Is Big Ten falling from moral high ground?

In the never-ending shouting match about conference superiority -- sorry folks, this will never be a civilized debate -- folks from Big Ten country have used the moral high ground as part of their case against the SEC.

I'll admit I've done it, too. And liked it. Being a high-and-mighty Yankee can be tons of fun. My pals Chris and Edward should try it sometime.

There's no question the SEC has established itself as the best conference on the field. Five consecutive national championships claimed by four separate teams speaks for itself.

What's the Big Ten's counter argument?

The SEC is shady. If the Big Ten operated under the same standards -- or lack thereof -- it might have won a few more national titles in recent seasons. Remember what Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said about SEC recruiting practices in 2007? That's just the tip of the iceberg. From oversigning to Cam Newton to your Tennessee Vols (!) to ethical questions about coaches around the league, the passion for college football is out of hand down there. While the Big Ten would love to enjoy the same top-level success, it won't compromise integrity and standards to do so.

Can the Big Ten still make these claims after the Jim Tressel mess at Ohio State? For the second consecutive season a flagship Big Ten program will appear before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions weeks before the season kicks off. And while Ohio State's case and Michigan's from 2010 are extremely different, it still doesn't look good for a league that believes it stands for something more (Legends and Leaders, anyone?).

CBSsports.com's Tony Barnhart writes this week that the Tressel case makes the Big Ten no better than the SEC from an ethical standpoint.

You are the ones who talk about the Big Ten schools in hushed, reverent tones and use terms such as "greater academic mission." Your schools are not football factories like ours in the great, unwashed South. Your schools would never cut ethical corners like we do down here, where you believe our motto is: "If you ain't cheatin' you ain't trying." You look down your collective noses at us.

Give me a freaking break.

I don't want to hear any more lectures on ethics or morals or accountability from that part of the world -- not if Jim Tressel returns as Ohio State's football coach this season.

If a Southern football coach did what Tressel did, which was to engage in an orchestrated coverup of potential NCAA violations, the calls for his firing would have been immediate and would have come from sea to shining sea, especially from the Big Ten. And they would be right.

It might be tough for Big Ten fans to do a little self-introspection, but Barnhart makes some good points. It takes some skills for the Big Ten to stand on supposedly higher moral ground when the most successful coach of its most dominant program acts like Tressel did.

While the Big Ten isn't a squeaky clean league, I'd point out it probably needs a few more scandals of this magnitude to catch up with the SEC. And let's not get started on oversigning, a ridiculous practice.

But the Ohio State situation undoubtedly makes the Big Ten's moral compass spin. And it might be spinning for a while.