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Can Northwestern Win Cleanly? Pat Fitzgerald and Tresselball

Pat Fitzgerald might be the only dude who thinks he can win without cheating, which is why we have this photo of him just standing there by himself. Symbolism!
Pat Fitzgerald might be the only dude who thinks he can win without cheating, which is why we have this photo of him just standing there by himself. Symbolism!

Ohio State cheating up a storm doesn't have much to do with Northwestern - we don't even play them - although we can all laugh at Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor's car, and hope this somehow involves Jared Sullinger getting kicked out of school forever and banished to, well, the NBA.

Aside from the laughable concept that Fitz could replace Jim Tressel at Ohio State - which obviously nobody has brought up because of the contract extension, but still, I have fun imagining his head exploding immediately after arriving in Columbus. 

But the other day, Pat Fitzgerald went on ESPN Radio in Chicago to talk about it - I didn't listen but the transcript of Fitzgerald's interview is up at Sports Radio Interviews - and he says some fascinating stuff about his views on college football, and, with Fitzgerald, because he's insane (in the best way possible), I don't think it's just coach speak. (He also talks about his contract extension.)

On the increasing perception that teams can’t contend at an elite level without bordering on cheating:

"I totally disagree. I respect [that] opinion, but I totally disagree. I believe you can win with ethics, you can win with doing things the right way. Nobody’s perfect though, so let’s not cast stones at glass houses.


When he first took the job did he see it rising to this level and himself in a spot where he could basically have the job for life if he wanted?:

"I just look back … and hopefully Coach is looking down on us and we’re lifting up his legacy in the right way. … But we’re not where we want to be. We’re a long way from that. We have not accomplished all the goals that we set out. We have a very hungry program."

So the question is: is Fitz delusional? Is it possible for Northwestern to win without cheating?


So: define winning: Northwestern has been winning in a sense, in that they've won over 50 percent of their games the past few years, but judging from that second quote, Fitz doesn't define winning as that, he appears to define it as something higher.

To me, I just don't see it as something as possible, year after year, without a lot of things changing on a grand scale. To quote Fitz, I respect his opinion, but totally disagree. The NCAA can catch one Ohio State, but there's probably about 20 of them out there - maybe on lesser scales, but with the same idea. Sure, Northwestern has won three Big Ten Championships: you can point to 1995 fi you want. I definitely think occasional spurts of success, such as conference championship are within Northwestern's reach. But when you talk about being Ohio State - absolutely running a conference, week after week, year after year - I don't think it's possible for Northwestern ever to attain that level of consistent dominance as a program that does what it does ethically and academically. That's the decision and sacrifice that you make, and I think as fans we don't have a choice but to accept that that's what we are.

You might also point to something like women's lacrosse, who just brought home their sixth ship in seven years: well, once you take money out of the picture, it's a different story. A preternaturally talented women's lacrosse player decides where she's going to college for completely different reasons - winning and a good education are probably two big ones - and schools aren't going to throw money at them. Teams will continue to throw petty cash at poor youth knowing they're making millions of dollars off their success until the NCAA figures out how to put a security guard in every tattoo parlor and used car dealership within a 25-mile radius of every D-I institution in the country. LTP expressed hope that someday days like Tressel resigning will lead to an even playing field; but what's implicit in that is that he and I appear to share the belief that this playing field is inherently uneven. And although we can have hope, I don't think that will change anytime soon.

Pat Fitzgerald seems to be of the belief that he can build a powerhouse on a firm moral foundation. I hope for the sake of whatever the NCAA is supposed to stand for that he succeeds. But until then, I'll keep praying for a Rose Bowl here and there, bowl-bound ball the rest of the time, beating Iowa (not because I dislike them, just because it's hilarious), and the knowledge that my cumulative GPA is less than that of the average player on my school's football team. Because I don't think that sounds that bad.