Wednesday, March 9, 2011
He wears a sweater vest -- against which he hides most of his cards.
He's a motivational author.
He is openly religious, if his book jackets accurately reflect his inner life.
He flat knows how to coach, winning national championships at Youngstown State and The Ohio State University with a simple, attacking style.
One other thing: Jim Tressel has trouble following the rules.
He may have left Youngstown State with a trophy, but he also left it on probation.
He won a national championship in Columbus by somehow keeping Maurice Clarett eligible and jail-free for one magical year. After that, when Clarett continued to act out, Tressel cut him loose. Clarett claimed he had been the beneficiary of academic fraud -- allegations that were never thoroughly investigated.
In subsequent years, Tressel's extraordinarily successful tenure in Columbus has been marred by persistent problems with boosters. Today, The Ohio State leads The Nation in violations reported to the NCAA. Buckeye fans explain away the numbers by saying their school takes NCAA compliance that seriously. Which makes the recent allegations of Tressel's less than forthrightness more ironic than surprising.
Let's review: Last December, The Ohio State announced it was investigating five players, including quarterback Terrelle Pryor, for trading team paraphrenalia for free tattoos and other benefits. Astoundingly, the NCAA ruled the kids could play in the Sugar Bowl, saying they had not been adequately schooled by their coaches or support staff to discern right from wrong. The suspensions were delayed until the first five games of 2011, when Ohio State will play five of the Seven Dwarfs (Sleepy will be taking a nap, and Doc used up his NCAA eligibility in 1943.)
Now Tressel will join his players on the sidelines for the first two weeks. Turns out, the coach had been tipped off to his players' comings and goings at the tattoo parlor some nine months before Tressel's erstwhile bosses began investigating. Somehow he didn't say a word, and the players, several of them team stars, played the entire 2010 season. Thanks to the situational ethics of the NCAA, they also played in the Sugar Bowl. Only after that game did Tressel admit to his superiors that he knew far more than he had first allowed.
In other words, he lied.
Yahoo Sports broke the story this week, which led to Tuesday's flung-together news conference, during which Tressel justified his actions with a story so convuluted it would wow Verbal Kint.
He was joined at the podium by the university president and athletic director who fell all over themselves making the point that Tressel's job IS NOT IN JEOPARDY!!!
Heck, school President Gordon Gee added, he hoped the coach wouldn't fire him -- perhaps the most humiliatingly honest assessment of gridiron realpolitik ever uttered by a career educator.
The school hit Tressel with the suspension and a $250,000 fine -- a love tap really, given that Tressel put winning football games over the reputations of his program and his school. Based on a press conference with barely a hint of reproachment, Tressel's bosses made a separate peace with the same value judgment.
It's not hard to imagine that Tressel would have avoided his school-ordered suspension and fine altogether had Yahoo not spilled The Ohio State's little secret. Now that TOSU has been outed, so has the NCAA, and an embarrassed NCAA -- if there is such a thing anymore -- will mete out Tressel's final sentence.
The governing gods of collegiate sports have had a tough autumn. They suffered back-to-back torchings from their eligibility decisions involving Auburn's Cam Newton and Tattoo U.
Newton is gone, but the NCAA's current football champion remains under investigation. Ohio State will soon join them.
And now the world knows a second dirty little secret: In making its laughable Sugar Bowl decision, the NCAA took the word of a coach who, despite his image and book titles, can't be counted on to play fair.
Posted by Michael at 4:06 PM