The release last night of Sports Illustrated’s reported bombshell article that would “blow the lid off Ohio State football” was not quite as billed. Pulitzer Prize winner George Dohrmann can be fairly certain this morning that his investigation into improprieties at Ohio State won’t earn him another prize. In spite of teasing promos and headlines, what Dohrmann “uncovered” certainly doesn’t amount to anything of note that we didn’t already know.
There are no “$1000 handshakes,” athletes stealing cars, point shaving, or any other shocking details provided. What Dohrmann tells us is that (gasp!) more than just the “Tat 5” were trading OSU memorabilia for tattoos and cash. Somewhere Cecil Newton is grinning. The worst “new” information that came out was that Jim Tressel allegedly “rigged” a drawing at a football camp while an assistant at Ohio State in the 80s so that a prize recruit would win. What, could Dohrmann not dig up any evidence that Tressel reproduced descriptions of a baseball game without the express written consent of the Cleveland Indians and Major League Baseball?
That’s not to say that Dohrmann’s article isn’t troublesome for Ohio State. What is crystal clear now after the SI piece is the lack of transparency from the Ohio State administration during all this. Even though Dohrmann’s sources are either anonymous or of highly questionable character, it’s fairly obvious that the problems at OSU are not “isolated” and not “limited to those young men” involved in the suspensions. Dohrmann paints a fairly convincing picture that these transactions, though mostly “penny-ante” in scope, have been occurring throughout Tressel’s tenure at Ohio State.
That begs a major question: Why the coverup? That’s why Tressel and Ohio State are where they are this morning. Had this situation been dealt with forcefully and transparently from the beginning, this barely creates a blip on the scandal radar in the college football world. There’s some marijuana alleged in some of the deals, but by and large, there’s no “hookers and blow” lurid details that would grab major media attention.
Tressel maintains he kept silent to protect his players. It would seem we could take him at his word here as nothing in Dohrmann’s article suggests otherwise. In fact, Dohrmann’s resuscitation of the Ray Isaac scandal at Youngstown State confirms a pattern of Tressel not offering up information that would injure a young man’s future, not so much for Tressel’s welfare, but for that of the players. (By the way, I’m disappointed Dohrmann didn’t even cite Tom Friend of ESPN since he pretty much recapitulated his “research” from the Maurice Clarett scandal)
No, the major puzzler is how the Ohio State administration could botch their handling of this so badly as to allow this to escalate to where it is now. It’s obvious Gene Smith wasn’t being forthright in his December press conference. Yesterday’s Youtube press release (as to avoid a press conference and questions from the media) was another in a series of disingenuous and boneheaded moves by an athletic department that’s supposed to be the model for efficiency, integrity, and compliance. Instead, the bumbling and inconsistencies from Ohio State have now escalated what was a fairly trivial matter into possible areas of “lack of institutional control” in the eyes of the NCAA. If Tressel was a “goner” for making false statements to the NCAA, what about Gene Smith and Gordon Gee?
Sadly, this where it gets bad for Ohio State fans. It is clear now the hope was to “spin” this as an isolated incident and offer up a few players and Tressel for multi-game suspensions. As Smith stated in December, that was the NCAA “sweet spot” they were aiming for. Rather than doing diligence and finding the truth in order to fix the problem, which was relatively minor, the OSU administration was concerned with limiting the damage to themselves and the university. Ironically, they couldn’t have handled it worse in that respect. What was a series of minor infractions now has Ohio State at the mercy of the NCAA.
The players initially broke the rules and are culpable for their actions. I doubt several of them ever see the field again at Ohio State. It’s the actions of the “adults” at OSU, however, that have heated up the water. In an effort to control the damage, they’ve inflicted maximum damage on everyone involved.