Commentary

Scandal tarnishes Tressel, Ohio State

Originally Published: March 8, 2011
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

"The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour."

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel included that Japanese proverb on Page 193 of his book, "The Winners Manual For The Game of Life."

Eight pages later, there's this nugget from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: "It takes less time to do the right thing than to explain why you did it wrong."

[+] EnlargeJim Tressel
Greg Bartram/US PresswireOhio State suspended coach Jim Tressel for the first two games of the 2011 season.

In 10 years as the Buckeyes' coach, Tressel has often showed us his teams can't win big games.

On Tuesday night, Tressel showed us he can't win the big news conferences, either.

Tressel, who has guided the Buckeyes to seven Big Ten titles and the 2002 BCS national championship, wanted us to believe that he was different from other successful head coaches.

From his character-based books to his conservative sweater vests, Tressel wanted us to believe that he's a straight shooter who follows the rules.

On Tuesday night, we learned Tressel isn't any different from a lot of coaches in college football. He's apparently more concerned about winning games and championships than following rules and doing things the right way.

In fact, Tressel might be even worse than other coaches who are corrupting college athletics. He won't admit he's wrong even after he has been caught.

Facing the biggest crisis of his career, Tressel never once apologized for knowingly breaking NCAA rules during a news conference on the Ohio State campus on Tuesday night. Worse, Tressel never owned up to not telling his bosses or NCAA investigators that he was aware that at least two of his players might have accepted improper benefits from the owner of a tattoo parlor in Columbus, Ohio.

When Tressel was asked if he was worried the scandal would tarnish his reputation, he said he's always been his biggest critic.

"I don't think less of myself at this moment," Tressel said.

How's that for looking in the mirror?

Ohio State officials say Tressel broke NCAA rules because he didn't tell athletics director Gene Smith or the school's compliance office about e-mails he received from an attorney in April 2010, which indicated Buckeyes players were receiving improper benefits.

Tressel never even mentioned the e-mails nine months later, when in December the NCAA suspended five Ohio State players, including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, for the first five games of the 2011 season for selling memorabilia and awards from the tattoo parlor owner.

Tressel's punishment? Ohio State suspended him for the first two games of the upcoming season and fined him $250,000.

I'm guessing the already short-handed Buckeyes will be able to survive home games against Akron and Toledo without their coach, and I'm sure Tressel will make due with the rest of his $3.5 million annual salary.

[+] EnlargeGordon Gee, Jim Tressel, Gene Smith
AP Photo/Terry GilliamPresident Gordon Gee and athletic director Gene Smith stood up for Jim Tressel on Tuesday.

As bad as Tressel looks in college football's latest scandal, Ohio State looks even worse. The school that has long prided itself on academic and athletic excellence looks no different than the football factories it has long looked down its nose at.

The NCAA might impose further sanctions against Tressel and Ohio State, but it's clear the school won't hold Tressel accountable for his actions.

Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee said he never considered firing Tressel.

"No, are you kidding me?" Gee said. "Let me be very clear. I'm just hoping the coach doesn't dismiss me."

Smith was equally as supportive.

"Wherever we end up at the end of the day, Jim Tressel is our football coach," Smith said. "All the speculation about him being terminated is pure speculation. This case, in my view, does not warrant it."

Tressel already hoodwinked the NCAA into allowing Pryor and the other suspended players to participate in the the Allstate Sugar Bowl, instead of starting their five-game suspensions immediately. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany even went to bat for the suspended OSU five.

Without them, the Buckeyes probably didn't stand a chance against Arkansas. With them, the Buckeyes won a 31-26 thriller.

After nine straight losses, the Buckeyes finally beat an SEC school. Apparently, Tressel even learned to cheat as well as they do.

If you believe Tressel, he never spoke up because he was asked to keep the information confidential by the attorney who e-mailed him. Tressel also said he didn't want to jeopardize an ongoing federal drug trafficking case related to the tattoo parlor.

"It was obviously tremendously concerning," Tressel said. "Quite honestly, I was scared."

But Tressel wasn't scared enough to tell his bosses about the problem. Worse, he never sat down players who were receiving illegal benefits from a man at the center of a federal drug case.

"If you all of the sudden sit down some players who have earned the opportunity to play, there are a whole set of new questions which are going to be asked," Tressel said.

Tressel is not only guilty of concealing potential NCAA rules violations, but he's apparently also guilty of misleading his own school's compliance officials.

According to the report, OSU officials interviewed the suspended Buckeyes players on Dec. 16. After those interviews, Tressel was asked if he had been contacted or knew anything about the tattoo parlor. The report says Tressel admitted "he had received a tip about general rumors pertaining to a certain [number] of his players, [but] that information had not been specific, and it pertained to their off-field choices."

Tressel committed two of college athletics' cardinal sins: covering up a scandal and then misleading investigators.

Ohio State could have easily terminated Tressel under the terms of his contract.

Instead, OSU's message was clear: Keep beating Michigan and winning Big Ten championships, and we've got your back.

For the record, Michigan's football team hasn't beaten Ohio State in 2,663 days.

But the Wolverines won on Tuesday.

At least they had fired their cheating coach.

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

Mark Schlabach | email

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