Who, What and, Above All, When
By Paul Myerberg // Mar 8, 2011
It doesn’t pay to lie to the N.C.A.A., not anymore, not when there are folks like those at Yahoo! Sports combing through your dirty laundry in an effort to get to the bottom of every story. In the case of Ohio State, a Yahoo! investigation revealed that those at the forefront of the football program — Jim Tressel — knowingly misled N.C.A.A. officials, and perhaps the O.S.U. athletic department as a whole, when the N.C.A.A. came calling about the status of five of Tressel’s players in December. Perhaps the most damaging aspect of the Yahoo! report comes in the following paragraphs:
At a Dec. 23 press conference, Smith claimed the school first became aware of the memorabilia sales on Dec. 7. Smith said the athletic department was told the following day and immediately launched an investigation.
If Tressel failed to inform Smith or the Ohio State compliance department about the players’ dealings with Rife, he could be charged with multiple NCAA violations including unethical conduct, failure to monitor and a failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance. In general, a coach is required to act on, or pass along reasonable information about possible rule violations for further investigation.
So the potential is there for program-changing developments: if future N.C.A.A. investigations prove that Tressel was aware that a handful of his players were selling team paraphernalia and didn’t take action, it’s not overly difficult to see this as the end of his tenure at Ohio State.
If further investigations reveal that Tressel was aware of the circumstances surrounding five of his players and told Gene Smith, Ohio State’s athletic director, yet the university lied to N.C.A.A. officials about the date it was aware of any misdeeds, one can very well see the O.S.U. football program experiencing some permutation of the sanctions recently handed down at U.S.C.
Let’s first deal with what we know. We know that the N.C.A.A. doesn’t like being lied to; should the university have knowingly misled investigators back in December, the N.C.A.A. will not look kindly upon O.S.U. when deciding the program’s ensuing penalties. And ignorance is never a valid excuse: Ohio State can swear it was completely in the dark, but it wouldn’t matter.
We also know, thanks to Charles Robinson and Dan Wetzel over at Yahoo!, that Tressel knew all about what five of his charges — Terrelle Pryor, Dan Herron, Mike Adams, DeVier Posey and Solomon Thomas — were doing way back in April, eight months before the news reached the ears of the N.C.A.A. and became public knowledge.
We also know that according to Smith, the O.S.U. athletic department did not learn that five players were selling memorabilia until early in December — long after Tressel was aware. So what remains to be seen? Whether the athletic department truly didn’t know until December, when federal investigators contacted the university regarding the sold goods in question, or if Tressel clued his bosses into the story back in the spring.
Clearly, this is not an issue or who or what; those factors have long been decided. We know who stepped outside the lines; we know what rules have been broken, first by the players in question and later by those who were assumed, due to their positions of authority, to know the difference between right and wrong.
This has now become a question of when. Since Tressel was in the know in April, when — or if — did he let the O.S.U. administration in the loop? If he never told Smith the whole story, or even part of the story, can the program escape any significant sanctions?
It’s a dire situation for Ohio State: on one hand, the athletic department might land a slighter punishment should it prove it was out of the loop until December; on the other, that same scenario suggests that Tressel knew the whole story and did nothing.
In other words, Ohio State might escape significant blame only if its title-winning coach receives the brunt of the punishment. Can Ohio State survive without Jim Tressel?
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