Commentary

The Jim Tressel sideshow

NFL suspension extends Ohio State scandal for at least six weeks

Updated: September 6, 2011, 2:15 PM ET
By Tim Keown | ESPN.com

There have been college football scandals more scandalous, more salacious and more depraved, but no college football scandal has been as generous as the Ohio State scandal. On the surface it was pretty tame: free tattoos, a few bucks for signatures, an email forwarded to the wrong person with power. But by now it's clear we underestimated this thing; it's the scandal perfectly suited for our times, the mobile scandal, one that goes with you wherever you go.

And through its portability we are deprived, until at least the seventh game of the Indianapolis Colts' season, the spectacle of Jim Tressel working as the most overqualified replay-reviewer in the history of professional football.

[+] EnlargeJim Tressel
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertWhile Ohio State fans are ready to move on, Jim Tressel keeps generating headlines.

The scandal's permeable membrane -- from college to pro -- allowed Terrelle Pryor to go from Columbus to the NFL, but once he got there, a five-game suspension was created from rules that didn't previously exist. And now, in part because of Roger Goodell's fantasy-league mind-meld of NCAA and NFL, Tressel is set to begin a team-imposed but self-inflicted six-game suspension from his all-important duties as a guy who watches a monitor and tells another guy whether he should drop a red flag on the field.

Will the fun never end? The apparently unintentional kabuki between Tressel and Pryor would be comical if it weren't so stupid. Pryor gets suspended by his new employer before he's even hired but says he won't appeal the punishment, despite an appeal being in the NFLPA's best interest. Then Tressel gets hired by the Colts to do the job the rest of us do every Sunday for free ("His feet weren't in! Throw the flag!") and suddenly rumblings emerge out of Oakland that Pryor might want to appeal after all. Then Tressel, who knows how to self-inflate as well as self-impose, decides he deserves a six-game suspension for all the mischief he allowed/promoted/ignored during his tenure as head coach and putative mentor of the Ohio State Buckeyes.

In other words: checkmate.

Pryor's appeal -- which, presumably, would have been predicated on Goodell not suspending Tressel -- wafts away like drift smoke. Tressel gets to pretend to ascend the moral high ground once more. Goodell, whatever his behind-the-scenes involvement might have been, didn't have to issue another out-of-thin-air punishment to someone one of his owners might really need down the line -- you know, a coach with just the perfect amount of self-importance.

And for those of you who prefer not to be forced to work for your symbolism: Note how Tressel added one game more than Pryor to his own suspension, just to solidify his martyrdom. When that seventh week rolls around, the Colts will have to send someone down to Tressel's basement to take away the self-flagellation switch and remove the cilice from his thighs.

Jim Caldwell
AP Photo/AJ MastColts coach Jim Caldwell will be without Jim Tressel's replay expertise until Week 7.

It's fair, though, right? We've read -- and, frankly, written -- about the inequities in a system that allows Pete Carroll to go unpunished and Pryor to be held up as some sort of Exhibit A for not being able to run away from your problems. (We'll leave the issue of unsuspended serial arrestee Kenny Britt out of the discussion for the moment.) Remember back when the Pryor suspension was issued, and many people wondered what the hell, how could Goodell have spokesman Greg Aiello announce -- in no uncertain terms -- that Pryor's penalty was a one-time deal and "not precedent"? Magically and cleanly, Tressel and the Colts have done the dirty work for Goodell while simultaneously neutering any potential appeal of Pryor's suspension. Oh, it's precedent all right, just not Goodell's precedent. Which means, in the end, all's well on Park Avenue.

If that's your idea of a good time.

The truth is, neither Pryor nor Tressel should be restricted from earning a living as a professional player or coach because of what happened at Ohio State. If the Raiders, still a member in good standing in the NFL, thought enough of Pryor to pick him as an eligible player in the supplemental draft, they should be able to pay him and play him. And if the Colts thought enough of Tressel to entrust him with the duties of replay-reviewer (I'm guessing it won't be at the top of his résumé), they should be able to pay him and stick him up there with access to the finest in audiovisual equipment.

You know, in the best interest of the same free-market principles espoused during the lockout by all the owner-backing capitalists.

The entire episode is a wonderfully silly sideshow. We can all tsk-tsk in every conceivable direction and say we hope it goes away tomorrow, except we'd be lying. We don't want it to end, ever. It's the scandal that keeps on giving.

ESPN The Magazine senior writer Tim Keown co-wrote the autobiography of "Pawn Stars" star Rick Harrison. "License to Pawn: Deals, Steals, and my Life at the Gold & Silver" is available on Amazon.com. He also co-wrote Josh Hamilton's autobiography, "Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back," also available on Amazon.com. Sound off to Tim here.

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Tim Keown | email

Senior writer, ESPN.com

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