Wiedmer: Varez Ward, Devonta Pollard charges very troubling for SEC

Wiedmer: Varez Ward, Devonta Pollard charges very troubling for SEC

June 5th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Good thing Gordon Gee decided to become the former president of The Ohio State University early on Tuesday rather than later in the day.

If one of the Southeastern Conference's harshest critics had only waited, he might have decided to stick around a wee bit longer, if only to needle the league on its latest bit of embarrassing bad news regarding two of its student-athletes.

The only semi-good news for the SEC regarding point-shaving charges against former Auburn point guard Varez Ward and kidnapping charges against Alabama's Devonta Pollard is that they're basketball players rather than football players, which means most of the league's fan bases will never know it happened.

But both charges are supremely troubling for not only the suspects but the schools in question and a league that needs no image issues regarding the character of its student-athletes.

Ward's issues center on the Tigers' 56-53 loss to Arkansas on Jan. 25, 2012, and the fact that he allegedly planned to lose the game, though Auburn actually beat the spread, which supposedly had them as 9-point underdogs. Yet Ward's erratic play through much of the season before coach Tony Barbee quit using him altogether in late February surely will make the school's fans and foes wonder about every game in which he participated.

As U.S. Attorney George Beck Jr. said following Ward's arrest: "Watching sports should be entertaining. We want the outcome of the game to be based on talent and hard work, not some off-field, back-room deal."

But at least that deal, if proven true, hurt its victims only in the pocketbook.

The April kidnapping case in Mississippi that led to Tuesday's arrest of the rising sophomore Pollard, a former prep All-American, could have had a far more heartbreaking conclusion.

Fortunately for all concerned, the 6-year-old girl was reunited with her family a day later, physically unhurt. Pollard's mother, Jesse Mae Pollard, appears to be at the center of the crime.

According to an Associated Press story, authorites believe she concocted the kidnapping scheme because of an ongoing land dispute with the child's mother, who reportedly is related to her.

Devonta Pollard's involvement, at least for now, appears to center on the fact that he visited the kidnappers at their Bessemer, Ala., hotel on the night they were there with the little girl. Authorities also later found a hotel key and receipts for the hotel and cell phones purchased earlier in the day by Jesse Mae Pollard in the player's car, though he appears to have had nothing to do with transporting the victim.

But just imagine all the fun the smug Dr. Gee could have had with this. No matter how badly former Buckeyes football coach Jim Tressel may have behaved in lying to the NCAA about his knowledge of Tattoo-gate, the OSU program never has had its active athletes charged with point-shaving and kidnapping.

And while Gee himself once was a part of the SEC as the Vanderbilt chancellor from 2001 to 2007, he never embraced the conference. In fact, he spent most of his time challenging the league on academics, even going so far as to "blow up" (his words) the athletic department.

He later told USA Today, "It was radical ... but I got away with it."

But while Gee's bowties and Harry Potter specs were somewhat amusing at Vandy, perpetuating his image as a slightly out-of-touch administrator, he came across as an undisciplined, insensitive snob at Ohio State.

When his Dec. 5 blasts of Notre Dame's Catholics during an OSU athletic council meeting became public last week, the 69-year-old Gee and his salary of $1.9 million were goners, the weight of his past gaffes too heavy to keep him afloat in Columbus for a 14th school year.

So we apparently never again will be treated to Gee calling new Arkansas football coach Brent Bielema (formerly of Wisconsin) "a thug."

He won't again joke that Boise State is "playing the Little Sisters of the Poor" or dismiss the SEC's criticisms of the Big Ten with the pointed shot, "You tell the SEC when they can learn to read and write, then they can figure out what we're doing."

And, of course, there's his biggest gaffe concerning the hot water Tressel was in for lying to the NCAA.

Asked if his football coach's job was in jeopardy, Gee replied, "I'm just hopeful the coach doesn't dismiss me."

Two months later, Tressell was gone but Gee hung on until his wild, wacky words finally did him in.

Yet they were only words, whether or not the SEC has yet learned to read and write them.

When athletes from two of your league's 14 schools are charged with point-shaving and kidnapping on the same day, Gee's gaffes, however indefensible, seem rather minor by comparison.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.