Tressel lies are an embarrassment to Ohio State

The sweater vest was gone, replaced by military-style camouflage
as Jim Tressel prowled the sideline Saturday in Ohio State’s annual
spring game.

An odd uniform to be sure, even on military appreciation day.
There was no truth to the rumor that university President E. Gordon
Gee was ready in the locker room to shine Tressel’s boots if they
got dirty.

You might remember Gee for his part in a farcical news
conference last month where Tressel got his hand formally slapped
by the university for NCAA violations. Gee was the one who almost
gagged at the suggestion that he might fire the football coach for
his transgressions.

”Are you kidding?” Gee said. ”Let me just be very clear: I’m
just hopeful the coach doesn’t dismiss me.”

Funny guy, that Gee. Nothing like a little humor to help keep
the sweater from unraveling even more.

But you have to wonder who’s laughing now.

Certainly not the NCAA, which served notice Monday that it was
going after Tressel for withholding information and lying so that
his star players could remain eligible. Included in a harshly
worded 13-page letter sent to the university were charges that the
coach ”failed to deport himself … (with) honesty and
integrity.”

Surely not Tressel, either. He’s now, at least in the eyes of
the NCAA, both a liar and a cheat and there may come a time soon
where even the university president who adores him so much may not
be able to save him.

The real problem for Tressel is that it’s all very clear cut.
There isn’t any ambiguity about what happened, only what might
happen because of it.

Already, Ohio State will be without its star quarterback and
four other players for the first five games of next season. Tressel
won’t be on the sideline, either, after extending the university’s
original two-game suspension of him to five games in a supposed
gesture of solidarity with his players.

But it goes farther than that. Tressel is now damaged goods and
the Ohio State football program has also been badly wounded. Fans
may still back the man who brought the Buckeyes their first
national title in 34 years, but the parents of 18-year-old recruits
may think twice about entrusting the future of their sons with a
man who clearly has some issues in the character department.

Consider that Tressel knew he was doing something wrong himself
when he said late last year that his players must have known they
did something wrong by selling jerseys, Big Ten championship rings
and other memorabilia to the operator of a tattoo parlor.

”I suppose that would be something rattling around inside the
head of each of them individually,” he said at the time. ”We all
have a little sensor within us, ‘Well, I’m not sure if I should be
doing this.”’

Apparently that little sensor malfunctioned in Tressel,
especially on Sept. 13 of last year. That’s when he dated and then
signed his name on a one-page NCAA form that declared he had
reported any violations he knew of to his superiors.

At that point, Tressel not only knew about the memorabilia sales
by quarterback Terrelle Pryor and others, but had made numerous
phone calls and sent emails to other people about it. Even after
Pryor and the others were punished, it wasn’t until confronted with
the emails in January that Tressel admitted to NCAA and school
officials that a violation had occurred.

And this from a coach who preaches responsibility and integrity
in his book, ”The Winners Manual For The Game of Life.”

Tressel might try reading the book himself, especially where he
quotes Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as saying: ”It takes less time
to do the right thing than to explain why you did it wrong.”

Trouble is, Tressel hasn’t spent much time explaining what he
did wrong. At the same March 8 news conference where Gee and
athletic director Gene Smith were declaring their undying loyalty
to the 10-year coach, Tressel never admitted to anything other than
poor judgment and never apologized for knowingly breaking the
rules.

With the arrogance only a $3.5 million a year football coach can
muster, he declared he was his own biggest critic and that ”I
don’t think less of myself at this moment.”

Others are beginning to think less of Tressel, though, and the
NCAA is not done with him yet. The tone of Monday’s letter suggests
there will be penalties greater than Tressel’s five-game
suspension, and they could be aimed at Tressel himself instead of
the university.

By then, maybe the higher-ups at Ohio State will figure out
there are other football coaches who can beat Michigan, too.
They’ll send Tressel packing and find a coach who can win without
having to lie.

But probably not until the university president is done shining
Tressel’s boots.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated
Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org