I kind of saw this coming, but I have to admit I was surprised when I woke up Monday morning and read the news about Jim Tressel stepping down. Was it necessary? Absolutely. But part of me thought that Ohio State was going to keep him around. It became incredibly clear today that Ohio State is trying to distance themselves from him as much as they can. This tattoo, memorabilia, and car issue with the Ohio State players is a Jim Tressel issue, and not an Ohio State University problem – at least that’s what the university wants you to believe.
After reading the Sports Illustrated article written by George Dohrmann with David Epstein (if you haven’t read it, please do so http://tinyurl.com/3n4zwm8), it became pretty clear that all of the “I didn’t know” fodder from December was absolute BS as I (and nearly everyone else with a brain) suspected. He had known about Terrelle Pryor and company selling their memorabilia for at least a year, even though he had stood in front of the media and told them otherwise after the allegations first emerged. In fact, shady bizness had been going down at Ohio State for a long period of time. Sports Illustrated conducted an investigation that alleged wrongdoings all the way back from 2002.
But what does he do with all those vests?
Jim Tressel knew last year without players like Terrelle Pryor and Daniel Herron, Ohio State wouldn’t be a national title contender. So, instead of reporting the things he knew about what his players were doing, he covered it up and then let them take all the criticism when it was found out. He can say that he was doing what he could to protect his athletes, but he just wanted to protect his record and his chance for a national title. The thing is, Jim, you can’t hide what’s on a computer. Has no one learned that yet?
Whether it was arranging jobs for players, pointing the athletes in the direction of boosters who would give them an extra hand if they were short on change, or turning a blind eye when the football players came to school in brand new cars, Tressel had a hand in all of it. I’ve never believed the “I didn’t know” excuse in athletics, and this Ohio State situation confirms my theory that “I didn’t know” will never fly.
Look, Jim Tressel has done a lot of really great things for Ohio State and its athletes. He was a role model for a lot of his athletes and helped a lot of them escape terrible home situations. He is a fantastic football coach. Heck, I didn’t want my team to face him and I’m not sure there’s a coach in the country that wanted to be opposite him on the sidelines. But the biggest problem here is that he built up his empire based around his character and his willingness to share that good character and great values with others. When whispers of wrongdoings at Youngstown State emerged, no one would believe it about Jim Tressel because of his reputation. When the speculation came out about Terrelle Pryor and the five other players who were suspended for five games in the upcoming season, people believed that there was no way the Vest knew about it. Here was a guy who, in his book The Winners Manual: For the Game of Life, wrote “The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour.” It looks like you had a couple hours to change your mind about reporting what you knew, Jim, and you chose to ignore it.
Perhaps he really believed that it wasn’t that bad. But even if the crimes that were committed, in the grand scheme, weren’t that bad… the NCAA doesn’t take being lied to lightly. Just look back to the Bruce Pearl situation earlier this year. If you have paid any attention to sports radio in the past year, you’ve heard this “the cover up is worse than the crime.” I believe that if Jim Tressel had come forward and told what he knew, he would still be coaching for Ohio State. At the very least, his university would still be supporting him. He did not. And now the mighty Buckeyes are forced to put their football program back together.
There is still a lot of talent on that team. If they can come together and ignore this stuff, they might be able to salvage their season. On the other hand, Pryor and company could choose to jump to the NFL. They no longer have the sweater vest to be held accountable to. They promised him they would stay after they were allowed to play in the Fiesta Bowl (which is having its own problems, PS). Could they jump? Maybe. I guess we will have to see what sort of character they have. But, judging by the brand new car Pryor drove to a mandatory meeting yesterday, he’s not too concerned about issues of character.
I’m not sitting here pointing the finger at Ohio State and pretending like my football team doesn’t have its own problems. Michigan State University has had its share of scandal. Yes, the potluck arrests are not forgotten. But this type of bust is bad for the Big Ten and bad for college football. It just is. Cheating/rule breaking runs wild in college athletics, but that doesn’t make this ok. Perhaps the NCAA should use this situation and examine if athletes need more of a stipend; if it should be acceptable for them to sell the memorabilia they earned. Regardless, rules were broken, a cover up attempt was made, and now Ohio State has lost its coach.
So, where does Ohio State go from here? First, they ban any and all sweater vests. Second, they get ready to vacate the 2010 season. Third, they get prepared for coaching speculation that will drive everyone nuts.
And finally, stay away from Mark Dantonio. I like him where he is.