but was he exposing its players to an increased risk of injury or potential injury?  The answer has to be yes. Wake started the season with an offensive spark from newly installed sophomore quarterback Kendall Hinton, who was injured in the third game of the year (Wake started 3-0) and won't return this season. Was Hinton vulnerable to injury because the defense already knew what play had been called? Or were some of the 36 sacks that Wake has suffered this season, resulting in inevitable wear and tear on its offensive players, due to the same reason?

Even if a causal link can never be established between any particular injury and Elrod's actions, he had to be aware that he was exposing the Demon Deacon players to a higher risk of injury or, at the very least, of being worn down by opponents who knew exactly what to expect on a certain play. It doesn't matter (much) that Elrod was doing this to players wearing the same uniform that he had worn and coached for nearly 20 years. That he would willingly do this to any set of players, let alone his "own," is repugnant.

Second, why are we finding all of this out now, three years after it began, and only by happenstance and the stupidity of someone on Petrino's staff? Where were the phone calls, emails, text messages from all of the institutions of higher learning that, when receiving an offer of "help" from Elrod, immediately informed Wake or the ACC or the NCAA of his deviousness? The answer has to be: there were none because winning is more important in college football than sportsmanship or even common decency.

We don't know which schools received such an offer and which ones may have taken Benedict Elrod up on his proposals. But even if the answers are a few and one, the silence is deafening and calls into question, once again, what the true nature of college athletics is and what lessons we should all learn from its win at any cost mentality.

While Wake has essentially suggested in its press release that it does not intend to provide further information, or conduct a further investigation, regarding Elrod or his actions at this time, one hopes that this is not a matter that the ACC and the NCAA believe can be swept under the rug. Those governing bodies must conduct their own inquiries, with the focus being not on what went wrong at Wake Forest, but what went wrong at all of the other schools that had this information and at best did nothing in response.

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