WFNY Top 10 Cleveland Sports Stories of 2011: #1 The Jim Tressel Scandal

As the year comes to a close, like we have done the last three years, WFNY will take a look at what we view to be the 10 biggest sports stories affecting our local sports scene. Each day through the rest of the year, we will be counting down from ten to one. We started with #10 – The Colt Concussion, next was #9 –Key Cavalier Wins. We broke down the Baron Davis Trade and talked some Tribe at #7. Kirk was onthe Pat Shurmur hire for #6. We stuck with that Browns theme and discussed the big draft day deal involving Julio Jones and Phil Taylor (#5). We went back to the Red, White, and Blue with #4, the Ubaldo Jimenez trade. We touched on the Cavaliers winning the draft lottery and picking Kyrie Irving at #3. Yesterday, Andrew talked about the #2 story, the moment Ohio State was saved from falling off the cliff with the hiring of Urban Meyer as its new head football coach. Today, we unveil the top dog of all the stories we saw this year….

#1 – The Jim Tressel scandal rocks Ohio State, causing a legend to fall

So here is the timeline of how it all went down:

At the end of 2010, the NCAA investigators began sniffing around the Ohio State program only because FBI was sniffing around a suspected Columbus drug dealer. That man was said to have exchanged Ohio State football memorabilia directly from players in for free tattoos. The “tattoo five,” which included star QB Terrelle Pryor, WR Devier Posey, and RB Boom Herron – arguably the three most important pieces of the offense, received five game suspensions from the NCAA, starting at the beginning of the 2011 season. They were allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl against Arkansas, which was an all-time bonehead move by the NCAA. OSU Head Coach Jim Tressel was interviewed by the NCAA as well and told the officials that he did not know that any of these misgivings were going on.

On March 8th, to try and stem the tide of the oncoming Tsunami the NCAA would soon bring, Ohio State suspended Tressel for two games. The suspension deemed very hollow at the time. It would only get worse for the man who was often referred to as “The Senator.”    During the press conference that day, University President Gordon Gee told the media that there was no way Tressel would lose his job over this and then gave the now infamous “I just hope the coach doesn’t dismiss me” blast that showed arrogance and stupidity all at once.

Thanks to a firestorm of criticism, it took only nine days for Tressel himself to come out and say that he had requested to his boss, embattled AD Gene Smith, that he extend his suspension to the same number of games that his players received from the NCAA; five.

Just over a month later, on April 25th, the NCAA formally called out Tressel for lying to them about his knowledge of his players relationship with the man the FBI was after, Edward Rife. Emails between Tressel and attorney who alerted him to what was going on with his players and Rife were exposed. The NCAA and Ohio State now had the proof they needed to nail The Vest. It wasn’t a matter of if, but when. The issue became that Gee and Smith had given their unconditional support to the man who brought the Buckeye program back to the level of dominance it had during the Woody Hayes era.

The buzzards were circling, and there seemed to be nothing that could save Tressel. Not the way the fans loved him, not the National Championship they won with him at the helm in 2002, not the sterling 8-1 record against Michigan. So finally, on May 20th, Tressel resigned under pressure, leaving a Grand Canyon size hole and a tainted legacy behind him.

Those who read this site and are familiar with my work know that I am not an Ohio State fan. So I saw this who scandal with a completely unbiased opinion. While it was happening, I felt as though The Vest was Teflon. I thought there was no way he could possibly lose his job, no matter the circumstance. But in the end, he got too greedy. I’m sure he felt the way many coaches do: everyone on his level cheats and coaches rarely get caught. He just happened to come across a situation that was deeper than just football memorabilia, this was a federal investigation involving a drug dealer. Its been said before but it bears repeating; had Tressel told the NCAA that he was alerted to the situation, but wanted to protect his players, he’d still be the coach of Ohio State today. Instead, he is an instant replay reviewer for the Indianapolis Colts who was hit with a five-year show-cause penalty by the NCAA. Essentially, he is persona non grata in NCAA Football until 2017.

What’s amazing about this whole scandal was how Ohio State came out of all of it. Luke Fickell, the interim coach, flopped enough that the University wouldn’t possibly consider him for the job long term. Instead, they went out and got the Grand Slam of Home Run hires – Urban Meyer. The NCAA could have hit them harder, no doubt about it. They received scholarship reductions and a one-year bowl ban, which they most likely could have avoided for next year had Smith not been stupid and greedy, assuming this wouldn’t happen to his program. Instead of sitting out a bowl game the year they went 6-6, they now will miss out in year one of the Meyer era.

But if you were going to lose one of the greatest coaches in school history, replacing him with a two-time National Champion is not too shabby. There will be no fall off in the program now. Kids will still line up to put on the scarlet and gray. It will be hard to replace the legend that Tressel built; the 8-1 record against Michigan, the Vest, the Senator-like demeanor, and the love he had for the school and his players. But while the scandal rocked the University, the black eye healed quicker than anyone could have expected.

  • MrCleaveland

    It’s still hard for me to comprehend that Tressel lied to his bosses and the NCAA. Even if he thought he would get away with it, was a shot at a national title worth his integrity? Or did I buy into his St. James personna too deeply?

    Now his reputation and career are shot, and for what? To protect a punk like Terrell Pryor? Sad sad sad.

    BTW guys, very nice job on the Top Ten. You nailed it.

  • Mike E

    Are the ClevelandWolverines going to revolt?

  • Wheel

    I understand why this would be selected as the #1 story. But I am surprised Lebron’s choke job in the NBA finals did not make it in the top 10. Vindictive SOB that I am, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it was a highlight for me as a Cleveland fan.

  • Return of the (Alex) Mack

    @ 2 the Cleveland Wolvarines are traitors to the state

  • JNeids
  • Zips4Life

    Why are the top two Cleveland stories about a school 2.5 hours south of Cleveland? It just doesn’t make sense. I’m not a Michigan fan or an OSU fan. I prefer to root for my alma mater and the only school that I have a connection to which is Akron. It pains me to see all this coverage over a school that most people in Cleveland have no connection to, while local schools such as Akron, CSU and yes, even Kent get ignored by the Cleveland media. Each of these teams have great basketball teams that are incredibly entertaining.

  • Ghost

    You know it was a bad year in Cleveland sports when a Columbus team makes #1 on a list like this one. No offense to any Buckeye fans.

  • Jay Roubini

    Ghost, Zips~ think of it this way, the Jim Tressel Scandal wasn’t as much about a Columbus story or per se the Buckeye’s, but of a coach with huge Cleveland ties perhaps the most famous of the many coaches to have emerged out of northeast Ohio. Maybe that connection is lost, not really referenced by WFNY but a history understood by many Cleveland sports fan. Have a great New Years Eve!

  • Chester

    OSU Buckeyes vs. Cleveland Browns. I’m glad it could never happend because I’d hate to see where the allegience of this site would be. The top two Cleveland sports stories about Columbus? Come on.