(Note: WFNY doesn’t have a singular editorial voice. Today we will obviously have a lot of Ohio State posts as it is such big news. Remember that each writer’s opinion is their own.)
It’s a pattern that plays itself out far too often. University is successful, media begins to focus on program and inevitably finds loose ends, University stands behind coach, more media info comes out, boosters and donors get nervous and begin to melt under intense scrutiny, University parts ways with coach in an effort to keep their hands out and their palms up. And life goes on.
That’s the way college sports tend to work, and it’s the way the Jim Tressel era has ended at The Ohio State University. In many ways, this ending was so spectacularly destructive that it seems like this was really the only way this ever could have ended. Like the brightest star imploding into its own violent death, so too has arguably the most glorious era of Buckeye football been crushed under its own weight.
As an alum of The Ohio State University, there are obviously more than a hundred emotions coursing through my body as I try to make some sense of all this and try to balance accountability with the ridiculous system in place. Yet, all I can really keep telling myself about this whole situation, and for all parties involved, is that this is just a damn shame.
It’s a shame that Jim Tressel didn’t do the right thing. A lot will be said and written today and in the coming weeks about everything that went on at Ohio State, but at the end of the day, the minute Jim Tressel received that email from Christopher Cicero, he should have done the right thing and passed the information on to OSU’s compliance office.
When this story is written it’s going to be overlooked that compliance is not the job of a head coach. There are highly trained, highly educated compliance officials hired by the University whose job it is to
overlook oversee (ed. note: horrible slip up there) everything and make sure these kind of overarching problems don’t exist.
Many will tell you that Tressel is at fault because he didn’t monitor the program, but a big part of the reason Tressel got himself into so much trouble was precisely because he tried to act as a compliance official on his own. Rather than letting the experts handle it, he decided to deal with it himself. Who knows how much Tressel really knew. It’s hard to believe he didn’t have an idea, but again, it’s not supposed to be his job. He should have reported what he knew to compliance and let them deal with it.
But alas, he didn’t, he tried to deal with it all on his own, and for that, he is no longer coach at Ohio State. When you are hired as head football coach at Ohio State, one of the 2 banner programs in the most powerful and influential conference in college athletics, you are responsible for more than the Xs and Os. You are the steward of the program and you are responsible for the direction and reputation of the program. And that’s the biggest shame of all, that a great man like Jim Tressel who always came from a place of love for his players, his coaches, and for The Ohio State University, will walk away disgraced as the man who forever sullied the name of the University.
We can make excuses, we can point out how ridiculous the rules are and how unquestionable silly it is that he lost his livelihood all because he didn’t tell anyone that some of his players sold their own stuff for cash and tattoos, but none of that matters today. All of that is true, but it doesn’t matter because rules are rules. He broke them, he left a paper trail in the form of those emails, and he lied about it when the issue first broke. And it’s just a shame.
It’s a shame that Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith didn’t have a better plan. This whole thing was horribly mismanaged by Gene Smith from the very beginning and in my opinion, he should join Tressel in resigning from the University.
He never should have put on that awful press conference to announce the 2 game suspension in which Tressel, Gee, Smith, and the whole University came across like a bunch of liars and cheaters who were making a dog and pony show of the whole investigation. As someone who once served on the NCAA infractions committee, Smith should have known better. He should have displayed strong leadership to guide Tressel and the University through this storm.
Instead, he faked a strong backbone initially before quickly distancing himself from the coach and backing down to all the media pressure. He had no plan for this, and Ohio State has no real plan or direction to go from here. They are a lame duck program with a lame duck coach with no replacement lined up and no idea of where they are going from here.
Nothing has changed from the day the NCAA’s allegations were leaked to Yahoo Sports. The Sports Illustrated hit job added a bunch of hearsay allegations and did a character assassination of the coach, sure, but the NCAA doesn’t punish on hearsay. It’s why Auburn survived the Cam Newton pay to play scam and it’s why Oregon survived the Will Lyles pay for recruits scandal. There was no paper trail to investigate. Same with the Sports Illustrated story, there’s no paper trail to follow.
No, Jim Tressel is in trouble because of his emails with Chris Cicero and the others that he emailed information to. But these are things that University already knew about when they self reported the issue. So if these allegations are enough to make them feel they need to part ways with Jim Tressel, they should have done so that instant. Instead, they allowed this thing to grow and fester for no real reason. They gained nothing and lost so much more.
That’s a sign of horrendous leadership and a lack of direction. If Gene Smith, Gordon Gee, and the big time donors who run the program weren’t willing to see this through until the NCAA delivered the rulings, then they should have asked for Tressel’s resignation on day one. Instead, they made the University look arrogant and foolish before ultimately buckling at the absolute worst time. And it’s a shame that Jim Tressel didn’t have better leadership above him to help guide this thing.
It’s a shame that the Tattoo 5, and Terrelle Pryor in particular, will forever be associated as the players who got Jim Tressel fired. Nobody seems to care that this has gone at Ohio State and at programs all across the country for decades. It may be against the NCAA rules, but the practice of receiving benefits for athletic excellence is something that always existed and always will. These players just happen to be the ones who got caught.
It’s too bad more people can’t remember what it’s like to be 20 years old and poor. Some of my college memories include scrounging up change to try to find enough money for a trip to McDonalds and having to borrow money from a friend to buy a new Pearl Jam CD that came out. I remember trying to think of things I could sell to have more money. If I would have had the opportunity to sell some memorabilia and autographs for some spare spending money, I have no doubts I would have done it too, especially with so many others doing the same thing.
This isn’t to offer up justification, but it’s an attempt to offer up understanding. I get why these players did what they did and I know they never in a million years imagined it would lead to their coach being asked to resign. Why would they? The practice of selling memorabilia dates back to Woody Hayes and no other coach has ever gotten fired for it. So I get it.
Maybe it doesn’t make it any more right, but I just think it’s a shame that blame is going to be placed on these kids who were mostly 18-20 years old when they did it. I think it’s a shame that many will fake outrage that these students wanted tattoos and cars and some extra spending money when the athletic department is bragging about their $109,382,222 budget.
All I know is that nobody has ever done a sufficient job of explaining to me who is being hurt here. Nobody has been able to explain where the harm lies in allowing these kids to earn a little extra on the side. So a kid can get a tattoo or a car for signing some useless junk. Who cares? How is that affecting anyone else’s life? It’s just a shame that words like “lack of institutional control” and “culture of corruption” are thrown around schools like Ohio State and others when it’s the NCAA system that lacks control and breeds this culture of corruption.
It’s a shame that all of this has happened and nothing will ever change. Yesterday on Twitter, our own Craig made a couple great points when he said “This is false justice without real victims” and “My biggest issue is that this story is so wrapped up in details and real story of NCAA football is left untouched”.
He’s partially right. He’s right that everyone is so involved in what Jim Tressel did that they have turned this into a Jim Tressel issue. But this isn’t a Jim Tressel issue. This is a College Football issue. On ESPN radio yesterday, Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples was asked whether it’s possible today for an elite college football program to consistently win at an elite level without trending toward the gray at all, and his response was a simple “absolutely not”. And he’s right.
The system is so clearly broken and rather than deal with the real issues, everyone instead wants to lean on moral high ground and pretend like firing coaches and sanctioning schools will fix things. It’s not that different from having a disease and treating the symptoms while ignoring the problem that creates the symptoms. At what point will not just fans, but administrators and decision makers put their foot down and realize that enough is enough?
The point where Craig wasn’t totally right was when he said there are no victims. There are no real victims at Ohio State. George Dohrmann and investigative reporters like him aren’t making college sports a better place. Nobody was being hurt and nothing is better today without Jim Tressel. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t victims.
The victims, as usual, are the fans and the alumni of Universities who participate in college football at an elite level. Fans just want to watch football. Most fans of Ohio State don’t root for them because of their academics or anything like that. They root for them because they like the caliber of athletes that the program produces.
And so today, the fans and alumni of Ohio State are left without Jim Tressel and they are somehow supposed to feel like the University is better off for it. It’s a jarring disconnect between that reality and the reality of the caliber of people Jim Tressel has produced at Ohio State. Maybe Tressel’s compassion and belief in the character of people contributed to his undoing, but it’s the same reason his players and almost anyone who has ever had any contact with him hold him in such high regard.
You can listen to people like Sports Illustrated’s George Dohrmann who will tell you that Jim Tressel wasn’t the man he claimed to be and that he was a bad, evil man who fixed raffles and who didn’t care about the well being of his players, just as long as Ohio State was winning. Or you can listen to the hundreds of current and former players, along with anyone else who knows the man, who will tell you the truth of who Jim Tressel is, what he stands for, and the everlasting effect he had on anyone fortunate enough to cross paths with him.
Dohrmann was particularly self congratulating in his article about how he brought down the Jim Tressel empire, and he was equally adamant on Twitter that he was responsible for Tressel’s resignation. It’s a shame that this is what passes as journalistic integrity today. It’s really too bad that going out and finding the few people who have an axe to grind and getting them to hide behind that journalistic anonymity is all it takes to force someone out of their job.
If that’s the case, though, then this should serve as a warning to anyone who is finding delight in the downfall of Ohio State football. I told several friends when USC went through their problems that they should be careful. I now pass on that same warning. This is a broken system that bleeds into every nook and cranny of every program that tries its hand at winning. And there will always be one or two disgruntled individuals who will be all too happy to try their best to bring everything down. And they will succeed.
And in the end, we are left with no winners. Ohio State is not better off without Jim Tressel and his resignation will almost certainly do nothing to lessen the punishment that they face from the NCAA. Fans will continue to be told that this is about integrity and that Ohio State will put stronger compliance safeguards in place, but until someone is willing to do something about the source of these problems, the symptoms will merely pop up somewhere else.
And above all else, that is really just a shame.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Quilter, Columbus Dispatch