There’s a Scarlet and Gray elephant in the NCAA room. The ‘Sweater Vest’ himself, Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel, has admitted to withholding information from the NCAA for 8 months pertaining to violations. These violations later lead to the suspensions of players for selling memorabilia and keepsakes in exchange for tattoos and other benefits.
The current punishment? Two games and $250,000. This naturally brings up questions regarding proper punishment and leadership.
– Does the punishment fit the crime?
– Should Tressel be fired?
– Does the football team demonstrate a lack of institutional control?
– Are we even surprised at this point?
Before I go further, for those that do not know who I am, I did attend THE Ohio State University. I do have a love for the Buckeyes that my home state of Michigan claims would be unnatural. I have seen both sides of the rivalry and have been booed at my high school graduation when they announced I was bucking (pun intended) the trend and heading to Columbus. I even shared a dorm with the infamous Maurice Clarett.
I expect to be accused of being an Ohio State slappy, but that is just the way it rolls. I am in a position to comment, because I follow OSU’s athletics and have an understanding to how the Sweater Vest works.
I did meet Jim Tressel once, back in 2001. I shook his hand as he welcomed me, well me and the rest of the class of 2005 to the campus. He had a firm, strong handshake and was poised in delivering his speech to us freshman. It was his first year and he wanted to let us know we will be proud of our football team in two months, when they march into the University of Michigan and beat the Wolverines. He did keep his word on victory. However, pride in my team has wavered in the last decade.
Jim Tressel and Ohio State got off on the right foot. We beat Michigan in his first year as head coach and won a national championship the next year. That was then followed however, with the debacle of academic fraud concerning the aforementioned Clarett.
After that mess, Ohio State settled into the groove of being the BCS representative of the Big Ten, sending numerous players to the NFL, and gathering hatred from fans all around. Then the Troy Smith booster scandal happened and our Quarterback was suspended for the Alamo Bowl in 2004, as well as the first two games of the 2005 season.
Tressel has always carried a reputation of having issues with player benefits, resulting in NCAA eyeballs starring his way since his years at D-I AA (now Division I’s Football Championship Subdivision) Youngstown State. He was pretty much the Pete Carroll equivalent of the Midwest. Some diehard fans though argued that some team and coach had to fill the role of ‘most hated’ during the last few weeks of the regular season. Seeing OSU as undeserving of the praise in the national eye due to the disasters against the SEC in the BCS Championship games that capped off the 2006 and 2007 seasons.
The Buckeyes always a chip on their shoulder and seem to always be under a scrutinizing eye. Their reasoning was that they were elite and people always want to take down Goliath. Others though said that the team was only good because they let the players do whatever the hell they want. Naturally, evidence in May 2009 reported by The Columbus Dispatch, shows that Ohio State reported to the NCAA more than 375 violations. That number is staggering, but I think what is most alarming is that most of the violations resulted in little or no punishment.
When the ‘Tat Five’, the athletes punished that are at the heart of this issue, were handed their suspensions, it was laughable and frustrating. Laughable because the compliance office at Ohio State is a joke, saying that they never had the chance to educate the athletes about giving autographs for benefits being in violation, or that selling their awards would also result in some form of punishment. Frustrating because these athletes that had these awards bestowed upon them for sharing in one of the best rivalries in sports, threw school pride out the window and took the cash.
I looked for Tressel to provide leadership, to set the example these men need to follow. Show them that what they did is a slap in the face to the fans, and let us face it – stupid, because their eligibility was on the line. All I got was the Big Ten Commissioner and Ohio State stepping in and getting their star players on the field for a BCS game followed by pointless suspensions during the mostly fluff schedule in 2011.
Weak as it was, I was willing to forgive the stupidity of the punishment, mostly because as a fan, I wanted to win the damn Arkansas game, and I hated Ryan Mallett. Tressel supposedly stepped in and got promises from these players. Promises to serve the suspensions and make sure they learn from the whole experience. Yet here I sit, writing an article asking why this was necessary.
Let’s face it; Coach Tressel is not going to miss his $250,000. Ohio State will give him yet another extension in two years that will easily cover the salary loss. He will sleep at night soundly. Jim Tressel owns Ohio State. The president of OSU Gordon Gee was asked whether he’d considered dismissing Tressel, Gee’s response:
“No. Are you kidding me? I just hope the coach doesn’t dismiss me.”
That’s strong leadership, and maybe that is the problem. No one is willing to tell Coach Tressel to put aside football and just think about being the poised leader, the person that Buckeye nation looks up to, a person that is supposed to represent integrity for Ohio State. That person currently does not exist. I just see a coach that will do anything to put himself in the best position to win. He is not going be fired because it is his sole job to win football games. Winning football games generates money for the university so really, who is going to challenge his authority?
I get that he wants to cover for these players but really, what are we teaching here? That people are above the system? Whether it’s the players using their fame for profit, or the coach keeping information to increase his competitive advantage, I was promised I was going to be proud of my university. All I got was a lousy handshake.