In Columbus, Playing In the Mud
By Paul Myerberg // Mar 9, 2011
Given the nature of his deeds, Jim Tressel might have gotten off easy. Yes, he’ll miss the first two games of this coming season. And he’ll pay $250,000 in fines, make a public apology for his actions and face a public reprimand from his employers, even if Gene Smith and Ohio State won’t have their hearts in it. If this is where it ends, Tressel and the Buckeyes can feel like they’ve dodged a bullet — though these penalties are self-imposed by the university, meaning the N.C.A.A. might still come calling.
The real damage has already been done: Tressel’s program has always skirted the fine line between cleanliness and the mud, but the news echoing out of Columbus over the last three months effectively shatters a misleading facade. That Tressel knew about clear N.C.A.A. violations and reported nothing, regardless of the advice he received via email from an individual without any connection with the university or the football program, sullies his standing on a national level.
The self-imposed sanctions are a start, though O.S.U. president Gordon Gee could have chosen his words more carefully at yesterday’s press conference; asked if he had considered relieving Tressel of his position, Gee responded: ”No, are you kidding? Let me be very clear. I’m just hoping the coach doesn’t dismiss me.”
A joke, certainly, but this is no laughing matter. Ohio State has issued a penalty, but it’s clear that the sanctions are not done in an effort to penalize Tressel as much as beat the N.C.A.A. to the punch. A full-scale N.C.A.A. investigation might not only result in harsher penalties, but also reveal more to this story than has already come to light; perhaps there is more to the story, though it’s hard to picture it being any worse.
Five players are already under suspension for the first five games of the 2011 season. On a side note, any chance that the N.C.A.A. now takes seriously any appeal from this quintet for a shorter suspension? I wouldn’t think so: we’ll see Terrelle Pryor and his teammates on Oct. 8 at Nebraska, no earlier.
At least they’ll have some company on Sept. 3-10, when the Buckeyes host Akron and Toledo. That’s one slight difference between the penalties assessed to Tressel and Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl, even if it’s a slight skewed comparison: two different sports, for one, but Pearl’s suspension — which covered the first half of the conference season — was assessed by the SEC, not the N.C.A.A. or the university.
Still, leave it to Ohio State to make the SEC look like a bastion of cleanliness. The actions taken by the university ring hollow thanks to the words of its president and athletic director, the latter of whom admitted he never even considered dismissing Tressel from his duties — even if Tressel’s contract clearly states, in bold and underlined, that he is responsible for immediately reporting any possible misconduct by his program or its players.
Not only did Tressel not report what he had learned, eight months later he cajoled the five suspended players into returning for the 2011 season — despite the fact that four of those players could have left school early, entered the N.F.L. draft and not spent a significant portion of the coming season as spectators. That’s not altogether on the up-and-up.
But dismiss Tressel? Not a chance. Not when he’s averaging 10 wins a season over the last decade. Not when he’s bringing the Buckeyes to the B.C.S. eight times over the same span, going 9-1 against Michigan, packing the stadium to overflow every Saturday and helping fill the university’s pockets.
Yeah, Tressel’s not going anywhere — not today, not tomorrow, not ever, judging by how his superiors tripped all over themselves coming to his full-throated support. In the process of this support, O.S.U. fully lines itself up with its coach: it’s all for one and one for all in Columbus. Unfortunately, doing so brings those who should be above the fray down into the mud with those who step outside the lines.
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Tags: Jim Tressel, N.C.A.A. violations, Ohio State
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