While yesterday’s forecast might be interpreted as wishful thinking on my part, today my crystal ball sees a happening that would deeply sadden me. I don’t think we’ve heard the entire story as it relates to Jim Tressel and my gut tells me that this situation is going to end badly for him. This would be a shame for both Ohio State and college football as Tressel is obviously an outstanding coach and genuinely one of the “good guys” in the game.
“Wait a minute!” you’re saying. “How can you say that about a coach who’s facing major NCAA sanctions?” Here’s why I think this situation has come about and why I think it will end badly for Tressel.
First, let’s take a look at the nature of the allegations against Tressel. He is alleged to have not shared information about 5 of his players that could have jeopardized their eligibility last season. While cynics have focused on the obvious, losing Terrelle Pryor and the others would have greatly damaged OSU’s competitiveness last season, they’ve ignored Tressel’s record. He’s suspended stars (Maurice Clarett and Troy Smith) before in high-profile situations before. Tressel’s not been one to have coddled his stars just to gain wins for his team. No, this situation is something different. Here, we see evidence that the situation may have been taken out of Tressel’s hands. It clearly wasn’t Tressel’s call for them to play in the Sugar Bowl. We know now that Big 10 commissioner Jim Delany and Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolihan were instrumental in making sure Pryor and company played so the game could maximize ratings and revenue.
Tressel has not conspired to shave points, unethically recruit, collaborate with agents, or any of the other myriad of “serious” violations we see the NCAA investigating. Putting Tressel’s statements together with the facts as we know them, Tressel is clearly “taking one for the team” here. Rather than the hammer falling on his players, his athletic department, or his commissioner, Tressel has, as many good coaches do, allowed the attention and the blame to rest on his broad shoulders. What is obvious is that Tressel could have, at several times, thrown other folks under the bus to preserve himself. Gene Smith, Jim Delany, and even the NCAA itself are complicit in this affair.
The “perfect storm” of circumstance, however, leaves Tressel in a precarious position. New NCAA president Mark Emmert has come under fire during his short reign for a perceived lack of “teeth” in NCAA enforcement. Allowing Pryor and company to play in the Sugar Bowl might not have been his call (see Dan Wetzel’s piece here). Add to that the Cam Newton fiasco, and Jim Calhoun winning a national championship even while his program was being sanctioned for major violations, and the NCAA has appeared fairly feckless under Emmert. Even though Emmert is quite close with OSU president Gordon Gee (the two worked together at Colorado), the pressure to produce a high-profile head on a platter might be too great. Taking down Tressel would allow Emmert to demonstrate that he can be tough, even on one of the “big boys” like Ohio State. Never mind that “nailing” Jim Tressel wouldn’t change the stranglehold the BCS has on NCAA enforcement or that Ohio State itself wouldn’t be touched. The perception would be that Emmert and the NCAA are “serious” about punishing rules breakers.
Finally, Tressel’s own nobility could be his downfall. As alluded to above, Tressel has an Oliver North-type sense of honor. There is no way Tressel would allow this incident to stain Ohio State or college football if he could prevent it by falling on the sword. He loves both too much.
It’s certainly a sad state of affairs when a man like Jim Tressel, whose record is rife with stories of how he has positively impacted the lives of his players, can be on the hot seat while the Jim Delany’s and Paul Hoolihans continue to get rich off the backs of the same players. Such is the state of college athletics today.